Doxology: How Worship Works (New Book!)

Books, Music, Prayer, Preaching, The Church, The Gospel, Theology, Worship

(by: Nicolas Alford)

I’m so excited to share that Free Grace Press is publishing Doxology: How Worship Works, a book I’ve written to assist the church in offering faithful praise to God. I love the cover art that the publisher put together, and I’m humbled by the kind endorsements from men I respect:

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 12.51.34 PM

The Kindle Edition is available now; the paperback should be ready in a few days. A deep thanks to all who have already purchased a copy and sent some encouraging words‚Äď it’s satisfying to know the Lord is already using it among his people.

If you’re interested in receiving a copy for review on your blog or other media platform, please reach out via social media or the contact form on The Decablog. If you’ve read a copy (and liked it ūüėČ ), don’t hesitate to leave a short review on Amazon.

May the Lord use this little effort to promote the praise of his glorious name.

A Review of Blind Spots by Collin Hansen

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living

When it comes to blind spots in the Christian life, we have two options: Admit we have them, or lie. I’ve never held a theological or philosophical position assuming it was wrong. Who does that? But it’s either the height of arrogance or ignorance to think it’s not possible that I have some wrong ideas, hold certain ideas in imbalance, or haven’t adequately considered viable alternatives. Challenging me to think clearly and critically about my own positions, I was helped tremendously by¬†Collin Hansen‘s¬†latest¬†book entitled¬†Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church¬†(Hansen is the Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition).

In my own¬†understanding and interacting with other Christians outside my tradition and theological framework, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t always done a great job. I could have easily been the one writing Hansen’s words: “With my highly attuned gift for discerning others’ motives, it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else. Then I blamed them for not seeing the wisdom in my arguments… Because I’d understood my experience as normative for everyone, I couldn’t see how God blessed other Christians with different stories and strengths.”

Certainly, there are specific, unalterable truths that should not be tampered with, downplayed, or discarded. God has revealed in His Word, “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation” and those¬†things¬†“are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them” (1.7 of the 2nd¬†London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689). I have long been an advocate of Dr. Albert Mohler’s three-tiered¬†Theological Triage¬†and find it to be a helpful matrix in which to frame each Christian relationship. But I’m thankful that Hansen presses the conversation even further. He¬†writes,¬†‚ÄúThis book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.‚ÄĚ

Focusing on the gospel as the unifying, unalterable center of relationships and conversations, Hansen¬†points out that¬†all Christians¬†have further,¬†specific emphases that we assume to be more important than others, and he places them into three distinct categories. We will identify closely with either¬†compassionate Christians,¬†courageous Christians, or¬†commissioned Christians. In each category, Hansen outlines¬†the distinctives¬†that are commendable and worthy of emulating, and suggests temptations¬†that should be guarded against lest our blind spots remain undiscovered and crippling to our Kingdom efforts. It’s most likely that every Christian will resonate on some level with¬†each category, because they all contain biblical elements, however the honest reader will find himself in a specific category¬†more than the others.

Compassionate Christians

The compassionate Christians are those who see the hurting, broken world around them and have a longing to relieve suffering and poverty. Hansen describes the compassionate Christians: “You clothe the homeless, feed the hungry, nurse the sick. You write the letters, shame the offenders, protest the powers.” Compassionate Christians are quick to see the abundance of biblical exhortations about the disenfranchised “little people” of society and to call the church to action.

Hansen commends the compassionate Christians for their focus on an area of biblical truth and action that should always be on the church’s radar, but also warns,¬†“With compassion comes blame. In a broken world that lacks simple solutions and people who care, it can become all too easy to blame those who aren’t mending our society. Compassion abounds for humanity, just not for humans.” Hansen wisely warns compassionate Christians to not emphasize giving at the expense of the gospel itself. It’s important to remember¬†that our “compassion won’t always be appreciated or even received by a world that rejects the source of our compassion.”

Courageous Christians

The courageous Christians are those who take stands on truth, and oftentimes on specific issues of importance (or even non-importance). The courageous Christians are those who will make precise arguments for specific positions, and make appeals to others to not waiver from what they understand to be true. These are Christians like Martin Luther and the reformers, willing to stand, fight, and die for the things that matter. “Courage is necessary for us to endure in the faith.”

Hansen self-identified in this category, and it’s most likely that the majority of reformed Christians will. But Hansen is wise to offer some cautions here as well. The courageous Christians can sometimes turn important issues into single issues, demanding that other people fall in line behind a specific agenda or else they will be cast as an enemy and considered suspect in the future. Courageous Christians can easily become heresy hunters, and are willing to compromise the fundamental exhortation to love¬†because of a single issue.¬†While courage is important and necessary in the face of sin, false teaching, and evil attempts to thwart the work of God, it’s vital to be reminded that “courage is not measured by how many people you can offend.”

Commissioned Christians

Commissioned Christians are those who emphasize mission with an eye toward bringing as many into the church and God’s Kingdom as possible. “You might be a commissioned Christian if you worry that younger generations will slip away or never bother to show up unless churches adapt to changing times. You’re not exactly conservative or liberal in theological terms. You probably trust in the authority of Scripture and hold to conservative views on issues such as the exclusivity of Christ; otherwise why bother with evangelism? But you don’t fit in with Christians who actually enjoy debating theology or arguing over whether ministry practices conform to Scripture. You want to get on with the serious, urgent work of changing lives with the power of the gospel.”

Commissioned Christians seek to push the church to the¬†highways and hedges that the gospel would be proclaimed far and wide. Surely, a continued focus on the great commission is important and necessary. However, Hansen warns, “in their search for cultural relevance,” commissioned Christians “can slide into syncretism. And their eagerness to expand the tent can culminate in theological compromise. Sometimes these churches don’t merely resemble the mall with their expansive parking lots and food courts; they also communicate with ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ messages that Christianity is an √† la carte faith that supplements our private pursuit of peace, wealth, and status.”

A Call to Unity and Growth

Hansen’s book challenges readers to¬†identify personal¬†tendencies to over-emphasize certain areas of focus at the expense of others. We never outgrow our need to find balance in the Christian life, and we can more readily¬†do so when we are more determined to learn from other believers instead of instantly seeking to find ways to differ from them. Certainly, there will be significant differences from one Christian to another, however they need not always be divisive or viewed with negativity and skepticism.¬†Our goal should be “the kind of biblical fulness that . . . expects opposition from the world and seeks unity among believers for the sake of the world.”

I highly recommend Hansen’s book to those who are willing to ask questions of their own heart and consider whether or not their blind spots have kept them from learning from other Christians who have a lot to offer.

If you want more before picking up the book, read 20 Truths From Blind Spots.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

The Rhino Room | Top Books

Rhino Room

Rhino Room

Curious about the Rhino Room? Read our introduction here.

Other than the Bible, what one book do you wish every Christian would read and why? Provide a brief summary.

Samuel Barber (Pastoral Assistant, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

In an attempt to avoid being predictable, I tried to think of a book besides John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; I just couldn’t do it. It is a must-read for every Christian. In this allegory Bunyan so wonderfully draws together story and theology, and depicts such vivid experimental Christianity that I glean from it every time I read it. It is the story of a man named Graceless (renamed Christian), who at the instruction of Evangelist, sets out from the City of Destruction for the Celestial City to flee from the wrath to come on account of his sin. The perilous journey upon which he embarks provides invaluable insights into the hardships, snares, triumphs, and glories of the Christian life. As the reader follows Christian’s journey to the Celestial City his heart is powerfully drawn toward heaven and he is given strength and grace to press on in his own pilgrimage.

Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)

I would recommend John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan has given us pictures of the journey of the Christian life from being awakened to one’s sin and need of Christ, unto one’s crossing over the river of death and entrance into heaven. I used the word pictures, plural rather than singular, because more than one person’s life is chronicled in this allegory. The journeys of Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Christiana, and Mercy are set before the reader. The similarities and differences they meet on the way make known that although some aspects are central to all, such as going through the wicket gate rather than climbing over the wall (Christ is the door), the Christian’s experiences are not uniformly the same.  We are all different, yet have the same basic need. This book shows us how to live the Christian life and the helps and the hindrances along the way.

Marc Grimaldi (Pastor, Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Merrick, New York)

Aside from the Bible, no book has greater impacted my life in a practical way more than, War of Words by Paul David Tripp. It is amazing to see how much our words reveal about what is going on in our hearts. Since we spend so much time speaking, it is thoroughly profitable to examine our speech as a critical means of addressing our hearts and working toward change, by way of the cross.

I wish every Christian would read this book as it is tremendously beneficial for enhancing unity, love, patience, long suffering, and basically every Christian virtue to which the Scriptures call us. Brother Tripp addresses this important subject humbly and tenderly, using his own personal struggles as a template for all that he attempts to get across.

Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

I wish every Christian would read and understand¬†The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher (with Thomas Boston’s notes). My favorite preacher, Sinclair Ferguson, says anyone who “comes to grips with the issues raised in [this book] will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding… the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.” The story of the books writing and publication is fascinating in itself, but more important is what it says. In my own personal life and ministry I have come to see a right understanding of the relationship between the law and the gospel as essential to fruitful, satisfying life with God and neighbor. Fisher provides a biblical corrective to both antinomianism and licentiousness in his captivating conversation through various interlocutors to lead his readers to a balanced, biblical understanding of the most essential truths of the faith.

Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)

This is a difficult question, because the book choice would very much depend on the individual. Pastors often ‚Äúprescribe‚ÄĚ books based on spiritual health, strengths, and weaknesses. For a man called to the ministry, it would be Horatius Bonar‚Äôs Words to Winners of Souls or Edmund Clowney‚Äôs Called to the Ministry. For the believer with a frail disposition, it would be Spurgeon‚Äôs Morning and Evening to give them a bi-daily refocusing and encouragement. I suppose the only book that covers the whole gamut would be Bunyan‚Äôs Pilgrim‚Äôs Progress with both Christian‚Äôs and Christiana‚Äôs narratives. It has material for men, women, children, pastors, and ordinary saints. It reminds all of us that our personal narratives are part of a greater one, and that our trials have been successfully endured by those before us. It also does a great job of connecting human experience to Scripture passages.

Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)

I know you are out there, people who are just like I used to be. Try Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesen, the first book of the Pendragon Cycle. Why? Not because it is the best book I’ve ever read, though I absolutely love it. Not because it is theologically rich or necessary. It is just fiction. Rather, this book changed my life. This is the book that took me from hating reading to loving it. Somehow, and I’m not proud of this, I managed to make it half way through college without ever reading a full book. Ever. I can’t tell you how much I despised reading. If you hate reading, then it doesn’t matter what book I recommend to you, you won’t read it. Therefore, figure out what you love in life and start there. Learn to love reading first. Then I’ll recommend all sorts of books, like Calvin’s Institutes.

How Do You Decide What to Read?

Books

BookStacksThere are a lot of incredible books available to read on the market today. When I travel to Nigeria each year I am reminded how embarrassingly fortunate we are in the West to have access to books upon books that much of the rest of the world simply cannot access with the ease we enjoy. I simply download it, or have it delivered to my doorstep, in most cases within 2 days. I still love having print books, but am an avid user of Logos Bible Software and the Amazon Kindle App on my iPad. So with so many options, how in the world can we decide what to read? Old books, new books, non-fiction, fiction, theology, sociology…

Over the years I’ve developed a method of reading that has worked well for me. I admit, it probably wouldn’t work well for most, but I also realize that as a pastor I have a responsibility to read a lot more than most, along with the freedom to do it a bit more regularly (although, not as often as some might assume – pastors really are busy most of the time!). So, while my way may not be the best for you, if you don’t have a plan and get frustrated with half read books laying around the house, this may encourage you to come up with a better plan for yourself.

I read books in 7 categories that I have going simultaneously. Some of the books I may read once per week, and others I may read through in a single sitting, depending on my particular need for the specific topic. However, I don’t start a new book in a specific category until the previous book in that category is complete, or at least as complete as I want it to be. So here they are:

Christian Living¬†– These are, by far, the most popular books in Christian publishing and I enjoy a lot of them. However, most of them follow a very similar pattern and are easy for me to read through quickly. These are books that I most frequently recommend to Christians and have available on our book table at church, mainly because they are written with specific needs or ideas in mind. And I’ll tell you a secret: It’s rare for me to read every page, or even every chapter of a book before I consider it complete, and that is¬†most prevalent in this genre. It’s also quite rare that I’ll read a preface, forward or introduction… and who in the¬†world reads acknowledgements?

Systematic Theology – This may not always be an entire systematic theology work, but may be a systematic theology topic. So, for example, a book on the Atonement or Eschatology. However, sometimes it¬†does include entire systematic theologies which can be quite edifying, even though it’s usually a big undertaking.

Biblical Theology¬†– I may blog about it sometime, but I believe Christianity has largely lost its biblical theology which has come at the cost of losing the big story. Biblical theology is incredibly important but rarely taught, and even more rarely understood. I’m thankful for what seems to be somewhat of a recovery of biblical theology in some Christian circles. Nevertheless, there are some great biblical theology works out there, and in order to stay sharp, I read as much as I can. Biblical theology has increased my communion with God and my ability to see the forest through the trees when I work through the Scriptures.

Future Sermon/teaching Series – I try to plan ahead at least 3 months when it comes to what I’m preaching and teaching at Ephesus Church. Additionally, I am sometimes invited to preach in other contexts and I want to be prepared. With a busy life and the constant necessity to be ready for¬†this Sunday, my goal is to at least be reading for what’s up next. I’m not writing or outlining, but I’m at least thinking, and I’ve found it helpful when I finally get there.

Sociology – Some of the most insightful reading I do is in this category. I’m fascinated by the way people think and the things they come up with. Some sociological writing is very helpful and, although most of the time it’s not from a Christian worldview, the best of it compliments biblical Christianity quite nicely and provides some excellent sermon illustrations.

Classical¬†– I am constantly working to become a better classicist. The conversation between the philosophers and poets has been going on since the beginning, and most modern education has silenced it altogether. The writers of the Bible undoubtedly wrote with much of the conversation in mind, and I don’t want to miss it. Reading the great books has significantly affected how I read the Scriptures and how I think about history and worldview.

Hobbies¬†– I’m a guy, so I have a lot of hobbies! I like to read books that help me in those hobbies, and to give my mind a peaceful retreat into things less taxing on the brain than the rest of the categories. The book rack at Lowe’s can be a dangerous place for me… even though I know I will never accomplish most of the DIY projects I’d love to do. I mean, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 – why not?! And of course, all avid golfers need tips and tweeks, gardeners need to know the latest techniques, and beekeepers are a strange breed of incessant innovators.

My only addition to this is that there are always books I’m reading for my current teaching series’, however I generally read/use those as I’m preparing sermons and/or classes. I suppose they’re a category, but by the time I get to that part of my study I am usually using them as reference.

So, that’s what I do. What about you? What have you found useful in organizing your reading?

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Reading in the New Year

Books, Christian Living

Kid-ReadingIs it 2014 already? That didn’t take long! As you look ahead with anticipation, I hope you’re setting some reading goals to enrich your Christian life through the Scriptures and other Christian books. Tony Reinke very accurately explains, “Reading is a difficult pleasure because it requires discipline, diligence, and focus. But like in any pleasure, it is a pleasure that can be done for God‚Äôs glory.” [1]¬†As someone who loves to read, I can admit that it’s not always easy, particularly in our day with so many other distractions clamoring for our attention. However, it’s essential to Christian growth and a discipline every one of us should seek to cultivate and grow in through the years. Don’t have time? Consider these numbers, also from Reinke:

First, most people can find sixty minutes each day to read. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t: fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes at lunchtime, and another thirty minutes in the evening. No problem. At this pace, you can devote seven hours to reading each week (or 420 minutes). The average reader moves through a book at a pace of about 250 words per minute. So 420 minutes of reading per week translates into 105,000 words per week. This book is roughly 55,000 words. Assuming that you can read for one hour each day, and that you read at around 250 words per minute, you can complete more than one book per week, or about seventy books per year.[2]

I would be¬†elated to know that the average Christian read even 12 books per year along with the Bible! So what’s your plan? Why not consider one of the books I listed a few weeks ago to get you started?

Bible Reading.¬†Many Christians begin the year with a plan to get through the entire Bible. It’s a good plan, and certainly something to strive for at some point, however it doesn’t need to be the way we all go about reading our Bibles each year. Quite frankly, for most it becomes a rather burdensome task which doesn’t provide the fruit that is intended. Nevertheless, reading the Bible in a year is profitable on many levels, so don’t¬†not do it because it seems difficult (I promise, it is!). So here are a few Bible reading plans to help you get started: (this list was mostly generated by¬†Justin Taylor):

  • Stephen Witmer‚Äôs¬†two-year plan¬†to get through the entire Bible.
  • The Gospel Coalition‚Äôs¬†For the Love of God Blog¬†takes you through the M‚ÄôCheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings.¬†In one year, you will read through the¬†New Testament twice,¬†the Psalms twice and¬†the rest of the Old Testament once.
  • George Guthrie‚Äôs¬†Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Guthrie has also made a a booklet version of the¬†Read the Bible for Life 4+1 Reading Plan. In this plan, you read four different places in the Scriptures and a psalm a day, thus cycling through the psalms twice in the year. This plan is semi-chronological, placing the prophets and the NT letters in rough chronological order.
  • Don Whitney has a simple but surprisingly effective tool:¬†A Bible Reading Record. It‚Äôs a list of every chapter in the Bible, and you can check them off as you read them at whatever pace you want.
  • For the highly motivated and disciplined,¬†Grant Horner‚Äôs plan¬†has you reading each day a chapter from ten different places in the Bible.
  • Joe Carter¬†and¬†Fred Sanders¬†explain James Gray‚Äôs method of ‚ÄúHow to Master the English Bible‚ÄĚ (This is my personal favorite way to read the Bible devotionally).
  • There are¬†10 Reading Plans for ESV Editions, and the nice things is the way in which Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats (web, RSS, Podcast, iCal, Mobile, pdf).

Bible Companions.¬†It’s a good and important thing to read your Bible, but having a companion to help you through the Scriptures is important as well. I would suggest using a good commentary along the way and/or a confession of faith to help you theologically. We are arrogant and naive if we think we can figure the Bible out on our own – we need helpful resources.

  • I highly¬†recommend reading Scripture with a confession of faith in hand. The Bible is theological, and sometimes we need help sorting out the theology behind it lest we fall into error. Check out the¬†1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Devotionals. What about devotionals? Devotionals are very helpful, and give us good things to think on throughout each day in addition to the Scripture we’ve read. Admittedly, many devotionals are shallow at best, but there are some that I have found to be helpful, meaty, and worth my reading time.  Here are a few of my suggestions:

While not necessarily written as a devotional, I have read¬†Note to Self¬†as a devotional and found it to be full of good thoughts to ponder throughout the day in small chunks. In other words, I would typically read a shorter book like this one in a sitting or two ‚Äď this book is better consumed a chapter per day. And they are only a few pages each, making this an excellent choice for devotional reading.

Winslow was a very well known reformed pastor in the 1800s. His writings are deeply devotional and have proven to be a wonderful balm to my soul on countless occasions.

Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening is a classic devotional read. As with all of Spurgeon’s works, it is highly readable and enjoyable, just as much today as it was in the 1800s. This is also available free online.

Two years ago I followed a daily reading schedule to get through Calvin’s Institutes. It was highly rewarding, and I think something every Christian should consider doing do at some point. Many people talk about Calvinism or claim to have an understanding of what Calvin taught without ever actually reading him. Here’s a great way to get through his magnum opus in one year.

Tripp wrote 52 short chapters, mainly working through Psalm 51, to address our sin and God’s mercy. Whiter Than Snow is a very rewarding read, and each chapter comes in at 3 pages or less, making it perfect for a devotional.

Ligonier Ministries has published Tabletalk Magazine for many years, and has proven to be an excellent daily devotional for Christians. Tabletalk provides 5, 1-page readings for each week, and lengthy articles on a specific monthly topic to read on the weekends. It is well worth the subscription price РI, and many members of Ephesus Church have relied on Tabletalk for quite some time.

I’ve said many times, I believe Operation World should be in every Christian home. While not devotional reading, it is the most helpful guide available to walk Christians through praying for every country in the world every year. We have a mandate to pray for the nations and to do all that we can to see the advance of the gospel to the nations. Operation World will be very helpful to you and your family to accomplish that great task. I would also recommend looking up the Joshua Project app for your smartphone so that you can pray for the people group of the day.

Lastly, I want to provide a few things for you to consider as you read your Bible.¬†Are you asking questions of the text to develop a greater understanding of what the writers are conveying? Remember, our goal is to know what the text means, not ‚Äúwhat does it mean to me?‚ÄĚ Quite frankly, what it means to you is of no value. When reading the Bible, we must know what the text is communicating to us because we are learning what God is communicating to us. One of the most effective ways to understand the Bible is by asking questions while you read. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Who¬†is involved?¬†Who¬†is speaking?¬†Who¬†is acting?
  • When¬†did this event take place (what day of week, what hour of the day, relationship to some other event)?
  • Where¬†did the action take place (what city, what specific location such as a home or on a mountain, etc.)?
  • What¬†took place?
  • What¬†sin is presented that I should forsake?
  • What¬†command is given that I should obey?
  • What¬†promise has God made?
  • Why¬†did this event take place?
  • How¬†did the event occur?
  • How¬†do I put the principles taught in the passage into practice?

If you like to journal, or would like to start journaling through your Bible reading, why not use these questions to get started? I guarantee you’ll immediately find yourself enjoying and understanding the Scriptures more than you ever have before.

(By: Nick Kennicott)


1. Reinke, Tony. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). Kindle Edition, 104.

2. Ibid., 130.