The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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Three fascinating books

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May I draw your attention to three volumes, each relatively new, each stimulating in its own sphere? Each is written by a friend, and two received an endorsement from me, so please take that into account in what I write.

The first is from Brian Croft. The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds is a basic introduction to the work of the ministry. It is a reflection of the failure of many churches and the paucity of much seminary instruction that these truths should seem so fresh, even novel, to many. It is also a reflection of the carelessness of our hearts that – though we may think we know them – we so often need to be reminded of them. This, then, would make an excellent gift for men entering or leaving any stripe of more or less formal ministerial training, as well as a good refresher for men already in the trenches. My endorsement read:

What my friend Brian Croft says in this book should be so obvious that it barely needs saying. Tragically, these are the very principles and practices that are so often unknown or neglected and so quickly lost or forgotten. Whether you need instruction or correction, learning or reminding, Brian’s gift for simple and clear communication of plain pastoral realities will clear your head, warm your heart, and strengthen your hands.

You can buy Brian’s book at or

The second book is by David Murray, and is called The Happy Christian. In my endorsement, I wrote:

What does it mean to be happy? The light of nature allows us to observe, desire and appreciate the benefits of certain kinds of happiness. Only the light of Scripture enables us properly to define, obtain and cultivate true and lasting happiness. David Murray’s difficult task in this genuinely stimulating and sometimes provocative book is to accept and acknowledge the former source of illumination while being governed by and relying upon the latter. He has no appetite for the fixed grin and glassy stare of a carnally-manufactured positivity. Instead, David seeks to train our hearts in Christian cheerfulness, genuine gladness, and believing hopefulness, to enjoy and employ the “solid joys and lasting treasures” of the true children of God. Some might take issue with the balance of his foundations and the choice or proportion of his materials, but all Christians would do well to consider the structure and style of the building David erects. It is a good and bright place to live, and many of us need to start construction.

I hope that gives some sense of the excellent work that David has done. This is a book very carefully pitched. My sense is that it steps outside the typical circles of many Reformed and evangelical writers, and – without compromise – seeks to engage and to attract those who might otherwise look over or around that circle. In doing so, it draws on many of our wonderful resources of a genuinely Christian worldview, and reminds all of us of what we are so often missing in our walk as disciples of Christ. Again, you can get it at or, as well as Westminster.

The final book is by Stuart Olyott. This one is called Something Must Be Known & Felt: A Missing Note in Today’s Christianity. It is at once an exciting and unsettling book. It is a necessarily uncomfortable book. It is, at points, a contentious book. Some might consider it a dangerous book. It is, because of rather than despite all that, a good book. I agree with its primary thrust, even if I am presently left behind by some of its particular details.

Those who know Stuart Olyott as a preacher or author will know that he is not a man given to reckless flights of ungrounded fancy. That is important to recall in reading this book on the place of feeling in the life of the believer. His contention is that biblical Christianity is a holy compound of doctrine, ethics and experience, the last of these being often perverted or neglected today.

To correct this, he first gives a survey of emotion from the Scriptures then an overview of the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. He applies these two matters in the spheres of assurance, Christ’s felt presence, guidance from God, asking and receiving, and waiting on the Lord (the latter two having to do particularly with prayer). In every instance he simultaneously discharges both barrels against the arid wastes of barren intellectualism and the dry expanses of mindless enthusiasm. Each chapter is a blend of scriptural evidences and personal and historical experiences. There is both a deliberate resistance to mysticism and an unembarrassed supernaturalism.

It is hard in a book so brief to give adequate attention to every point made. That means that there are some bold and bald assertions which need to be set in the context of Stuart’s wider ministry. This is not the writing of a man going soft, but of a man pressing on. He wishes to open our eyes and our hearts to elements of Christian experience of which we are ignorant, and ignorance here cannot be bliss.

On more debatable points the author is especially careful to add to scriptural arguments trustworthy witnesses both immediate and distant, including incidents from his own life. I struggled with some of his statements, especially regarding God’s ways of offering guidance or answering prayer. I also confess that this may be because of my own paucity of experience at this point. At each such point the author offers enough scriptural substance to make us tentatively positive, exercising a cautious care in debating his affirmations. Even those who would back away from some of the more striking assertions should take pains not casually to dismiss any part of the argument.

There is much here to which I can readily add a hearty “Amen!” At some points, I should be happy to find my minor concerns proved unfounded. In a very small number of cases, I should need more compelling evidence fully to embrace some of what is written. The fact that the untaught and unstable might abuse some of these things does not mean they should not be addressed. Neither should our reactions against various abuses blind us to what we ourselves might be missing.

Read it carefully and prayerfully; wrestle with it humbly and scripturally; respond to it righteously and earnestly. Buy it at

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 March 2015 at 09:43

Evangelistic preaching

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 July 2012 at 09:59

Twinterview: Guides and gateways

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This twinterview turns to two bloggers who are technologically-engaged, known for their attempts to bring Christian principle to bear on this brave new world, and who act as gateways for all manner of material that sits at the intersection of these and many other issues. I particularly appreciate, in both of these gentlemen, their readiness to plough their own furrow, not bullishly and arrogantly, but faithfully and humbly, writing out of conviction and not jumping on bandwagons because those bandwagons happen to be flying past with lights flashing. They also help others guard their time and their priorities from the often enslaving attractions of technological tools.

So, we welcome Tim Challies of überblog fame and David Murray of HeadHeartHand (preacher, lecturer, blogger, film-maker, author, etc.) to the world of the twinterview. There are fewer questions than usual – a trade-off required before my invitations were accepted – but I hope that you will the answers sufficiently penetrating and full to make it more than worthwhile. I am grateful to these brothers for sparing their time for this exercise.

As usual, neither interviewee saw the other’s answers until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement. The responses are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section.

Previous twinterviews can be enjoyed at the links below:

1. How did you get to know one another? What do you most appreciate about one another as friends and fellow-bloggers?

Tim Challies: David will probably have a different story to tell, but I believe that he and I interacted a little bit via social media, but then first met when I made a business trip out to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary to discuss a new web site. Obviously this was a few years ago when I was still in the web design business. I met David at that meeting and I guess we pretty much hit it off right away.

There is a lot I appreciate about David as a friend. He is one of the most caring people I have met, one who is genuinely thoughtful and compassionate. He is also humble, a guy who is far more widely-read and far more capable than he tends to let on. And he is serious but not too serious; he has a zany and understated kind of humor that surfaces now and again. And then there is that amazing accent.

David Murray: I was not long in the USA when I heard of some popular Christian blogger called Challies. I started reading and enjoying his writing, and found his daily A la Carte selection of links especially helpful in getting to know the North American church scene and culture.

When Puritan Seminary decided to re-vamp our website, Tim’s name came up and we invited him to do the work. When he came to Grand Rapids to get the website specs, we met face to face for the first time, and got on well. We also found out that Tim’s Dad and I had studied in the same Seminary in Edinburgh.

We next met up at The Gospel Coalition Conference in Chicago in 2009 I think, had a meal together and I interviewed him for the Seminary blog. We kept in touch regularly after that, mainly over email and Skype, and a few times face-to-face including a meal we shared together with our wives in Canada.

Although Tim and I are quite different in many ways (Baptist v Presbyterian, 30-ish v 40-ish, Newish Calvinist v Oldish Calvinist, Canadian v Scottish, etc.), we do share a number of things in common – including our interest in how to use and not abuse technology, a passion for practical theology, and a deep concern to see the New Calvinist movement continue to grow and mature (as well as learn from it ourselves).

 I have a deep respect for Tim as a believer, as a husband, as a father, as a Pastor, as a writer, and in other ways too. I’ve probably learned far more from him than he ever has from me. I admire his doctrinal clarity, his writing gifts, his focus on the church, his care for his wife and family, and his love for Christ. I’ve learned most from him in the area of being transparent and vulnerable. That kind of honest openness is risky, and doesn’t come easy for a Scot, but it’s a beautiful trait that requires a lot of faith to exercise in such a public way.

2. What would make you stop blogging? Do you see any technology or platform that is likely to render the blog obsolete any time soon?

TC: I have thought about this one a fair bit over the years, and at this point cannot imagine too many scenarios in which I would give it up altogether. However, if I found that blogging was having a negative effect on my family or on my ministry to my local church, I know I would feel compelled to quit or at least to scale back. I prioritize those things far higher than blogging and hope I would have the strength and integrity to follow through. I trust my wife and my fellow elders to keep me accountable and to ensure that my priorities remain in place.

As for blogging, it is not going away in the near future. I suppose we may give up the term blogging at some point, but the simple act of common folk writing down their ideas and posting them to the Internet is not going anywhere. The little people have a voice and they are not going to give that up. Not only that, but we have learned that we do not need and do not want professionals to shape all of our ideas; we want to have a voice of our own.

DM: I do pray about the place of blogging in my life. Although it’s been a huge blessing to me to have to write something edifying most days of the week, and I hope it’s impacted others for good too, I am often concerned about the amount of time it takes each day. I’m conscious of the need to keep it in the right place, and as with everything make sure that it is the Lord’s will for me to do. I do ask the Lord to show me if He wants me to stop it or to reduce its place in my life.

Obviously it’s very difficult to predict Technology. However, I think that blogging will continue to grow, though more slowly. Whatever happens to our culture, I can’t ever see human beings losing the impulse to put words into the public arena, even if only to be read by a few people.

If Facebook ever gets round to writing some decent software that will be more hospitable to blogging, that could have a significant impact on independent blogging sites. However, as they can’t even design good software for their core service, I think blogging is safe for the foreseeable future.

3. You are both fairly intimately involved in aspects of the Reformed and evangelical world of America, yet perhaps standing slightly outside of it by virtue of your origins. What do you think are the challenges of the American context and assumptions of so much theological and practical discussion? To what extent do you discern the existence of a gap between that and different (European/Canadian/other) contexts, and what might be the effect of that gap?

TC: I always get in trouble when I speak to America, so you’re putting me in an awkward spot. But here I go. America has justly deserved her reputation as a nation that believes it knows what is best, not just for itself but for others as well. America is known to walk with a bit of a swagger, whether politically, militarily or spiritually. And to be fair, America has a lot to commend it in all of those regards. Still, when a Canadian hears that a group of Americans is coming to Canada to do a service project or to plant a church there’s often a bit of hesitation, wondering what drama will come from it. What I mean is that America has brought to the world a lot of assumptions that reflect herself, but not necessarily the church in other places; America assumes that American Christianity is the purest, normative form, that it is the real deal and that the rest of the world ought to do things the same way.

I can testify that the church in Canada, a country that shares a border with the United States and which is culturally downstream from the United States, is very, very different. In general, American church planting movements have not seen a lot of success in Canada because they fail to understand just how different we are. We need indigenous church planters just as much as any other country.

Let me offering a peace-making word before I move on: I think we may be seeing a humbling in these areas, especially as we begin to see the failure or displacement of Western Christianity and the rise of Christians in the global south and east.

DM: I feel hugely privileged to live and work in America. I and my family love it here, and hope to spend the rest of our lives here, if God wills. The sermons and books of American pastors have played a huge role in my own Christian life and in my ministry. The major challenge in the American context is to avoid extremes. I think America is a very practical nation, Americans are a can-do people, and like solving problems. However, problems are rarely solved at the extremities. Simpler solutions are found there, but usually not the right ones. The challenge is often to live in the messy middle, feeling the tension of truth, and being prepared to live with the stress of that balancing act. I’m thinking especially here of the tensions in counselling (e.g. what place do we give to the sciences), in preaching (e.g. balance of consecutive-expository, evangelistic, redemptive-historical, application, law and Gospel), and in Christian living (balance of external v internal, activism v piety, law v Gospel, etc).

4. Taking into account any nuances from the previous question, what do you see as particular dangers or challenges to the church in the West at this time? Would you care to suggest potential remedies?

TC: I would suggest that one of the greatest dangers to the church today is thoughtlessness. The first book I wrote was about discernment and that remains a burning topic to me. It continues to surprise me how many Christians there are who have not been taught how to think biblically and who may never even have been told that there is such a thing as biblical thinking. That’s tragic. We can only live like Christians if we think like Christians.

After I wrote my book on discernment I wrote on technology and came to see that there’s a growing danger hidden in our technology that may lead us to even more thoughtlessness by way of busyness and distraction and obsession. It seems that just as many Christians have begun to identify the problem—we need to think like Christians—we’ve filled our lives with gadgets and gizmos that are going to likely to keep us from the kind of deep thinking we need.

DM: (1) Antinomianism. Can only be fixed by a Christ-centred covenantal understanding of the Old Testament. (2) Preaching becoming too academic and less evangelistic. Remedy is to remember that unless hearers are born again they are going to hell forever. We need much more of a “burden for the lost.” I think on the whole that Pastors are spending too much time with books (and the Internet) and not enough with sheep. Solution is simple – get out of the study and visit the sheep – and seek the lost ones too. (3) Militant homosexuality is not going away. The trajectory of media, educational, political, and judicial, intimidation is worrying. Acceptance of gay marriage is usually followed by hate-crime legislation that eventually is interpreted to prevent any criticism of homosexuality. The church will need to hold firmly hold to the immorality of homosexuality without unnecessarily provoking legal and other consequences, as well as learning how to reach out to homosexuals with the Gospel.

5. Without wishing to go “Miss World” on you esteemed gentlemen, what three things would you be particularly grateful to see happening in your particular sphere of operation and influence over the coming year?

TC: Let me address that by looking to three different spheres of operation:

As a father and husband I want to see my children profess faith, be baptized, and live as if their profession is legitimate. I want to continue to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and to build a real friendship with each one of them—a friendship that will last far longer than my role as dad. As a husband I want to more and more internalize the command to be toward my wife as Christ is toward his church, to understand what that means and how it ought to work itself out in the way I relate to her.

As a pastor I want to serve my church well and to lead them in holiness and godliness and prayerfulness and other godly character qualities. I won’t ever be the most dynamic preacher and won’t ever have the theological depth of so many men whose career path has taken them through seminary and post-graduate work, but I know I can lead them in those things that do not require a degree or formal training. I can, that is, if I set my heart and mind in that direction.

As a writer I want to be careful to avoid writing books for the sake of writing books. I want to be content to write only when I have the kind of idea that just won’t let me not write about it. And I want to continue to use my web site as a place to think publicly, to wrestle through the issues that are important to the church in this time and this place, to draw attention to good resources and to warn people away from the ones that are unbiblical. And as I do those things, I want to ensure that I am always speaking truth in love.

DM: (1) I’d love to see more racial diversity in our Reformed churches. I think that can only happen by majorities reaching out to minorities, rather than majorities expecting minorities to come to them. (2) I’d like to see more Christians re-discovering the joy of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. The main obstacle to that is sport-idolatry. (3) I’d like to see more evangelistic preaching; expository preaching that is regularly and specifically focussed on the conversion of unbelievers in our congregations.

6. You are both writers. What place does more developed writing with a view to formal publication have in your commitments of time and energy? Do you enjoy it or feel obliged to do it? Do you feel a sense of compulsion with regard to particular topics, or are you pushed into areas of expertise which, under God, you have developed?

TC: I feel no great compulsion to write books. As I have just said, I want to be content to be the guy who publishes a book every few years and not feel like I need to crank out a new title every six months or every year. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve got the time or energy or brain space to do much more than a book every few years.

I do not want to ever write a book under compulsion. Soon after I began writing formally a wise man who has seen many of his books be published warned me against two things: signing multi-book contracts and writing the book that someone else wants me to write. Both things, he warned, will produce low-quality works that you write even though they do not excite you. Looking back, that seems like sage advice.

DM: I’m trying to write something for publication every 18 months or so. When I started writing a few years ago, I hated it – I was more of a speaker. But now I love it and really look forward to writing time. Blogging has really helped me in that regard. It’s helped me find my “voice,” strive for clarity and brevity, and try to present truth in an engaging and enjoyable way.

I can’t imagine writing a book on something I wasn’t passionate about. I believe that’s part of God’s leading – He gives you a passion or a burden for a subject and you cannot but speak or write the things you have seen and heard!

7. Are there any particular books you wish you had read, but have never got round to?

TC: There are more than I could easily list, which is exactly why I began the Reading Classics Together effort at my web site. Reading Classics Together gives me the context and accountability to read some of those great works from days gone by.

I would also like to read more reference and academic works. The problem I face is that I may put weeks into reading a dense academic work, print a review, and see that only a very few people are interested in it. If I read and review The Shack, I will see hundreds of thousands of people be interested in it. In that way I find myself dedicating a lot of my reading efforts to lighter reading. However, even with that being true, I am trying to dedicate more of my time to reading good, dense, difficult, high-return books.

DM: I’d love to have read more of the huge biblical theologies that have been published in recent years. I’ve read one or two, but there are a number of others I’ve just not been able to find time for. I’d also like to read more of the Puritans. My favourite Puritan is John Flavel and it’s still my ambition to read through his works. I’ve also only dipped into Jonathan Edwards – I’d like to submerge myself in his thought over a period of time.

8. What are the best and the worst things about being a preacher, in your experience?

TC: My preaching experience is still rather limited compared to David’s or compared to most other preachers, so you may want to keep that in mind.

The best thing about being a preacher is being set aside and even paid to study and apply God’s Word. That may sound selfish, I suppose, but it is a great honor and privilege to be called to do what every Christian wants to do—study the Bible. While that study is often gruelling and more work than pleasure, it always bears fruit.

The worst thing is all that preaching takes out of you. Preaching is soul-baring and exposing and that brings about a kind of fatigue, a kind of post-performance weakening, that I haven’t ever experienced elsewhere. People who haven’t prepared and preached a sermon probably just do not understand how cutting even a small comment can be or how encouraging a small praise can be. Preaching must easily be one of the most difficult tasks in the world; but it’s also one of the most rewarding.

DM: Best: Getting to study God’s Word as my calling, the felt guidance of God in preparation, the joy of experiencing divine help in the pulpit, the potential of seeing souls saved, comforting God’s afflicted people.

Worst: Monday morning, sometimes having to prepare sermons with too little time to do it as I would like.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 14:47

Review: “How Sermons Work”

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How Sermons Work

David P. Murray

Evangelical Press, 2011, 160pp., paperback, £5.99

ISBN 978-085234-748-5

With his customary clarity and precision of style and structure, David Murray provides us with a preacher’s toolbox – not a full pastoral theology per se but rather a practical homiletical help. As a toolbox, it is well stocked with just the kind of instruments and tools that a preacher needs in order to construct a well-ordered, well-balanced, well-directed sermon. But, as Murray would acknowledge, this is not a mechanistic process, and so the apprentice preacher must learn to select and employ his tools wisely and well through diligent practice and in prayerful dependence on the Spirit. As such, anyone who preaches and teaches would do well to take up Murray’s toolbox with a view to learning the use of the tools; the well-practiced preacher might readily survey the collection to see whether he has mislaid or neglected any of the tools of his trade; the sermon-hearer will learn some of what lies behind the hour of ministry he hears in the Sunday services. The proper use of this little book would be of genuine benefit to preachers and their congregations.

All pastoral theology reviews can be viewed here.

David’s book also benefits from a superb video trailer:

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 25 January 2012 at 08:41

Murray’s ministerial meditations

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David Murray provides links to the recordings and the notes of his course on pastoral ministry during the last semester at PRTS. You may not have time to listen to all the audio, but the quotes in his notes are gold dust in their own right.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 10 January 2012 at 20:10

Posted in Pastoral theology

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Jesus, nothing, everything

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David Murray has some very helpful interaction with Tullian Tchividjian on the substance of his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. In three parts, he considers the confusion of justification with sanctification; the confusion from making our own experience the norm for others; and, the confusion of our standing with God and our experience and enjoyment of God.

I think David is making some important points that point us away from error and toward truth in our understanding of holiness and its pursuit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 15 December 2011 at 22:23

HeadHeartHand movement

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David Murray’s excellent blog has moved, now being part of a larger website under the HeadHeartHand moniker. I warmly recommend subscribing to the HeadHeartHand blog, not least because those who do will enjoy a free download of one of David’s films if they do so swiftly.

So, please head over and check it out.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 12:38

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