Thoughts on writing a book

I’m writing a book.

Yeah, I know; I’m nuts. There are a million reasons why that’s a fool’s errand. But there are a few compelling reasons to give it a go. One is my passion.

I have a passion for the Bible, and particularly that God’s people know it. There is so much error about these days, and it moves so quickly. God’s people are confused, undiscerning. Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures.” (Acts 18:24) Many today are not.

A number of years ago, I began a list to identify what I thought were the 100 Most Important Passages in the Bible. I’m pretty sure the list is incomplete, but it got me thinking on this theme. If I had to boil down the Bible to its most important parts, what are they?

Now, I know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) But that’s not to say that we couldn’t point someone to some of the key passages to begin our understanding. Whether it’s the “Romans Road” of the Gospel, or even a solitary verse like John 3:16, we make choices all the time to decide what to study and teach.

So, the idea for the book, 25 Bible Passages You Should Know, was born.

As I begin to work on this book (and hope to complete by the end of 2020), I want to explain some of my thoughts at the outset.

  1. This book is for the purpose of biblical literacy.

    As I said earlier, my passion is for God’s people to know God’s Word, and many don’t. So the focus is going to be more on the content of the Bible than on the application of the Bible. Besides, I believe the better the knowledge of the content, the better the application. Too much writing in popular Christian literature today leads with application. We’ve become a Church full of Christian “How-to” books. While there will be practical implications, this is not a “How-to” manual.

  2. This is not a book of “favorite passages.”

    One of my friends with whom I shared my idea said, “You better put in Isaiah 1; that’s my favorite passage in the Bible!” Well, that’s a great passage, but it’s probably not going to make the cut. I told my friend, maybe volume 2. There are many passages in the Bible that are personal favorites, but in choosing passages, I turned my eye toward those that would give the reader a strong historical and theological framework to understand the message of the whole.

    Some of your favorites won’t be there. Some of mine won’t as well. Sorry, Hebrews 12.

  3. The process of selecting only 25 passages is tougher than I imagined.

    Initially, I thought I might complete my mind game from earlier and include 100 passages. But as I imagined how deep I might go with each passage, 100 was just too many. I thought about 13, which is handy for teaching curricula, since 13 weeks constitutes a quarter, and this might fit well for church groups to use as a study tool. I eventually settled on just over 2 dozen as a sweet spot.

    My planning board has undergone numerous changes as I move passages from the Maybe Pile or onto the Cutting Room Floor. Just yesterday, I realized that I’d omitted an extremely important passage. Even as I write, the selections will probably change.

    I believe in the end I will be moderately satisfied. If Chris Bruno can write a book, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses (2015, Crossway), I can do this.

  4. I am targeting this book to both new and long-time believers.

    This is not a scholarly text. There will be theology, and I’m not avoiding some of the tough questions. But in my ministry with believers, I’ve found many who simply don’t have any grasp on the story and structure of the Bible. Therefore, they lack the ability to study the Word for themselves and are especially susceptible to false teaching.

    Therefore, I’m targeting my book to this kind of reader. I hope that a new Christian will be able to absorb the writing without feeling overwhelmed. And I hope that a saint further along in the process will be challenged to thinking more deeply about the Gospel and the story of Jesus.

    I anticipate very little analysis of original languages, only so much as is necessary. I won’t avoid theological discussion, but it won’t be every little nuance or questions.

I invite your prayers as I pursue this. I need discipline to write when I’m tired or have other things I want to do. I need wisdom to know what to say and what not to say.

As I finish here, I want your feedback. What passage(s) would you include? It will be interesting to see if yours match mine.

Five Intelligible Words to Instruct

I was reading in 1 Corinthians 14 the other day, and I came to Paul’s words comparing and contrasting speaking in tongues vis a vis speaking in prophecy, one being unintelligible and the other being understandable and therefore edifying to the church. In verse 19, he says, “Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand in a tongue.”

Now, I know that Paul is speaking in hyperbole in order to make the point of his preference for prophecy, but my literal mind questioned, “What could you possibly say in 5 words that could instruct?” And my mind answered, “Challenge accepted!”

So, I began to list some 5-word sentences/phrases that are rich in doctrinal truth and teaching, some directly from Scripture and others inferred from the Bible. Any of these would make for some great self-talk or preaching-the-gospel-to-yourself talk.

May these 5 words spur you on to deeper thinking and talk.

In the beginning God created. (Gen. 1:1)

The Lord is my shepherd. (Ps. 23:1)

God sovereignly saves believing sinners. (Eph. 2:1-10)

In all ways acknowledge him. (Prov. 3:6)

All things work for good. (Rom. 8:28) This cannot stand alone, without the surrounding context to show for whom all things work for good – namely, “those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Without those qualifiers, this would be sentimentalism.

I am crucified with Christ. (Gal. 2:20)

God so loved the world. (John 3:16)

There is now no condemnation. (Rom. 8:1)

We have peace with God. (Rom.5:1)

He chose us in Christ. (Eph. 1:4)

He predestined us for adoption. (Eph. 1:5)

Put off your old self. (Eph. 4:22)

We groan as we wait. (Rom. 8:23)

Maybe 5 words is all you need. For all the volumes of books and blogs, 5 words can say much.

What are some truths you can express in only 5 words?

When God’s sovereignty intersects with time, Part 1

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by Mark Knox

What follows is part of an ongoing series of articles that discuss places in Scripture where the sovereign plan and working of God are clearly seen to intersect with time.  Rather than trying to fit these descriptions into a pre-determined theological understanding, I aim to let these revealed descriptions stand for themselves.

“…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” – Acts 2:23 ESV

Acts 2:23 contains one of the clearest expressions of God’s sovereign working in history, yet ascribes guilt and responsibility to those committing those actions. As we let this passage speak for itself, what exactly is being said?

  1. It was God’s eternal plan to deliver his Son Jesus to be crucified. “…according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” By pairing these two powerful nouns (“plan” and “foreknowledge”), we know that the writer is not referring to a simple fore-seeing by God of what will take place, but is referencing his sovereign plan and determination of what will take place. This comes out clearly in other places in the book of Acts as well, notably 4:28.
  1. Those who, in time, committed these acts are held as responsible and guilty for them. “this Jesus…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” This is an indictment on both the Jews (represented by their leaders) and the Roman authorities (“lawless men”). If you read the context in the early chapters of Acts, you will take note of this recurring theme in the Apostles’ preaching. It is highly accusatory, though not for the sake of stirring up guilt for guilt’s sake, but to bring them to the realization of their sin and Jesus’ status as the Anointed Messiah, so that they would repent and believe.

So then, this could lead us to a very perplexing question. How could a just God lay blame and pronounce judgment on men for an event that he pre-determined would happen?

What I find most interesting is that the passage doesn’t attempt to answer that question at all.  It simply moves on with the narrative, leaving the tension unanswered.

And I think that is the key to how we should treat passages such as this. Let the Bible speak, even as it affirms truths that are difficult for us to reconcile.

Later, Paul addresses this very question in the book of Romans, but even there, does not give an intellectually reconciling answer. After a discussion on the electing choice of God, he raises this objection,

“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault (human responsibility)? For who can resist his will (human choice)?’”

And then notice Paul’s response to these questions:

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” – Romans 9:19-20a

In other words, let God be God! The correct, humble response to tensions like this in Scripture is to let the Bible speak for itself. The fact that there is tension in our understanding should drive us to our knees in humble submission before the God whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

Four rhythms to keep your mind sharp

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by Mark Knox

As I’ve grown older, I worry a bit about keeping my mind and thinking processes sharp.  Of course, there are always the small lapses in memory that seem to creep up, when I forget where I’m at in a conversation or why I left one room to go into another.  That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

I have always enjoyed thinking deeply about things, whether theology, cultural phenomena, history or politics.  Heck, I even minored in Philosophy! (I only minored in it because it wasn’t offered as a major.)  I can ask the deep questions like: Why do you want fries with that? So when I encounter a group of young theology students, I want to continue to be able to converse with them at a high level. I want to analyze and be able to discuss cultural trends on more than just a surface level.

As a result, I’ve become very intentional about keeping an active mind.  Here are some ways I’ve found to be helpful.

  1. Read deeply.

It’s far too easy to browse the Internet and “read” the material you find there. Who among us hasn’t gotten sucked into that black hole?  It’s also really easy to read the literary equivalent of a blockbuster movie that is simply escapist reading. Not that there’s anything wrong with an occasional escape, mind you.

But if you really want to sharpen your intellect, read something that stretches your thinking, that causes you to ask questions, that teaches you something.  Read a variety of books…books that are practical for work and life, books that are technical, biographies, old classic books, new modern books, books you disagree with. Underline and mark up your books if they’re yours.  Set some goals and keep track of your reading. Read a book with someone and discuss it over coffee. Nothing will keep your mind as fresh as a healthy diet of books and great articles.

  1. Have substantial conversations.

We are social people.  But most of us are all too satisfied to restrict our conversations to a how’s-the-kids, how’s-your-fantasy-football-team level.  But if you want to challenge your thinking, then start seeking some deeper conversations. If you’re in a church, get in a small group.  And don’t just settle for a group that wallows in cliché-ridden banality.  Find a group that’s not afraid to go deep and leave things unsettled for now.  If you really want a conversation that keeps your mind going, make some friends of people who don’t agree with you.

I am thankful that God has given me a wife with whom I can go deep.  She’s not afraid to challenge my assumptions and inconsistencies.  She’s my best friend, and most of the time, we’re on a how-was-your-day mode.  But oh, there are times when we can have some pretty intellectual conversations.  Seek these out – from the spouse, from your kids, from your friends.

  1. Memorize long passages (Bible passages, speeches, poetry).

I was fortunate to attend the Desiring God National Conference in September of 2014, which was centered around the great chapter of Romans 8.  At the beginning of his second address, John Piper quoted from memory the entire chapter.  [You can watch him do it here – just watch the first 7 minutes to get the quote.] I had already attended a breakout session giving some instruction on how to memorize long passages of Scripture, and when I watched Piper recite this immense chapter with great feeling and inflection, just as if he were arguing the points as Paul had done, I was stirred in my soul and I determined to memorize the chapter myself.

It took me a little longer than 3 months to complete this.  But when I was done, not only was there a feeling of accomplishment, but a real sense of “OK, what’s next?”  So I started to memorize the book of Ephesians.

I highly recommend this discipline.  If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s the link to Jon Bloom’s session that helped get me started.

  1. Turn off the media and let your mind think.

Why are we so afraid of silence? With the rise of social networking, at-your-fingertips media and the portability of our technology, most of us spend woefully little time with our own thoughts.  We have trouble falling asleep as we begin to process all the stimuli of the day that we haven’t allowed our minds to access until we turn out the lights.  And even then, we resort to light music or white noise in the room to silence our thoughts.

We all need quiet time.  The research is clear on the benefits of silence. So do yourself a favor and turn off the radio, the TV, the Spotify and let your mind breathe.

We all need our minds to be sharp.  The mind is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it will be.