By / Dec 27

The debate over the ethics of abortion long predated the infamous Roe v. Wade decision and will continue well after the life-saving Dobbs decision in June 2022. Many throughout ethical and philosophical circles have put forth various arguments for abortion and a woman’s right to choose. Christopher Kaczor recently released an updated version of his thorough and helpful book, The Ethics of Abortion, engaging these arguments from a philosophical perspective that is focused on the equal value of the baby, the mother, and the father.

Kaczor unpacks the loaded language used in these debates and does this alongside a forceful critique of most of the major arguments for abortion. He even addresses potential questions about emerging technologies like the use of artificial wombs in the future.

This book is full of trenchant insight into ethics in a post-Roe world. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand and respond to the debates over the morality of abortion and its intersection with social ethics.

By / Dec 27

Set against the backdrop of the Ukraine revolution against Russia in 2013-2014, I Will Die in a Foreign Land, by Kalani Pickhart, is historical fiction that provides a window into the past, present, and future battle over Ukraine’s freedom. The novel braids together the stories of four individuals caught up in the violent protests that culminated in a deadly confrontation at Independence Square in Kyiv and ultimately led to the Russian annexation of Crimea. It is a haunting portrait of a people who have been fighting a long time for the right to rule themselves and their land. 

Although the politics at play in the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” are complex and nuanced, the novel exposes the human cost of the centuries-old Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is a must read for those seeking a richer understanding of the present war with Russia. I was left with a deeper appreciation for the strength and endurance of the Ukrainian people.

By / Dec 27

What happened to the apostles after the book of Acts? In his book After Acts, Bryan Litfin brings readers along as he conducts a comprehensive investigation into answering this question. He provides background for these biblical characters and presents historical evidence that points to different theories surrounding what came next for them. Throughout the book Litfin consistently amplifies the reality that they surrendered everything for the sake of the gospel. While history is unclear, Litfin reinforces the reality that we can be certain these individuals spent their lives on mission so that people would hear the good news. 

In a way, this book is not solely a historical resource, but also a call upon its readers to ask themselves: how am I spending my life for the kingdom of God? After Acts will leave you encouraged by the boldness, faith, and love for the Lord on display in the apostles’ lives.

By / Nov 15

Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 15, 2022Southern Baptist ethicist Jason Thacker of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and renowned, moral philosopher C. Ben Mitchell recently contracted with B&H Academic to edit a new eight-volume series entitled Essentials in Christian Ethics, set to begin release next year.

The first in the series of short, introductory level volumes features the work of theologian and ethicist David VanDrunen of Westminster Seminary California on the topic of natural law and the moral order, which will be released in November 2023.

With the Essentials in Christian Ethics series, Mitchell and Thacker hope to help equip the next generation to see the centrality of ethics in the Christian life, especially in the training of future leaders for the church. Volumes will begin releasing in 2023 and continue through 2026.

“Ethics is not merely an academic discipline, but intricately woven into the very fabric of the Christian life as we all seek to apply God’s word to the society in which we have been placed and live in light of those truths, no matter the circumstances we face today,” said Thacker.

Current volumes under contract include: 

  • Natural Law Ethics with Van Drunen;
  • Biblical Ethics with Jacob Shatzer of Union University;
  • Metaethics with J.P. Moreland and David Horner of Biola University;
  • Political Philosophy with Bryan Baise of Boyce College;
  • Bioethics with C. Ben Mitchell;
  • Just War and the Ethics of Contemporary Warfare with Paul D. Miller of Georgetown University.

About Jason Thacker: Thacker serves as the director of the ERLC’s Research Institute and chair of research in technology ethics where he leads the Digital Public Square research project. He also teaches at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. and is the author of multiple works on Christian ethics and public theology. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Christian ethics, public theology, and philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

About C. Ben Mitchell: Mitchell earned a Ph.D. with a concentration in medical ethics from the University of Tennessee. He held the Graves Chair of Moral Philosophy at Union University for more than a decade before his retirement in 2020. Mitchell previously taught bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Graduate School and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

By / Aug 23

 NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 23, 2022— What does faith have to do with pressing issues of life in a digital world? Jason Thacker addresses this question in his latest book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age releasing Aug. 30 from B&H Publishing Group.          

Thacker, who serves as the director of the Research Institute at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and as chair of research in technology ethics, wrote Following Jesus in a Digital Age to challenge Christians to consider how technology shapes their faith and how to navigate the most difficult aspects of digital culture—including the rise of misinformation, conspiracy theories, social media, digital privacy and social polarization.             

“The ERLC has for the last several years been at the forefront of thinking critically and biblically about emerging technologies and the influence they are having on our culture,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the ERLC. “This is due, in no small part, to the work of Jason Thacker, one of the leading thinkers focusing on the crossroads of ethics and technology. In fact, this very book springs forth from the very research Jason is spearheading on issues of the digital public square. It is a helpful resource that promises wisdom and insight for any individual, small group, or church that seeks to honor God as they navigate the digital age.” 

According to Hootsuite’s Global State of Digital 2022 report, the average person spends about two and a half hours a day on social media and nearly seven hours a day using the internet.  

Following Jesus in a Digital Age is designed to help readers understand the deeply formative nature of technology.  

“This book reminds all of us that technology is subtly, yet drastically altering how we perceive the world around us, including issues of the nature of truth, responsibility and identity in our digital age,” Thacker said. “Amid the confusion and seeming cultural chaos of our day, Christians can engage these pressing issues of technology and ethics from a place of hope rooted in God’s unfailing Word and how He calls us to live with wisdom in our increasingly digital culture.” 

In September 2021, the ERLC launched the Digital Public Square, a long-term research project convening top Christian thinkers to explore the intersection of Christian ethics, technology and today’s digital public square. 

In addition to Thacker’s Following Jesus in Digital Age book, leaders of the Digital Public Square project plan to release assets over a two-year period to equip Christians on why ethics of technology matter to human flourishing and our public discourse.  

Upcoming Digital Public Square project assets include:

  • Weekly podcast with top leaders across society called, The Digital Public Square focused on theology, ethics and philosophy in the public square;
  • Corresponding Bible study with Lifeway Adults on similar topics to Following Jesus in a Digital Age;
  • Edited collection of academic essays with B&H Academic entitled, The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society;
  • Guidebook for students and teenagers about social media set for release in January 2023 by Christian Focus.

The project will culminate with an in-depth report on the state of the digital public square and a set of guiding ethical principles for digital governance and the public square in the coming year. To learn more about the Digital Public Square project, visit ERLC.com/digital

By / Sep 8

“You probably don’t have another book like this in your library” (9).

These are the words that open Patrick Schreiner’s new book, The Visual Word: Illustrated Outlines of the New Testament Books. And I suspect he’s right. The Visual Word stands alone in its uniqueness and, in many ways, its utility. The book is an achievement that gives modern-day Bible readers an aid, as Jen Wilkin writes, “in having not just ears to hear the Word in context, but also eyes to see.”

Schreiner, a professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of several books including The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross and The Ascension of Christ, teamed up with Anthony Benedetto, an accomplished and award-winning illustrator and designer, to produce this gripping resource.

If you are a Bible reader looking for a jolt to help energize and inform the way you apprehend the New Testament, take a look at this creative and beautiful accompaniment to the Scripture.

“What is this book?”

“For most of you this is not a typical book on the Bible” (10). 

Indeed, not only is this not a typical book on the Bible, it is not a typical book at all. While many works of contemporary theology are packaged in a sort of narrative format, tracing a logical route through the entire arc of their argument, The Visual Word is packaged not as narrative but as a collection of illustrated outlines covering each book of the New Testament. Thus, instead of being read straight through (though you can certainly do that), the book is meant to serve as a resource that sits next to one’s open Bible, illuminating the context of the Scriptures, enabling the reader to better comprehend and remember God’s Word.

Schreiner’s own experience as a seminary professor has been that many of his students have responded positively to the method that he and Benedetto employ in this book. When developing and using visual aids, he “could see things clicking in the students’ minds as they followed the author’s train of thought” with the help of his drawings (10). 

Fast-forward to today, and The Visual Word stands alone as a resource, a study tool, and a vivid and new way to interact with the final 27 books in the canon of Scripture. 

Who is this book for?

Who is The Visual Word for? In a word, everyone. 

In the introductory pages, Schreiner instructs his readers on the best ways to utilize this resource, from “church members and attenders” to “pastors” to “Sunday School teachers, lay Bible instructors, parents, and professors” to “students.” There are specific instructions and uses outlined for each group, but the common thread that ties each directive together is this: The Visual Word is for you. 

Regardless of where you find yourself, whether a young student or an experienced pastor, there is something within the pages of this book that will be of great benefit. Students, for instance, may find it useful to treat The Visual Word like a textbook (11), while many pastors may discover it’s helpful in their sermon preparation. Whatever the case, it is clear that anyone’s shelf this book occupies will be aesthetically enriched (it is a beautiful book, but more on that later). But more importantly, anyone’s Bible study accompanied by Schreiner’s and Benedetto’s labor in these illustrated outlines will be spiritually enriched.

Employing beauty and beholding beauty

One of the central themes of The Visual Word, though it goes largely unstated, is the idea and importance of beauty — the beauty plastered on each page of the book and the beauty of the Scriptures themselves. In a day of weakened attention spans and biblical illiteracy, “we need resources that help readers better understand Scripture,” yes, “but also that help readers love Scripture,” as Brett McCracken writes. And there is simply nothing more potent to awaken love than beauty. 

The icons and images illustrated by Benedetto do a masterful job of employing beauty for the sake of helping readers excavate and behold the beauty embedded in the Bible. As Schreiner writes early on, “Each book of the Bible contains a story. An argument. Like a symphony or a play, the Bible was not put together haphazardly but carefully designed to communicate something” (10). And that something, as Mike Reeves argues in Delighting in the Trinity, is “the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God” (9), and, I might add, the sacred text he has given to make himself known to us. 

One of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s most famous lines was his declaration that “beauty will save the world.” As Christians, we can go even further than Dostoevsky by saying that Beauty, himself, created the world, sustains the world, and will one day return to his world and make it right. And it takes an encounter with God’s beauty in Christ for us to come awake to this reality. 

To that end, Schreiner and Benedetto have pulled back the curtain of Scripture just a bit further — and done so beautifully — so that their readers can discover the beauty of God’s Word and encounter the beauty of God himself. 

By / Sep 2

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overtly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place. 

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men. 

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands. 

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

By / Jul 8

I remember a seminary professor of mine saying once, “The biggest problem most preachers have is they don’t read enough fiction.” I’ll admit, at the time, with all the problems I could list that most churches and pastors experience, a lack of novels was not near the top of my list.

In time, though, I came to realize this professor was right, and more importantly, I came to understand why. I realized, too, that when it comes to moral decision-making, the same holds true. So I’ll propose a similar ally in a quest for understanding and nourishing our moral and ethical frameworks: stories. Here’s why.

Stories speak the soul’s native language.

As humans created in the image of God, we’re hard-wired by God to be drawn toward narrative. This makes sense at one level when you stop and think about the fact that, as creatures, at our most basic level, we are all part of one cosmic story of redemption authored by God himself. We are born with an innate knowledge of this story’s Author (Rom. 1:20). Those of us in Christ have been given a preview of the plot’s culmination and are commissioned to reshape our own lives in light of our role in that final, everlasting chapter.

On another level, we’re created to love stories because God reveals himself to us in story form — and does so for a reason. Think about the nature of Scripture. At Sinai, God dictated the Ten Commandments to Moses. He could have just as easily done that with the entire Bible, giving us a divinely inspired systematic theology textbook. But he didn’t. Instead, he gave us a long and winding story about people and places and problems that often feel quite distant to us. And in spite of that, God tells us this is our story, and challenges us to find our place in it.

Much closer to home, the effect narrative has on us is powerful. Your average boy doesn’t learn about bravery from a daycare lecture on virtue; instead, long before he’s able to spell chivalry, he’s captivated by the hero racing into dark caves to ward off dragons and save the princess — and he’s playacting the same script in the woods and on the playground. More awkwardly, we’re all familiar with “that guy” at the gym —Jock Jams blaring in his ear buds, staring into the mirror between sets admiring his simulated swing as he imagines being the hero who hits the game-winning home run. In both cases, the story and script drill down deeply to the level of one’s own identity and intuitions.

For most, our first exposure to injustice, glory, sacrifice, rescue, heroism, and wickedness is often in some story. And our lives and psyches are shaped in ways we often don’t even realize by the stories we read, superimpose on our lives, and then rehearse in ways big and small. Why is that?

Stories sneak past the fallen soul’s defenses.

In Scripture, there’s a reason that Nathan, when forced to confront King David on his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah, told a story about a rich man selfishly stealing a ewe lamb from a poor man. David, not seeing himself as part of this story, is outraged by the audacity of the man. And it’s only at that point that Nathan cries out that “You are the man” in this story, the one you say “deserves to die” because of his wickedness (2 Sam. 12:5). Nathan knows if he leads with an accusation, “You murdered Uriah! How could you?,” he’ll be met with some justification from David, “You don’t understand!” Instead, Nathan abstracts David’s sins and refashions them into a story that gets around the defenses David’s heart has constructed.

You and I, though, do the same thing that David did: we put up defenses that justify whatever actions we take. Any good preaching class uses Nathan as an example of how to preach, because sin has constructed barriers into the human heart to guard it from oncoming accusation. The job of the preacher is to find ways around those defenses.

In the same vein, Jonathan Haidt, in his excellent book The Righteous Mind, argues convincingly that when it comes to moral judgments and decision-making, our intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. When strategic reasoning does come in, our reasoning acts less like a judge, impartially weighing evidence, but acts instead like a press secretary, immediately seeking to find justifications for decisions.

When we read, then, we do two things at once. On the one hand, we feed our instincts. Stories are uniquely absorbed into our lives and identities in ways that aren’t always easy to perceive. In reading, we don’t merely consume as in visual media. In reading, we engage: we go to different places, experiencing things not available to us in our own localities. We are confronted with difficulties we did not create and thus forced to feel empathy for people and situations we might not otherwise have occasion to consider. On the other hand, when we read we also welcome concepts in through a back door that evade the walls we have constructed in our own hearts. We invite pangs and insights that a sterile and shallow world of our own construction might never otherwise allow to enter in.

Of course, not all stories are nourishing; not all food is healthy. And reading, in and of itself, makes not a more virtuous person. But make no mistake: stories are powerful. As we identify with what we take in, we feed our ethical imaginations and broaden our moral vocabulary — creating categories, carving pathways, and cultivating instincts that show up in hundreds of ways every single day.

If that’s the case, then, as counterintuitive as it may sound, when it comes to moral decision-making, you are what you read.

By / Jun 8

We live in a culture that is anxious and fearful about all kinds of things. Lack of control, loss, and a million “what-ifs” plague our thinking and grip us with fear almost daily. And though we like to think the defensive posture we take against these fears will allay our phobias and amend the dangers lurking around every corner, it leads us toward a more resolute posture of misdirected fear and moral confusion. All this, says Michael Reeves, is a “consequence of a prior loss: the fear of God.”

In his latest book, Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord, Reeves addresses this idea of fear head-on, and he calls the church to a retrieval of the doctrine of the fear of the Lord. And, contrary to what many may assume, doing so leads not to “morose and stuffy” disciples, but to a deep, abiding happiness and “delight in God.” 

Reeves recently spent time answering some of our questions about his excellent book. Read our interview below.

You do a lot of work in the book ensuring that the reader arrives at a proper, biblical definition of the word “fear.” How does modern culture define fear?

Our culture is a deeply anxious one. From Twitter to television we fret about global terrorism, extreme weather, pandemics, and political turmoil. Though we are more prosperous and secure, though we have more safety than almost any society in history, we are constantly looking for ways to eradicate our fears. And this should be no surprise: when your culture is hedonistic, your religion therapeutic, and your goal a feeling of personal well-being, fear will be the ever-present headache. 

But the real reason for our anxiety is our loss of the fear of God. Having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.

When the Bible uses the phrase “fear of God,” what does it mean by that?

The right fear of God is a blessing of the new covenant (Jer. 32:39–40). The Lord promises: “They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide” (Jer. 33:9). This is not a fear of punishment. Quite the opposite: in Jeremiah 33, the Lord reeled off a catalogue of pure blessing. He would cleanse them, forgive them, and do great good for them. And they fear and tremble precisely because of all the good he does for them.

In fact, it is Jesus’ own filial fear that believers are brought to share. Jesus fears the Lord his wonderful Father (Isa. 11:3). Now it is not that he loves God and has joy in God, but finds (unfortunately) that to fulfill all righteousness he also must fear God. Quite the opposite: the Spirit who rests on him is the Spirit of the fear of the Lord, and his delight is in the fear of the Lord. This filial fear is part of the Son’s pleasurable adoration of his Father; indeed, it is the very emotional extremity of that wonder.

You say part of society’s confusion about fear and its larger moral confusion is a consequence of our collective loss of this fear of God. How does a proper fear of God calm the fears and anxieties that our culture is perpetually plagued by?

The fear of the Lord acts like Aaron’s staff, which ate up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians. As the fear of the Lord grows, it outgrows, eclipses, consumes, and destroys all rival fears. So the Lord could advise Isaiah, ‘do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread’ (Isa. 8:12-13). When the fear of the Lord becomes central and more important, other fears subside. 

To be clear, the fear of the Lord does not eclipse and consume other fears simply because it sees God is bigger than the other things I fear, though there certainly is that. It is beauty that kills the raging beast of anxiety. See, for example, how in Psalm 27 David speaks of the Lord’s ‘light’ and ‘salvation’ as the balm for his fears. Here is truth for every Christian who needs the strength to rise above their anxieties, or who needs the strength to pursue an unpopular but righteous course. The fear of the Lord is the only fear that imparts strength.

You distinguish in the book “between wrong fear and right fear.” Can you describe why, at the root of “wrong fear,” we’re likely to find unbelief? How does unbelief contribute to a confused or wrong fear?

Yes, this wrong fear of God is at odds with love for God. Where a right fear falls down in worship leaning toward God in love, a wrong fear dreads, opposes, and retreats from God. This is the fear which generates the doubt which rationalizes unbelief. It arises in good part from a misunderstanding of God. The unfaithful servant in Jesus’s parable of the 10 minas displays exactly this problem when he unfairly complains to his master, “I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man” (Luke 19:20; also Matt. 25:24, 25). He sees nothing of his master’s kindness: in his shortsighted eyes the great man is all parsimonious severity, and therefore the servant is simply afraid. He is just like Adam who, though once convinced of God’s goodness, becomes tempted by his own sin to think of God as mean-spirited and uncharitably restrictive. When people, through misunderstanding, become simply afraid of God, they will never entrust themselves to him, but must turn elsewhere for their security.

In contrast, you state that “faith is fertilized by the (right) fear of God.” How is it that a proper fear of God bolsters our faith in God?

Right fear is part of the make-up of the heart that trusts God, which is why we read in Scripture of this fear moving or giving birth to faith. The Israelites, for example, “saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31). In fact, saving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will only trust in God to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him. Right, wondering fear prompts us to trust in God. Only a God-fearing heart will ever be a God-trusting heart.

Is there a connection between the fear of God and our love for God?

Absolutely! Sometimes fear of God and love of God are put in parallel, as in Psalm 145:19-20. Similarly, Moses equates fear and love in his summary of the law (Deut. 6:1–5). The living God is infinitely perfect and quintessentially, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way: his righteousness, his graciousness, his majesty, his mercy, his all. As such, we do not love him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, and fearful love. In a sense, then, the trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the intensity of the saints’ love for and enjoyment of all that God is. It is love for God as God.

When we have a proper fear of God, what is the result? What kind of person does this right fear form us to be?

You naturally expect that the fear of God would make you morose and stuffy, but quite the opposite. Unlike our sinful fears, which make us twitchy and gloomy, the fear of God has a profoundly uplifting effect: it makes us happy as we share Christ’s own pleasure and delight in God. 

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,’ wrote Solomon (Prov 1:7). In the fear of God we know God. Any ‘knowledge of God’ that is devoid of such fearful and overwhelmed wondering is actually blind and barren. The living God is so wonderful he is not truly known where he is not worshipped and heartily adored. We who love theology need to remember that there is no true knowledge of God where there is no right fear of him. In the fear of God we also know ourselves: it is when we are most thrilled with God and his redemption that our masks slip and we see ourselves for what we really are: as creatures, as sinners, as forgiven, as adopted.

The fear of the Lord is also — and most famous for being — the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Mere intelligence is not a safe guide to walking through life wisely. We need the fear of God to steer our abilities, and without it, all our abilities are a liability. Take the brilliant young theological thug online: he may just be as bright as he thinks he is, but his untempered ability only makes him more dangerous. 

How can followers of Jesus cultivate a biblical fear of God?

Psalm 130:4 teaches us that forgiveness is the most fertile soil for growing a right fear of God. Without God’s forgiveness we could never approach him or want to. Without the cross, God would be only a dreadful judge of whom we would be afraid. It is divine forgiveness and our justification by faith alone that turns our natural dread of God as sinners into the fearful, trembling adoration of beloved children. ‘Oh! that a great God should be a good God,’ wrote John Bunyan, ‘a good God to an unworthy, to an undeserving, and to a people that continually do what they can to provoke the eyes of his glory; this should make us tremble.’1John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.

For those who sincerely desire to fear God aright but find that “right fear” elusive, what words of encouragement do you have for them? 

Know that the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven. For when we rejoice in God so intensely that we quake and tremble, then are we being most heavenly, like the angels who fall on their faces in ecstatic wonder. But for now, Christians see in part and so we only love and rejoice in part. We hang our heads, knowing that moments of filial, trembling wonder are all too faint and all too few. But when we see him as he is, that ecstasy will be unimpaired and absolute. Now our fearful wondering at God is partial; then it will be unconfined.

Yet as we wait, the answer to our spiritual lethargy comes at the foot of the cross. At the cross you simultaneously repent and rejoice. His mercy accentuates your wickedness, and your very wickedness accentuates his grace, leading you to a deeper and more fearfully happy worship of the Savior. It is there that our resisting dread of God turns to fearful adoration.

  • 1
    John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.
By / Jun 7

On a rare day away from the kids several years ago, I hurried to a major bookstore. My career as a children’s book author was just beginning, and I felt I could reasonably justify a long, quiet afternoon knee-deep in picture books as “market research.” 

Grabbing 20 or 30 books off the shelves, I eagerly settled in. I didn’t choose them for any particular reason — some I had heard of, many I hadn’t — but all had claimed coveted spots on endcaps or display tables. In other words, these were the most anticipated, critically acclaimed, and best-selling picture books the store had to offer. So even though I wrote for the Christian market and these were general market books, these were the ones I wanted to learn from. 

And learn I did. What I found that day would shape the way I write, read, and choose books for my kids forever. And it wasn’t necessarily good news. 

Not even our children’s books are safe

To my astonishment, roughly 20% of the picture books I had randomly selected off the shelves ended up containing cleverly disguised jabs or outright antagonism toward God, religion in general, or Christianity specifically. While that may not seem overly shocking on the surface (especially considering our current culture) remember this: their target audience was 4 to 8-year-olds. 

From the outside, none of the titles gave any indication that they would be addressing matters of faith in any way. The covers were adorable, the titles clever, the themes silly, the writing excellent. They were doing their job well: enticing children to want to read them and parents, grandparents, and picture book lovers to buy them. Yet tucked within their pages were subtle, but insidious messages: God is a joke. God is a jerk. 

This story is fun. God is not. 

What should this tell us? What we already know. There is a war for our children’s souls, and our enemy does not play fair. Not even our children’s books are safe. 

What would Jesus do? 

What should we do? Why, fight fire with fantastic stories, of course. That’s what Jesus did, after all. Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus telling stories. Stories of farmers and wayward sons and lost coins and found treasures. Jesus loved to teach truth through tales. 

And because Jesus truly knew his audience — “For he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25b) — storytelling allowed Jesus to package his message in a way that would reach their specific situations, concerns, and heart-deep motivations. 

When it came to ministering to children, it seems doubtful that Jesus would have switched ministry tactics. Children gravitate to good storytellers, after all. Especially ones that make them laugh. 

Because it’s built into their nature and not explicitly stated in Scripture, we tend not to give it much thought. But as miniature image-bearers of God, a child’s play-seeking, fun-loving default mode must also represent an element of God’s character. If children love fun, then so must God, right? 

Not so sure? Look around.  Since God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20), what are we to deduce about God’s character through, for example, his creation of ticklish armpits? Or oh-so-fun-to-chase and easy-to-catch lightening bugs? Or maple seeds that helicopter to the ground? Or (forgive me) the uncouth, but giggle-inducing noises made by excess air leaving the body? 

What should these creations tell us about God? Among other things, he’s no dour-faced, destroyer of fun, that’s for sure. From infancy, God designed us to laugh, just as he also designed things for us to laugh at.

It’s not surprising then that Satan would take what children love — stories, fun, laughter — and use them for his purposes in children’s books. He’s not overly creative in his tactics, after all. He relies on starting with something God created and twisting it. God is a jerk or a joke. Anti-fun or anti-real. Following him is pointless, boring. Joyless. 

Beating the enemy with stories 

And this where we beat the enemy at his own game. It begins in our homes and on our bookshelves. 

1. Start with the ultimate story

God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation is the most important story we can give our kids. We are ambassadors for Christ, the first ones our children will meet. And what we value, they will value. When God’s Word is regularly quoted in our homes, frequently read from, and naturally applied to everyday situations, our children benefit eternally. 

Though we may wonder sometimes if it’s doing any good, we are promised that God’s Word will do its work. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose it, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). 

Giving our children stories of truth from the Bible, spilling over with God’s love and the salvation offered to us through Christ, are the greatest, most important stories we can tell them. Definitely, absolutely we start there. 

2. Follow up with grace-filled, faith-based books

In our desire to reach our children’s hearts with truth, we often supplement Bible stories with faith-based children’s books. This is a good thing. (For me as a Christian children’s book author, this is a very good thing.) 

Sometimes though, in our determination to point our kids to Christ, we act like we don’t know our audience at all. We woefully package our message in didactic tales of warning: Don’t do this. Always do this. Be good. Be good. Be good. We forget that children are all-natural joy-chasers, and that Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2)! The pursuit of joy is biblical, good, and God-glorifying. 

Therefore, vigilantly avoid books that propagate legalistic moralism. Yes, teach your children to love righteousness and hate wickedness, but give them the why behind it. For joy (Psa. 45:7)! Surround them with stories of grace. Lean heavily on messages of hope. Remind them that it’s through Christ’s righteousness alone that they’ll find forgiveness, purpose, and lasting joy. 

Grace-filled, faith-based books are harder to find in bookstores and libraries, but they’re there. Dig through the shelves. Read the whole book before you buy or check out. Do your homework on that popular book before you “buy it now,” and don’t purchase just because you recognize a celebrity author, Christian publisher, or a famous series. Often times, the best books are not the best-selling books. 

3. And, seriously, make them laugh

Setting those outwardly antagonistic-to-the-faith books aside (which are, thankfully, still in the minority), most general market children’s books do their job well. A lot of giggles can be shared reading The Book with No Pictures or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. But why should they have all the fun? 

Several years ago, after a particularly silly moment at a concert of one of my favorite Christian bands, Rend Collective, the lead singer memorably reminded us in the audience, “Seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit.”

We worship the Creator of truth and of joy. Of salvation and silliness. Of fun and freedom. God isn’t a jerk or a joke; he’s the God of hope. Christian children’s books should be the most hopeful and hilarious books on our shelves. 

As a children’s book author, this is my goal. As Christian parents, this should be our goal too. Give them stories of grace, saturated with unchanging truth. That’s what Jesus would have done. And make them funny, for goodness’ sake. I believe that’s what he would have done too. 

Fight the enemy’s fire with fantastic stories. And have fun doing it. Your children certainly will.