Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Note to Self

Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. Joe Thorn. Foreword by Sam Storms. 2011. Crossway Books. 144 pages.

I would definitely recommend Note to Self! It is very reader friendly. And for those that think theology means boring and irrelevant, let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth!

I love the foreword and introduction, I do. They do prepare the reader for what is to come. They are rich in truth. They challenge the reader to take the Bible seriously, to take faith seriously.

But. Most of the "chapters" in this one are quite short! And also very direct. Each chapter begins with "Dear Self." The entries are arranged into three categories: The Gospel and God; The Gospel and Others; The Gospel and You. Topics include "Love," "Fear," "Endure," "Seek God," "Stop Judging," "Stop Pretending," "Forgive," "Sow Grace," "Listen to Others," "Repent," "Die to Sin," "Stop Complaining," "Be Careful in Your Theology," "Suffer Well," "Read."

I love how direct this one is! I love how relevant it is! The chapters are short enough--yet substantive enough--that they'd be perfect for devotional reading.

From the foreword:

The inspiration and authority of the Scriptures are of value to us only so far as we change our beliefs to conform to its principles and alter our behavior to coincide with its imperatives. (12)
In other words, for the Bible to be of value to us it must actually function to shape how we think, feel, and act as well as what we believe, value, and teach. (12)
Crave the word of God. Be desperate for it! Seek it. Yearn for it. Long for it. Desire it. Tolerate nothing in your life that might diminish your hunger for God's Word. And apply it with vigor and spiritual energy! The Word of God, whether it is preached and heard or read and memorized is more than simply true. It is effectual. The Word of God does more than merely announce: it accomplishes! It doesn't just impart information: it creates life! (19)
From the introduction:
Preaching to ourselves is the personal act of applying the law and the gospel to our own lives with the aim of experiencing the transforming grace of God leading to ongoing faith, repentance, and greater godliness. (24)
Good preaching always shows how truth is relevant, applicable, or experiential, but preachers can only take the Word so far. They do not know what lies in our hearts or the specific ways in which we may be struggling with doubt, fear, or failure. When hearing the Word preached, we still must apply it to our own hearts and lives. (24)
Essentially, the law shows us three things: it shows us what's right, what's wrong, and what's needed. (25)
It is the bad news that makes the good news of the gospel so relevant. (27)
In preaching the law to ourselves we see and admire God's will and way, while exposing and confessing our sinfulness. This leads us toward the gospel where we find our only hope of redemption and restoration. Preaching the law to ourselves breaks our pride, leads to humility, and calls us to cry out to God and depend on his mercy. (27)
In one sense we must say that the gospel is history. It happened. Simply put, the gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. (30)
In the Bible, "gospel" is not something we do but something we believe. It is the good news of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. (30)
At its core, the gospel is Jesus as the substitute for sinners. We could summarize the whole by saying that in his life Jesus lives in perfect submission to the will of God and he fulfills his righteous standard (the law). In his death on the cross he quenches God's wrath against sin, satisfying the sovereign demand for justice. In his resurrection he is victorious over sin and death. All of this is done on behalf of sinners in need of redemption and is offered to all who believe. This is therefore very "good news." (30)
Jesus' life is good news, for his obedience to the Father and fulfillment of the law is for us. Where we as sinners fail to keep the law, Jesus was perfectly faithful. Jesus' death is good news because his death was a payment for our sin, and by it we are cleansed from our guilt and released from condemnation. Jesus' resurrection is good news because his victory over death is ours and through it we look forward to a resurrection of our own. (30)
Preaching to ourselves is, in a practical sense, like reading notes you have written to yourself. They will amount to important reminders about who we really are in ourselves and in Christ (32).
To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget. (32)
From chapter seven "Jesus is Big"

Dear Self,

Take note--your view of Jesus tends to shrink over time. It is not that your theology itself drifts, but sometimes you so focus on one aspect of Jesus that you tend to forget the rest. The result is a shrinking Jesus (in your faith). And as your shrinking Jesus becomes small Jesus, he is easily eclipsed by your idols and ego.

The bigger and more biblical your understanding of who Jesus is, the more likely he is to be such an object of love and adoration that the idols that aim at capturing your attention and swaying your allegiance will lose their power. This is why you sometimes lack earnestness for the kingdom and the glory of God while you overflow with passion concerning temporal things. Instead of making a joyful noise and singing earnestly for the victory Christ has over sin and death, you express a dispassionate approval and mouth the words to the songs sung in worship. But there is often fire in your belly and shouts of joy when your favorite college football team is victorious over the competition. This is probably why the church is shrinking in North America--because small Jesus does not inspire awe, command respect, lead to worship, or compel us to talk of him (much less suffer for him). And small Jesus is too little to arrest the attention of the world.

So please remember--Jesus is bigger than you tend to think. He is the perfect revelation of God, the radiance of his glory, the exact imprint of his nature; he is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. Everything belongs to him and exists for him. He is the author of your salvation, the perfecter of your faith, and the only one in whom you can find life. (47-48)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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