Monday, December 31, 2007

Drawing to an end

by Dan Phillips @

The year 2007 draws to an end. And what else?

None of us knows what the next moment holds. "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1). Whatever the next day brings, all the preceding days bring their mounting weight to bear on us.

Consider now the final words of Benazir Bhutto:
"Long live Bhutto," Benazir Bhutto shouted, waving to the crowd surging around her car. They were her last words before three gunshots rang out and she slumped back on to her seat.

"She did not say anything more," said Safdar Abbassi, her chief political adviser, who was sitting behind her.
"Long live Bhutto" — bang! — dead.

And then? Then Benazir Bhutto found herself facing her Judge (Hebrews 9:27). Was she prepared?

At the moment, I'm less concerned about her than about you and me. The only difference between Bhutto and us is a tick, a moment, a flash. We all stand before the Judge just as surely as she. We don't know the time on the summons, but we do know that we won't miss our court appearance date by so much as a second.

And what do we bring? In the best movie version of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge hears Marley's lament about the many and heavy chains he wears, and murmurs "You have my sympathy." Marley's response:
"Ahh — you do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself. It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah! it is a ponderous chain!"

Whatever the theological shortcomings of Christmas Carol (and they are many and serious), I appreciate this: Scrooge is vividly shown to be utterly unaware that he is judged, as he stands; that his life has already borne fruit, and that fruit is bitter, woeful, deadly.

This is the state of men today. We read, "whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18). Worse, and more ominously, John reveals that "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36) — now, at this moment, as he draws this fleeting breath which, for all he knows, may be his last. What Daniel said to Belshazzar, he might well say to us: "the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored" (Daniel 5:23).

"Long live me!"poof! — gone. Gone to judgment.

Someone has just read those words, and they are for you. Your condition is just so. Whatever your pursuits and distractions over the past year, the reality is that you are a step away from a judgment that is absolute, final, inescapable, irrevocable, and incapable of appeal. Were you to die now, the ax would fall, and that would be that. Forever. You need to come to know God, now.

But lest my Christian readers (and self) feel too safe, consider that the same principle applies to us equally, and perhaps even more so. Never forget:
"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48)
Perhaps you read this blog daily, and other writings of men far better than the current one. Good, and God be praised. But never forget: as you and I read, our responsibility-index goes up. It is happening now, right now, to you, and to me.

The words of Hebrews 9:27 ("it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment") do not bring a message to unbelievers alone, but to us as well. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10). And how does this consideration affect the apostle who wrote it? Does Paul go on to say, "But never mind that, the blood covers all, I'm eternally secure, so I'm going for what I see to be my best life right now"?

Not so much. Paul's very next words are, "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11). The apostle of free forensic justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone found the reality of God's judgment both sobering and motivating.

So I call us all, as the year draws to a close, to consider the judgment of God, and to consider our lives in that context. The statistics are pretty good that not all who read these words now will be here to read any similar post next year's end. Nor may I be here to write one. Benazir Bhutto's last words were a futile wish for earthly longevity, words that were instantly given the lie.

John Piper's idea is better. Piper uses New Year's Eve as a dress-rehearsal for his own death, considering his year in the light of God's judgment, and eternity.

Do that, or use another idea. But do something.

Tick tick tick.....

"For man does not know his time.
Like fish that are taken in an evil net,
and like birds that are caught in a snare,
so the children of man are snared at an evil time,
when it suddenly falls upon them"
(Ecclesiastes 9:12)

POSTSCRIPT: some of last year's closing thoughts can be found here and here; and a previous year from my blog here.

Dan Phillips's signature

Taking A Blessings Inventory

By Stephen Altrogge@

When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? I recently found myself sitting in my living room, feeling sorry for myself because of some unexpected expenses which were going to cramp my Christmas style. In other words, I wasn't going to be able to buy and get as much stuff this year. And then I took a look around my living room and realized what a pudding-headed blockhead I was, and sadly, how ungrateful I was. I was sitting in the lap of luxury, surrounded by countless, undeserved blessings, and I was feeling sorry for myself. It was time to do a blessings inventory. Here's some of the things I came up with:

The sweetest of all blessings, the deepest of all mercies. I was once an enemy of God, now I'm His child. He has sought me out and drawn me to Himself. He has washed me in the blood of His precious Son and clothed me in robes of righteousness. I'm forgiven and free. I've been brought into a soul-satisfying relationship with the Creator of the universe. What else do I need to be happy?

My wife Jen:
I have the most wonderful wife in the universe. She loves Jesus and serves Him with all her heart. She cares for me, and cares for our daughter with the deepest affection. She's full of joy and always willing to laugh at my utterly stupid jokes. She beats me at Boggle...sometimes. I don't deserve her.

My daughter Charis:
Not only do I have the most wonderful wife, I also have the sweetest daughter. She's three month's old, bald, cuter than the cutest thing you can think of, and smiles a lot. She makes my heart happy. Undeserved blessing.

My job:
I can go to work every single day and make sums of money that would make 2/3 of the world jealous. My job allows me to provide food and clothes for my family. My job allows me to get good health care, and to buy coffee at Starbuck's. I don't deserve a job.

My health:
By God's grace, I'm a pretty healthy guy. The illnesses I deal with are nothing compared to what many people endure. I deal with colds, they deal with cancer. I deal with a sore back, they deal with paralysis. I deal with allergies, they deal with blindness. I deserve terrible health, but instead God has given me good health.

My house:
I live in a house that's full of furniture, has a comfortable bed, and has a large television. I stay warm in the winter. I take hot showers and watch football games. I invite friends over to play XBox 360. I deserve to be on the streets with no home, no warmth, and no friends. Instead I find myself living in luxury.

This list could go on, and should include my church, my friends, my family, coffee, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Christmas Trees, email, and a thousand other blessings. Even if there wasn't a single present under my tree this year, I should be happy. I'm blessed beyond measure. God has been good to this wicked sinner.

When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? If you find yourself feeling ungrateful, now's the time to do it.

Top Ten Stories of 2007


The events, people, and debates of the past year that Christianity Today's editors believe have shaped, or will significantly shape, evangelical life, thought, or mission.

1. Taliban takes Korean short-term mission team hostage, killing two
Afghanistan's resurgent Taliban used the team of 23 short-term workers from Saemmul Presbyterian Church as a bargaining chip, pressuring the South Korean government into a reported ransom payment and a promise to withdraw its 200 troops in the country. Bae Hyeong-gyu and Shim Seongmin were killed before the negotiation was completed.
Our coverage

2. Atheism tops the bestseller charts
Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens may be unhappy about the continuing "God delusion," but they can't be too displeased with their royalty checks.
Our coverage

3. Presidential campaigns start early, with some faith surprises
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spoke easily of their faith, while Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson all stumbled in appeals to Christian voters.
Our coverage

4. Ruth Graham promoted to glory
The daughter of missionaries who, as a teenager, wanted to die a martyr's death, Ruth Graham instead became the wife of the world's most prominent evangelist—and an inspiration to millions.
Our coverage

5. Anglican Communion fractures over Scripture, homosexuality
Global South leaders issued an ultimatum for the U.S. Episcopal Church to return to orthodox interpretation of Scripture, four U.S. dioceses took steps to exit the church, and the basis for a conservative new Anglican province in the U.S.was laid. Besides that, all was quiet in the Anglican Communion.
Our coverage

6. Three Christians tortured and killed in eastern Turkey
Turkey's bid for entry into the European Union hasn't pleased the country's ultranationalist fringe, members of which are charged with slitting the throats of three Protestants at a Christian publishing house in Malatya.
Our coverage

7. Lions of the Religious Right pass away
Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy lived long enough to see great successes for the political movement they helped start.
Our coverage of Falwell and Kennedy

8. Francis Beckwith returns to Catholicism
No doubt many Protestants convert to the Roman Catholic Church every day. But most aren't serving as president of the Evangelical Theological Society, as Beckwith was when he returned to the faith in which he was raised.
Our coverage

9. Campaign to oust NAE's Richard Cizik fails
James Dobson and other religious conservatives couldn't depose the National Association of Evangelicals' vice president for his global warming activism.
Our coverage

10. Supreme Court upholds 2003 federal partial-birth abortion ban
The 5-4 decision marks the first national restriction on abortion since 1973's Roe v. Wade.
Our coverage

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today's top stories of 2005 and 2006 are available on our site.

Affluenza: Part 3-6

Affluenza, Part 6: Spending and Materialism


By Josh Harris @

We continue looking at ways to be vigilant against the deception and destruction of greed, considering Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. The last 2 posts of the series suggested we recognize our unique vulnerability, and guard against all kinds of greed. Here are numbers 3 and 4:

3. We need to get our financial house in order.

It is not greed to carefully think about, manage and budget your money. If you're not planning how you're going to save, what you're going to spend your money on, how you're going to give, then you are more—not less—susceptible to the impulses of greed. And an important part of avoiding slavery to money is making sure that you are managing your money, and that your money is not managing you.

An important part of making sure that we are not living for money and being driven by greed is making sure that our financial house is in order—we have a plan; it's in alignment with God's priorities; and we're sticking to it.

4. We all must push back against materialism.

In today's world, we face a constant onslaught of advertising and enticements to believe the lies of greed.

Parents, our children are being targeted at younger and younger ages. Think about this: From 1980-2004, the amount spent on children's advertising in America rose from $100 million dollars a year to $15 billion a year. We live in a culture that is built on and sustained by greed. This culture has a vested interest in making sure that you and your family continue to be ruled by wanting more.

In light of this, we can't be passive. We can't just stand still and try to resist the pull. We need to push back. We need to examine our lives, examine our homes, and find ways to push back against the lie of materialism that is ever-present. Where can we make do with less? Where are we senselessly going along with the consumer "more is better," mindset of our culture? Could we be more rich and generous toward God and others if we were willing to be more restrained in our spending habits?

Guarding against greed involves a tension. We are to enjoy what God has given us—God's Word tells us he gives all things for us to enjoy—but at the same time we must be watching for the presence of affluenza. That takes work. We need to get used to that work; we need to get used to that ongoing tension. We are not safe in this world from greed until we reach our eternal home, and until then we can't let our guard down.

Parents, are you training your children to have discernment about greed in their own hearts? Are you helping them understand how this culture wants to manipulate them? I want to encourage you to sit down and talk about these issues as a family. Do you operate with the mindset that you have to spend money to have a good time? Do we have to pay for someone else to entertain us? How can you push back against that mindset?

Also, are our conversations filled with discussion of what we want to purchase for ourselves? Let's seek to make our focus how we can be rich toward God instead. When you're driven by greed, you enjoy all the stuff you have less. When you turn your eyes to see God's generosity and when you begin to look for ways to express that same generosity, you're suddenly more aware of God's goodness and all the blessings that you have.

God is not trying to spoil our party. Do you think God is looking down and saying: "They've got too much stuff; I want to take it away from them; I want to make them unhappy?"

No. God wants our eternal joy. That's why he calls us to push back against materialism.

Affluenza, Part 5: Guarding Against All Kinds of Greed


Today we return to our series on the deceitfulness and destruction of greed, based on Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. In the last post, considering how we can be vigilant against greed, I wrote that we must recognize our unique vulnerability. A second way is this:

We must guard against all kinds of greed.

We need to remember that there are all kinds of greed. The NIV translates Jesus' words in Luke 12:15 this way: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed." The ESV says, "all covetousness."

If Jesus had wanted to just say, "be on the lookout for greed and covetousness," he could have done that, but he goes out of his way to say, "all kinds of greed." He wants us to understand that greed takes many forms. We have to remember this, because I think our tendency is to create a caricature of greed. We draw this picture in our mind, this extreme version of what greed is, and then we look at that and we say: Well, that's not me; that doesn't look like me at all. But greed is not just an old miser counting coins in a basement. We can all say we've never done that.

Greed takes many forms. You don't even have to be rich to be greedy. Sometimes people think: I'm not greedy. I don't have enough money. You can be broke and greedy. It's not as much fun, but you can do it.

Our problem is that we often focus on the greed that we see in others. And we love to identify that place in our lives where we're frugal. We each have some place in our life where we practice restraint, where we are not materialistic. And we hold that thing up as the shiny example of what we're truly like, all the while ignoring all the evidences of greed in our life.

For example, I've never really cared that much about the car that I drive. Now, I drive an okay car, but it's nothing fancy. Cars are not that important to me; I'm not materialistic when it comes to cars. And I like to remind myself of that. I like to congratulate myself about that. I like to pat myself on the back and think, Josh, you're not materialistic. You don't care about cars. Good for you.

But I own three iPods. Now, that's ridiculous. That is completely unnecessary. But I don't drive around thinking, I own three iPods; I am a greedy person. No, I drive around thinking: "I could drive a nicer car, but I don't." I wonder which iPod I should listen to.
Obviously, I have an iPod issue that I need to deal with. What is your issue?

For one person, greed might take the form of wanting more stuff. You're always thinking about the next thing that you want to buy, the next thing you want to get.
For another person, it might look different: You don't buy tons of stuff, but when you buy something, you have to have the absolute best. It's got to be the top of the line, and you won't settle for anything less.

For another person, greed is expressed not in a lavish lifestyle but in a craving to have a huge amount of savings that gives you a sense of security. Someone couldn't look at your life and think: Oh, they must be greedy because they have all these possessions. But if they could look into your heart and soul, they would see that you put your faith in the money that you've put aside for your future. You're trusting in money instead of God.

For another person greed might be expressed in a lack of joy in sharing with others. So you don't buy stuff for yourself, but you don't buy anything for anybody else, either.
Greed takes many forms. That's why Jesus said: Watch out for the many different ways that greed will deceive you.

Affluenza, Part 4: Our Unique Vulnerability


As we have been looking at Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 and discussing the deceitfulness of greed and how it ultimately destroys us, let's now look at how we can guard against greed. There are at least four ways that we should be vigilant. The first is this:

We must recognize our unique vulnerability.

We live in the red zone of the affluenza pandemic.

In a book entitled Affluenza, the authors note that in 1986 there were more high schools than shopping centers in our country. Just 20 years later, there are twice as many shopping centers as there are high schools. We spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than we do on higher education. When you think about how much higher education costs these days, that is a lot of jewelry, clothes, and watches.

And we can't get enough. Americans have a billion credit cards. We carry over a trillion dollars in debt—not including mortgages and real estate—because we can't get enough, because we want more, because there's all this great stuff to fill our big houses with.

If you live in California, you face the reality of earthquakes. You don't pretend them away. You plan for them; you know they're going to happen. If you live in south Florida, you do the same thing for hurricanes. You prepare. To ignore either is utter folly.

In the same way, as Christians living in America at the start of the 21st century, we have to face the great spiritual danger of materialism and greed. It is the air that we breathe. It's obvious from Jesus' words in this parable and in other passages of the New Testament that greed is a serious spiritual problem for every Christian in every generation, but we need to recognize that it is uniquely our temptation.

If Jesus spoke this solemn warning to Jewish men and women in the first century, many of whom lived from day to day, how much more strongly would he speak it to us today, as Americans living in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world? Suppose we could, from heaven's vantage point, identify the greatest spiritual peril that Christians in each nation face. Don't you think heaven's "greatest challenge" verdict over American Christians would be the danger of loving the things of this world more than God himself? Is there any question that our greatest peril is having the possessions and the wealth of this world cling to us so much that we take our eyes off the heavenly city to which we're called? Those of us here in the States must acknowledge our unique vulnerability to affluenza if we are going to be vigilant against greed.

In the next post, I'll share another way to be vigilant...

Affluenza, Part 3: Greed Destroys Us


In the last post, looking at Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12, we considered two things about the deception of greed: that it lies to us, and that it blinds us. Point number three is this:

Greed ultimately destroys us.

It might be tempting to think that the worst consequence of greed is a few too many days at the office. That doesn't sound that bad. For some, greed might seem like the one sin with variable consequences—you do those other sins, you get into trouble; but if you slip up when it comes to greed, you just wind up with cool stuff.

But it's worse than that. Greed doesn't just lead to regret in this life; it ends in eternal loss at the end of life. Greed operates on the assumption that all that matters in this world are the rewards that it can give us. But in the story that Jesus tells, he shows us that this is not true. He gives us a glimpse into what comes after death for this rich man. He lets us see beyond the grave.

This rich man had a perfect plan. He was going to end his life being rich, fat, and happy...but then God demanded his soul. And in an instant, all that he had amassed was worthless. And worst of all, God calls him a fool. In the Bible the title "fool" is given to those who live their lives without reference to God—those who fail to fear God and his judgment.

What is God going to speak over your life when you die? The rich fool lived for money and ignored God. He overlooked the needs of others and lived for himself. He prepared the ultimate retirement, but he neglected to prepare for eternity. What a tragedy—and only death opens his eyes to the lies and the blindness brought about by greed. But it's too late for regret, too late for remorse. The rich fool had gained the whole world and lost his soul.

Jesus closes his teaching with the sobering words, "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." When we understand the eternal consequences of greed, it's little wonder that Jesus warned us so strongly to be on guard against greed.

What is it worth if you die, and the world looks at your life and says: "What a success—look at his barns; look at his grain; look at all that he gathered for himself?" If the world says that, and God looks at your life and says, "you fool," you will have lost eternally.

So how do we guard against greed? There are at least four ways that we should be vigilant against greed. We'll begin to explore them in the next post.

Best of 2007


From Tony Reinke@

The stack of excellent Christian books published in 2007 would reach at least 5 feet in the air. So while I’m privileged to have read so many great books, whittling down my top 30 favorites is no easy assignment.

In the past, some TSS readers have asked what criteria I use in making this determination and I admit it’s very subjective. My list of top books is based upon a personal opinion of the overall value of individual volumes. Which volumes pioneer new territory? Which books clarify topics of great importance? Which books from 2007 will my kids read in 10 years?

Included in the list are complex doctrinal books, academic polemics, historical biographies, children’s books, marriage books, exegetical guides, etc. My reading interests are wide open, and so is the TSS book of the year competition. There are book recommendations for pretty much all readers.

Themes in 2007

Topically, 2007 will be remembered as the year where precious doctrines like justification and the atonement took rightful center stage (see The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, The Great Exchange by Bridges and Bevington, and also #3, #12, and #25 on the top-30 list). The doctrine of assurance was the focus of two excellent new volumes (see #13 and #23). Church history and the events of the Reformation found themselves in three excellent volumes (see #8, #11, and #30). But 2007 will also be remembered as the year of John Owen, reformed spirituality, and communion with God (see #6, #14, #15, and #21). We also saw the publishing of one of the best new children’s books (see #4). All around, it was a very fruitful year for some very important topics.

2007 Books of the Year

But two books stand apart from the rest in 2007, because they are volumes that promise to shed a wealth of understanding over large sections of Scripture. They captured my attention because I know I myself have some work to do in discovering the richness of God’s revealed truth in Scripture (and especially in the Old Testament narratives).

So today I happily announce the 2007 TSS books of the year – The ESV Literary Study Bible by Leland and Philip Ryken and An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke.

TSS top-30 books from 2007

1 (tie). ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Ryken (Crossway). Getting readers comfortable enough to read large selections of Scripture was formerly the work of dynamic equivalent translations like The Message. But the Rykens establish a framework for readers to comprehend large sections of Scripture for themselves by introducing each chapter, exposing the literary style of the work, and providing a general outline of what to expect. Then readers can jump into the literature of Scripture to experience the text for themselves. In the end, the Rykens have produced a Bible that retains the “word-for-word” literal language of the ancient Scriptures (ESV) while helping readers along in fruitful comprehension. Readers who have never enjoyed the Bible from cover-to-cover will especially benefit and find the biblical storyline easier to follow. This is no ordinary study Bible, and it is one that will be cherished by the church long into the future. We wrote a full review of the LSB and also talked with Leland Ryken about it this Summer. $31.49

1 (tie). An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan). Some of the details of the Old Testament appear to simply hang suspended for the modern reader. Let’s take Exodus 2:11 for example: Why is it important that Moses became angry when he saw the harsh treatment of the Israelite by an Egyptian? Why did Moses kill the Egyptian? Why would the biblical author record this event in the first place? Some events in the Old Testament don’t entirely make sense on the surface. Waltke takes these events from the biblical narratives and weaves them into the bigger storyline of Scripture. For this specific example, it helps to understand that Moses was in transition from his identity in Pharaoh’s palace to his new identity with Israel (p. 352). This personal transition is critical in the development of Moses into one of the leaders of the Exodus. And this is just one itsy-bitsy detail from the Old Testament. By taking these seemingly disconnected events and connecting them into the bigger picture of Scripture, Waltke has given us a very helpful guide to understanding the Old Testament. This clarity informs the church of her past and thereby informs her present identity. This is a volume you will want to read slowly and digest fully, perhaps within a group of fellow Christians. Read more about this volume in our full review. $29.69

3. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (UK:IVP/US:Crossway). Written by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, this book has proven to be a huge success in both the UK and the US in defending the core of the atonement of Jesus Christ. If you want to understand the Cross at a deeper level (don’t we all) you will cherish this volume. It will go on my shelf along with some of the giants on this topic (like Stott). But what makes this volume especially important is the central role it represents in bringing together a worldwide brotherhood of Christians who believe and cherish the penal substitutionary atonement of the Cross. Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition conferences have unified the American church around these precious truths, and Pierced for Our Transgressions has unified the global Christian community. $16.50

4. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan). Finding children’s books that introduce little ones to the major stories of the Bible while simultaneously pointing their souls to the Cross is a rarity. This is perhaps the best children’s storybook Bible on the market, and a must-have for any parent of young children. Incredible illustrations, too. $11.65

5. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey (Shepherd Press). Harvey has blessed couples with an excellent book for connecting the Cross to the daily trials and triumphs of marriage. Don’t attempt marriage without the Gospel. Bring Harvey along to explain why. $11.16

6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Crossway). The classic book written by English Puritan John Owen resurfaced in 2007, in a new edition edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. It’s unlikely I can overstate the importance of Taylor and Kapic’s editorial work in introducing Owen to the new generation of young, reformed Christians. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway). $14.96

7. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Crossway). Ensor provides an excellent introduction to biblical manhood and femininity that will help engaged or married couples understand their God-ordained roles. This book is perhaps the best introductory volume on these often controversial topics. $9.59

8. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols (Crossway). With brevity, pictures, call-out boxes and humor, Stephen Nichols walks through the highlights of the Reformation to help us see that “the Reformers saw nothing less than the gospel at stake” (p. 21). It’s cliché, but true: I couldn’t put this volume down. Nichols is always good, but especially here. $10.39

9. The Reading and Preaching of the Scripture in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age by Hughes Oliphant Old (Eerdmans). This is volume six of Old’s large series tracing out the history of preaching from the Biblical era (vol. 1; 1998), the Patristic age (vol. 2; 1998), the Medieval church (vol. 3; 1999), the Reformation period (vol. 4; 2002), during Moderatism, Pietism and Awakening (vol. 5; 2004) and now the most recent volume covering the modern age of 1789-1989. Volume six alone is about 1,000 pages and covers preachers like Broadus, Kuyper, Maclaren, Moody, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. Very insightful work on the history of preaching that has replaced Dargan on my shelves. $36.50

10. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Samuel Storms (Crossway). Edwards’ work is classic, and Storms helps the contemporary reader glean its gold. Excellent commentary on one of Edwards’ most valuable works. $10.87

11. Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious by Christopher Catherwood (Crossway). Catherwood sets out the history of the Church from a global perspective, and at all times relays the implications of history to contemporary events. This “crash course” is another volume published this year for a popular audience that will help readers grown in appreciation for developments in the church’s history. $12.99

12. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper (Crossway). Piper excels with a clarification on justification in light of the contemporary debate. $12.23

13. Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace by Philip Graham Ryken, Al Mohler, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and R.C. Sproul (P&R). This collaborative effort is a very helpful collection of essays on the topic of the reformed doctrine of assurance. How do we know that we know God? (see Tullian Tchividjian’s work later.) $12.24

14. Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Baker Academic). Written originally in Dutch by Arie de Reuver, this academic work was made available in English in 2007. It traces the influences of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) upon the “Dutch Puritans” like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel. The seven biographies that fill this volume are excellent. This volumes helps us develop a “reformed spirituality,” a seeking after God’s presence illuminated by genuine theology. $21.89

15. The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ (Reformation Heritage Books). Flavel is one of the most valuable Puritans, and this study by Stephen J. Yuille looks at one facet of his theology. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ lies at the heart of the Puritan pursuit of godliness, and this small but wonderful outline traces the doctrine generally and highlights Flavel’s rich teaching specifically. $12.00

16. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway) by Sam Storms. Originally published in 1987 by Baker under the title, Chosen for Life: An introductory guide to the doctrine of divine election, Storms’ work was republished in 2007 and remains one of the clearest defenses for reformed soteriology. $12.23

17. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges (NavPress). Hitting from all sides, Bridges confronts all those sins we would rather not talk about, and provides a very Cross-centered approach to killing the flesh. $12.91

18. B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought edited by Gary L.W. Johnson (P&R). Part biography, part collected works, this new book on Warfield provides a treasure of essays on the thought and life of the outstanding theologian. $15.59

19. A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards by Michael A.G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books). A short but excellent collection of Edwards’ most important and moving personal letters, this little volume makes a great gift. $7.50

20. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification edited by Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters (Crossway). Including chapters by David Wells, Cornelius Venema and Al Mohler, this work tackles contemporary attacks upon the gospel (and especially those of N.T. Wright). $12.23

21. Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen by Kelly Kapic (Baker Academic). The long-awaited printing of Kapic’s research did not disappoint. On these same lines, Kapic also wrote the introduction to Communion with God (see #6). $18.47

22. The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust). This short work traces out 32 distinctives from the expositional ministry of the great Reformer, and sets them out as patterns for contemporary preachers. A short and encouraging work for pastors.

23. Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian (Random House). An understanding of assurance written from a very personal and compelling vantage point. Excellent in content, but I especially appreciate the format that other writers can follow in communicating biblical doctrine to a new generation of readers. $11.55

24. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato (Kregel). Excellent little handbook in helping expositors pull all the meat from the Psalms for their their sermon preparations. Not just exegetical, but also helpful in determining the overall theology of the Psalms. $14.27

25. Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification (Christian Focus). Edited by K. Scott Oliphant this compilation includes an intro by Sinclair Ferguson and chapters by men like Carl Trueman, William Edgar and Peter Lillback on the importance of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. Looks at traditional problems with Roman Catholic theology and contemporary concerns with N.T. Wright on union and imputation. $12.99

26. The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Academic). Renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. says we should preach more of the Old Testament and in his newest book he takes the preacher by the hand and shows them exactly how. Walking through 10 texts, Kaiser models exegesis and outlining of each specific texts. But in it’s easy-to-read format and concluding application questions in each chapter, this book will double as a group study of God in the Old Testament. $11.55

27. Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel (Crossway). The transcripts from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference written and delivered by Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul. An all-star lineup and one of the best compilation on the topic of preaching the gospel. $13.59

28. Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (P&R). Edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton. Yet another excellent collection of essays from P&R that captured my attention and helped me work through various difficulties in apologetics. $18.24

29. The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors by Thabiti Anyabwile (Crossway). Highlights Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). The book contains one short biography of each man, but is largely comprised of sermon transcripts. Anyabwile’s book is especially important because he is challenging the contemporary African-American churches to consider the gospel of first importance and is thereby calling for large-scale reform. $10.87

30. Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation by Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn (Reformation Heritage). The men, women and events of the Reformation written for older children and teens to boost their appreciation for the church. $18.00

And here are some other titles that are likely worthy of the above list, and I wish I made time to read:

So these are my favorite books of 2007. I hope this list serves you in your book-purchasing for the glory of Christ!


by Andreas Köstenberger@

Books in Bible and theology continue to pour from the presses at an ever-accelerating pace. Surely, of the making of books there is no end … (in fact, I’m working on a few myself right now). In case anyone is interested, here is my “completely objective” list of the “Best of 2007,” ranked in order of importance. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions regarding any additions or subtractions.

1. Greg Beale and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker. In the interest of full disclosure, I contributed “John” to this volume, but still no reason not to award first place to this book. The publication of this volume is truly a significant event in evangelical scholarship.

2. Bruce Waltke. An Old Testament Theology. Zondervan. The magnum opus of an exceedingly prolific Old Testament scholar.

3. (tie) John Piper. The Future of Justification. A Response to N. T. Wright. Crossway. A very helpful and important contribution to the ongoing discussion of the biblical teaching on justification and imputation.

3. (tie) Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions. Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Crossway. A compelling defense of the doctrine of penal substitution.

5. Daniel Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church. B & H. A very fine collection of contributions on Systematic Theology produced by a Baptist team of scholars. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, the contributors include the president, dean, and colleagues of the school where I teach, but not a reason not to include this important new volume in this list.

6. Donald McKim, ed. Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters. IVP. A major second edition that will serve as a very useful reference for years to come.

7. Philip Noss, ed. A History of Bible Translation. American Bible Society. For anyone interested in Bible translation, this is a must.

8. Mark Strauss. Four Portraits, One Jesus. An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. Zondervan. Beautifully produced and competently written, this is a very accessible resource on Jesus and the Gospels, probably the best currently available on its level.

9. Jeannine Brown. Scripture as Communication. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics. Baker. A stimulating new book on hermeneutical theory in the Vanhoozer tradition that is sure to make a contribution to the field.

10. Tom Thatcher, ed. What We Have Heard from the Beginning. The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies. Baylor University Press. Thatcher has assembled a remarkable group of scholars representing the past, present, and future of Johannine studies. This book gives an excellent orientation to the state of the field. Includes an essay by Don Carson and a brief response by yours truly.

From Tim Challies @

A few days ago Tullian Tchividjian published his list of his favorite books of 2007 and asked me if I’d do the same. I had, in fact, already worked up a list, and thought that, now that the year is drawing to a close, I’d publish it. So these are my 7 favorite books that were published in 2007 and which I read in 2007. So this is the top 7 in 07 of 07. Or something like that. Why seven? Well, because it’s catchy to say “the top 7 in 07 of 07,” but also because keeping a small list makes it more meaningful, I think.

Do note that these are the “favorite” books I read in 2007, not necessarily the “best” books I read in 2007. Hence this list is a bit more subjective than objective and looks more to the joy of reading a book than the quantity of what I learned from it. Often they go hand-in-hand, but not always.

So here they are. The top 7 in 07 of 07. In each case I’ve linked to my review of the title. With the exception of the final title, they are in no particular order.

When Sinners Say I Do by Dave HarveyWhen Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey is probably the best book I’ve read on marriage. It’s a book I’d unhesitatingly recommend to any engaged or married couple because of the way it deals so well with matters of the heart and because of the way it points always to the message of the gospel.

running_scared.jpgRunning Scared by Edward Welch deals with the universal problem of fear. A book that is filled with great quotes and impactful teaching, it is one worth reading and worth reading slowly. Because I do not know anyone who is immune from fear, I do not know of anyone who would not benefit from reading it.

A Journey Worth Taking by Charles DrewA Journey Worth Taking by Charles Drew is the only book I read twice this year. It is a book that deals superbly with the notion of calling and finding our place in this world. Written by a pastor who is in the thick of things, planting a church in New York City, it provides a biblical perspective on the “self-help”

Respectable Sins by Jerry BridgesRespectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is Bridges at his best. He deals harshly but biblically with the kinds of sins we too often overlook. This is exactly the kind of book I love to see coming from the pen of one of Christian publishing’s elder statesmen.

Pierced for Our TransgressionsPierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach is an important contribution in the area of theology. This book is a line in the sand, so to speak, and one that has served to shine a biblical light on the doctrine of atonement, standing for the orthodox view in opposition to the many alternate and unbiblical views.

Amazing Grace - Eric MetaxasAmazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. This is a biography of William Wilberforce that coincided with the 200th bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave-trade—a movement tirelessly headed by Wilberforce. I gave this book a slight edge to John Newton by Jonathan Aitken. But you may well wish to read both, especially since the men were friends and co-laborers in this work.

Jim Andrews - Polishing Gods MonumentsPolishing God’s Monuments by Jim Andrews gets the nod as my favorite book of 2007. I was drawn by the author’s ability to seamlessly blend biography with theology. Andrews models the kind of grace I hope I could display in a similar situation of pain and suffering. I’ve recommended it to more people this year than any other title. I’m going to make sure I read it again in 2008.

There are many other titles that could have made the list. There were plenty of books published this year that look excellent but which I have not yet read. While I admit that this list is no doubt imperfect, it does represent the books I most enjoyed reading this year.


From Eric Reymond @

I have been greatly encouraged, refreshed and taught this past year through the ministry of several authors, some of them alive and some of them with the Lord. In this post I want to highlight the top five books that I have read this year and in doing so, commend them to you, in this order:

/1/ Pierced for our Transgressions: Hands down, the best book I have read in a long time. This is the next book that you need to buy and read, period. (read the full review)

/2/ Evangelical Feminism: Grudem was masterful in this book. He interacted with the arguments in the egalitarian position with biblical fidelity and consistent clarity. (read the full review)

/3/ Chosen for Life: Sam Storms writes this book with passion and biblical precision. A thoroughly enjoyable read. (read the full review)

/4/ The Great Exchange: Another book on the gospel. This was great stuff from Jerry Bridges; highly recommended. (read the full review)

/5/ The Life of John Murray: I really enjoyed this book. I enjoy Murray’s commentaries and this biography was a helpful look into what made the man tick. (read the full review)

honorable mention…Temptation, Resisted & Repulsed: This book, taken from the works of John Owen, is written with great clarity and practicality for the Christian who is serious about dealing with temptation. (read the full review)


From Kim Riddlebarger @

Five of the Best Books of 2007

Top%20Five.jpgSince we are nearing the end of 2007 and everyone is looking back on the events of the past year, I thought it might be a good time to mention my top five recommended books (most important) published in 2007. These are books well worth buying and reading!

1). Michael Horton's stellar Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ (Westminster John Knox). Michael's response to Wright, Dunn, and Sanders is outstanding. Click here: Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ: Books: Michael Scott Horton

2). G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker). This is one of the most important reference books to come down the pike in years. I'm already finding it indispensible. Click here: Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Books: G. K. Beale,D. A. Carson

3). Ken Samples' A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth Claims to the Worldview Test (Baker). Ken Samples is doing yeoman's work in making the critical philosophical and apologetic issues accessible to larger audiences. Ken's also a great writer. Click here: A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test: Books: Kenneth Richard Sa

4). Dennis Johnson's Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (P & R). This book should be read by every preacher as well as everyone who sits in a pew! How should ministers prepare to preach and what should God's people be looking for in a sermon? Click here: Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures: Books: Dennis E. Johnson

5). Bruce Waltke's An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan). A great overview of redemptive-history during the Old Covenant era. Click here: An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach: Books: Bruce K. Waltke,Charles Yu


Most important books of 2007 from C Michael Patton @

1. UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

2. Kingdom Triangle by JP Moreland

3. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath

4. Putting Jesus in His Place by Ed Komoszewski and Robert Bowman

5. They Like Jesus but Not the Church by Dan Kimball

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sermon Outline: Matthew 2:1-12: Christmas Came Just the Same

1) Responding with Hostility (Herod) Matthew 2:1-3

Matthew 2:16

Genesis 25:6

2 Timothy 3:15

Jeremiah 31:33

Numbers 24:17

Matthew 5:14-16

Jeremiah 29:13

2) Responding with Indifference (chief priests and scribes)

Matthew 2:4-8

3) Responding with Worship (Magi) (Matthew 2:9-12)

Ex. 40:34-38;

Ezek. 10:4

Isaiah 60:6

The Church: The Who and the Why

By Justin Taylor@

In a recent book, evangelical pollster George Barna describes a new type of Christian whom he (positively) calls Revolutionaries. Barna describes them as "born-again Christians who had eliminated church life from their busy schedules." He writes that the life of a Revolutionary Christian "reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advances the Kingdom of God-despite the fact that [a Revolutionary Christian] rarely attends church services." Barna thinks this type of Revolutionary Christian "is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ."

How should we respond to proposals like this? How important is the local church in the plan of God? And when we talk about "the church," what exactly do we mean--and why should we care?

I could give a precise theological answer to start, but in some ways that's like reading the conclusion to a book before you begin with the first chapter. The authors of Scripture often skip the dictionary-type definitions and instead prefer to paint word pictures, weaving together various images and metaphors to help us understand the nature and necessity of the church from multiple angles.Instead of taking a flyby tour of all of Scripture, let's camp in the book of Ephesians and see what it teaches us about Christ and his church.

Who Is Christ?
You cannot understand the nature and necessity of the church without understanding who Christ is in relation to the church and what he does to and through the church. Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23). The "head" on one's body directs the body as to where is should go and what it should do-and so it is with Christ, who possesses all authority.

Christ is also called the chief cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:20). Cornerstones were of utmost important in laying the foundation for a building, ensuring that they were square and therefore stable. God's people (the church) depend on God's Son (the Christ) for growth and stability.

Finally, Christ is the savior and the sanctifier of the church (Eph. 5:23, 26-27). Apart from Christ we are just a mass of people under the wrath of God. But out of sinful humanity God in Christ redeems for himself a called-out people (the "church") who will be under his mercy, will be his people and his ambassadors, will reflect his holiness, will preach the whole counsel of God (in particular the good news of the kingdom of God in Christ), will administer his sacraments (which are physical parables or word pictures to teach us more about the gospel), and will exercise his discipline.

What Does Christ Do for and through the Church?
As mentioned above, Christ is the savior and sanctifier of the church, which is because he savors the church and sacrificed himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Christ's substitution for the church is the ultimate expression of his love for her. We must never get beyond it. But we must also remember that God's love was not only expressed in a single event in the past, but that his love continues even now. Even now Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (Eph. 5:29). One of the ways in which we see his love is the fact that he gives the church ministry workers (Eph. 5:29) to edify, instruct, and serve the church. It is a privilege to serve, it is a privilege to lead, and it is a privilege to be led. Finally, Christ displays the manifest wisdom of God through the church to the angels-the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). Think of it: the angels--the perfect, sinless beings who have always beheld the glory and the wisdom of God--get a fresh glimpse and taste of God's wisdom through you and me?! Wonder of wonders.

Who Is the Church?
If Christ is the foundational cornerstone, then the church is his temple. If Christ is the savior, then the church is the saved. If Christ is the sanctifier, then the church is the sanctified. If Christ is the head, then we are his body (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30)

What Does the Church Do?
So what is the church-the saved, sanctified body/temple of Christ-to do? Our fundamental job description is to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24). We are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1), which more specifically means following Christ's path of walking in love (Eph. 5:2). We are to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24) and to grow in him (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:15).

If you love Christ, you will love his word. If you love Christ's word, you will love his church. We dare not mock or treat as dispensable that for which Christ died. As the church, we are the bride of Christ. Let us labor, therefore, to make it our own, since Christ himself has made us his own (Phil. 3:12).

Suggestions for Further Reading
I highly recommend that you read Sam Storms's evaluation of Barna's book. Storms has three posts on the book:
_(1) Revolution - Part I;
_(2)Revolution - Part II;
_(3)George Barna’s Revolution: A Follow-Up.

For further reading on the church, consider Joshua Harris's Stop Dating the Church; Mark Dever's 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church; or Edmund Clowney's The Church and R.B. Kuiper's The Glorious Body of Christ.


Justin Taylor serves at Crossway Books in Wheaton, where he is the Study Bible project director and an associate publisher.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The State of the Canadian Church -- Part III: Are Christians in danger of becoming a persecuted minority?

Part I | Part II

By Jim Coggins @

This is the third in a series of articles on the Canadian church, drawing on the expertise of a variety of researchers and church leaders.

"The public square has become a hostile arena for social-conservative Christians because the public square has been co-opted by a militant SecularismSecularism seeks to eliminate our culture's acknowledgement of the Divine." -- 'Our Philosophy of Engagement,' ECP Centre (Equipping Christians for the Public Square)

"It is High Noon for the church in Canada . . . A threat is barreling down the track towards us. Years from now our own grandchildren may ask us, 'Where were you when they tried to muzzle the church in Canada?'" -- Rev. Royal M. Hamel, 'Open Letter to Canadian Clergy on Hate Speech Bill C-415'

According to a recent Ipsos survey, 39 percent of weekly church attenders "strongly agree . . . that there is a general bias against the viewpoints that are held by deeply committed Christians." Only 16 percent of those who don't attend weekly agree.

Church attenders and a variety of Christian social action groups cite a variety of cases where Christians have been prosecuted before human rights commissions and the courts for speaking out on moral issues, particularly homosexuality. They also cite a number of cases where Christian viewpoints have been excluded from institutions and public forums, most notably in the area of education.

Is this the beginning of a general persecution of Christians in Canada? Will the minority of Canadians who are true Christians soon be silenced and oppressed by a secular majority? And, as is sometimes asked, is this the beginning of the Great Tribulation of the End Times?

In the first place, there is no "secular" majority in Canada. Research compiled by sociologist Reg Bibby shows that only about 7 percent of Canadians are atheists.

In the 2004 General Social Survey done by the Canadian government, 19 percent of Canadians said they had "no religion." However, perhaps the most accurate gauge of the increase in secularism is the recent Ipsos survey that found that 33 percent of Canadians had not attended church in the past year.

Looked at positively, according to Ipsos, 67 percent of Canadians said they had attended church at least once in the past year, 64 percent said religion is important to their daily life, 64 percent believed the Bible is the Word of God, and 62 percent believed in forgiveness through Christ.

But this does not mean that the majority of Canadians are committed Christians either. As discussed in the first article in this series, only about 20 percent of Canadians attend church weekly and about a third of Canadians attend monthly.

What this means is that in Canada there are a group of committed Christians at one end of the scale, a group of secularists at the other end of the scale and a large group of Canadians somewhere in the middle.

A very telling statistic is the Ipsos finding that 72 percent of Canadians believe that "Private beliefs are more important than what is taught by any church." In other words, while about two-thirds of Canadians are favourable toward the Christian church, only about a quarter are inclined to accept the authority of the church.

This is particularly true in moral matters, which is the area where Christians experience the most opposition. An Angus Reid survey done for the Vancouver Sun and published last week found that only about 12 percent of Canadians are "Strict Moralists" and about 25 percent are "Laissez-Faire Moralists," people who "don't have a problem with almost anything." The survey found, for instance, that over 60 percent of Canadians approve of abortion and homosexuality, and 83 percent approve of having a baby outside marriage.

While the secular minority might like to silence Christians, the majority of Canadians are quite willing to tolerate the Christian church. On the other hand, those in the middle do not necessarily accept Christian morality either and are increasingly reluctant to support Christians' attempts to have Christian morality reflected in Canadian law.

The attitude seems to be that Canadian Christians are free to believe what they want as long as they do not try to have those beliefs reflected in public policy. A growing minority, likely composed of secularists and a growing number of those in the middle, is thus less tolerant of committed Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, in public life.

A recent Ipsos survey found that 65 percent of Canadians found it acceptable for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to use "God bless Canada" at the end of his speeches, while only 26 percent (the hard-core secularists?) were opposed.

Similarly, 62 percent thought "Religious communities are a force for good in society," and 59 percent thought "Religious leaders are a force for good in society."

In 2006, 63 percent of Canadians said they were willing to vote for an evangelical Christian for prime minister, but that is down from 80 percent in 1996. Significantly, a larger group, 68 percent, were willing to vote for an atheist or a Muslim (down from 72 percent and 74 percent respectively).

Moreover, only 39 percent thought "Christians should get involved in politics to protect their values" (down from 46 percent in 1996), and only 40 percent thought "It is essential that traditional Christian values play a major role in Canadian politics (down from 45 percent).

The polarization was most obvious on the question "I think it's a good thing if people with strong religious beliefs express their views on political issues" -- 21 percent (the committed Christian core?) strongly agreed, and 27 percent (committed secularists?) strongly disagreed, with half of Canadians somewhere in the middle.

Pollster Andrew Grenville told that a lot of the anti-evangelical sentiment seems to be a reaction against US President George Bush and the Iraq War, and to a lesser extent against Harper. Grenville said he could not predict what might happen to that sentiment once Bush is no longer president. In any case, while admitting that discrimination against Christians does exist in some places, he said it is "not systematic," the majority of Canadians are still favourably disposed to Christianity, and "the fear of persecution is overblown."

David Harris, editor of the Presbyterian Record, suggested some of the antagonism to the church is deserved: "The wrongs committed in the name of organized religion, such as involvement in residential schools, continues to taint organized Christianity." However, he said that that antagonism is not universally shared: "I think there is still a significant skepticism verging towards bias against organized religion in general among the ruling liberal intelligentsia. However, I think Canadians are still very interested in spiritual matters."

Veteran political observer and journalist Lloyd Mackey suggested another reason why some Christians arouse antagonism: "I am sometimes discouraged by Christian professional polemicists who attempt to build straw persons to attack and then, when attacked in return, play the persecution card." However, he observed, "While there are a few literate atheists taking articulate potshots at the church, I find that most people are quite respectful toward the church."

Political scientist John H. Redekop clearly stated the growing problem: "In most parts of Canada the larger society is becoming less supportive of traditional Christian values and practices. Society is becoming more secular. This will create serious problems for the church . . . It seems to me that in recent years Canadian society, including its vocal leaders, have become increasingly tolerant of minor religions and increasingly less tolerant of Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity." However, he was not totally pessimistic: "A truly secular society, as it realizes its ideological futility and moral rootlessness, may, in fact, become increasingly open to the Christian gospel and the Christian ethic."

Brian Stiller, president of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto was more hopeful. "The pendulum of secularism has swung as far as it can, and it's now in retreat," he said. Citing recent media coverage and the election of an evangelical (Stephen Harper) as prime minister, he added, "I see this as evidence that the community is not so afraid of who we are or what we believe as they once might have been."

Bruce J. Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, described the ambiguity: "We are living in a post-Christendom society which is secularized yet very religious and highly individualistic." On the one hand, "there is a cooperative, conciliatory and generous spirit," but "societal norms are being challenged and re-evaluated," he said.

"Canada is in transition," Clemenger added. "In the aftermath of a period of rapid secularization, Canada is searching for a clearer sense of its identity amidst the diversity of culture, race, religion, lifestyle, social and political visions."