First Look: An Interview with Matt Smethurst, Author of Before You Open Your Bible

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Matt Smethurst is the managing editor of The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, KY. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. He is author of Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word (10Publishing, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Before You Open Your Bible is about nine heart postures that will spark a richer experience with the Book—and the God—we claim to love. So many great resources exist on how to read and study the Bible, but I’m actually not aware of any that focus exclusively on how to approach it in the first place. That’s what I’ve aimed to provide in this brief “prelude” or “prequel” of sorts. Because without the right heart postures, we’re not yet ready to start reading.

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First Look: An Interview with Jeff Medders, Author of Humble Calvinism

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Jeff Medders is the Pastor of Preaching and Theology at Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX, right outside of Houston. He’s married and has two kids. Jeff writes books and articles, and talks about writing on his podcast Home Row. He is author of Humble Calvinism: And If I Know the Five Points, But Have Not Love… (The Good Book Company, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Humble Calvinism explores the five points of Calvinism—TULIP—showing how the doctrines of grace should humble us before the Lord and before one another. This book isn’t a defense of Cavlinism—it’s an exhortation to real Calvinism, humble Calvinism, Christ-like and fruit-of-the-Spirit Calvinism.

The points of Calvinism point somewhere, to someone: Jesus of Nazareth. He is the marrow of the doctrines of grace. Total Depravity reminds us that we are totally dependent on Jesus. Election shows how we are chosen in Christ. Each point points to Jesus. The most important five-letter word in Calvinism isn’t TULIP—it’s Jesus.

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First Look: An Interview with Abigail Dodds, Author of (A)Typical Woman

I’m excited to roll out this blog series entitled First Look, where I’ll be interviewing authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Abigail Dodds is a wife, mother of five, and grad student at Bethlehem College & Seminary. I’ve long admired her writing abilities, but mostly her desire to exalt Jesus in everything she writes. She is author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ (Crossway, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

(A)Typical Woman answers the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian and a woman?” It isn’t looking at all the verses in the Bible about women or addressed to women and then trying to assemble a composite of the ideal woman for us to try and imitate so we can be real women. The book is simpler than that. It isn’t throwing out the necessity of paying close attention to what God has to say to us in particular passages as women, but it isn’t trying to achieve womanhood. Instead, we want Christ to be our beginning and end. So we must examine two parallel and conjoined realities: the gift and reality of being born––made through Christ––as a woman, and the gift and reality of being re-born––made through Christ––as his daughter.

The book has three sections:

  • “Women Through and Through” is the foundation of the book. It examines our new birth, our womanhood, how we read the Bible, the meaning behind our bodies, holiness, etc.
  • “Women in All We Do” looks at some of the particular callings women have.
  • “Fearless and Free Women” is more personal, looking at how Christ matures us as Christian women.

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Pastor, Involve Your Wife in Your Job Search

Are you a pastor? Or are you married to one? Then you’ll benefit from a book I had the privilege of contributing to, Benjamin Vrbicek’s Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church.

When my husband and I got married, he was pastoring middle- and high-school students at our church. He loved his job and was excellent at it––but we knew the end was near. He had agreed to work in this role for five years, at which point he wanted to become a preaching pastor.

We hoped and prayed this would happen at the same local church, but only God knew.

Through many unknowns, we started discussing the possibilities. Would God direct us to stay somehow? Would he have us elsewhere near our home? Or would he call us to pick up everything and move across state lines?

After about a year of waiting, we got the call: We were staying at the same church, in a different role. Hallelujah! But the waiting was intense, and it stretched and grew our marriage in a unique way.

Pastor, as you begin (or continue) your job search, know that your wife desires to be involved. She knows you better than anyone, will speak truthfully, and wants what’s best for you. The following are five ways my husband involved me during our season of searching and waiting––and I hope they’ll be helpful to you.

Through Commitment

As husbands and wives are joined in the covenant of marriage and united in Christ, one spouse’s calling means both spouses must be called. In other words, your wife should have peace and clarity about the jobs you’re looking at and pursuing, especially when it comes to decision time.

My husband always reminds me that “we’re in this together.” No, I may not be preaching on Sundays or pastoring the flock, but I’m one with him, so any job search needs to be a united effort and decision. Your devotion to your wife extends even to this.

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What’s Motivating Our Online Authenticity?

What’s motivating our online authenticity?

What’s the heart behind our sharing an embarrassing or ungodly or messy or raw moment on social media? Is it truly to offer, in a spirit of humility, an example of what it looks like to walk humbly before the eyes of God?

Or is it to garner likes and attention—to gain the eyeballs of man?

Probably both. Our motives will always be mixed in this life, until our hearts are rid of sin forever before the presence of Christ. But it’s struck me lately how disingenuous our messiness is if we’re using it for the wrong reasons, and often the wrong reasons can feel like gray areas, difficult to identify in human hearts that often desire both the glory of God and man.

Jesus warned his disciples of practicing their righteousness before people, to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1). He gives a few examples: giving, praying, and fasting. The same principle applies to our online sharing: Are we practicing our “righteousness” in the form of rawness and authenticity before others to be seen and praised by them? Is our authenticity an end in itself, or a means to a greater end?

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Why I Publish on Ministry Blogs

I’ve appreciated the recent online conversation, started by Tim Challies, about the benefits of keeping a blog-blog versus writing primarily for group blogs or ministry blogs. I actually agree with much of what Tim writes about the importance of maintaining personal blogs, especially the freedom they allow for cultural commentary and responding to current events (a freedom that many ministry blogs don’t allow), along with the benefits of faithful “plodding.”

I keep a blog-blog, and I served almost five years as an editor to a ministry blog (shameless plug: Unlocking the Bible), so I feel I can comment from a unique, dual perspective. When it comes to publishing online, I try to abide by the “one home, one away” guideline (the keyword being try). Here are four brief thoughts on why it’s important to keep publishing “away” on ministry blogs:

More eyeballs

If our objective is to exalt Jesus Christ and share the good news about him with others and help them see how this good news applies to every corner of their lives, don’t we want as many eyeballs as possible to see what we’re writing?

Numbers aren’t an evil motivator. Sure, my heart’s not perfectly pure and won’t be until I’m with Jesus, but I genuinely want to point as many people as I can to him. Many writers don’t have a global blog-blog following, but many ministry blogs do, so I think it’s making the best use of the time (and using common sense) to seek out the biggest and widest platform for the soul-transforming message we proclaim.

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A Journaling Template for Your New Year’s Resolutions

How will you be intentional about the next 365 days?

As we’ve closed another year and started a fresh one, there’s much to thank God for, to process, and also to pray over and anticipate. Over the past few years, I’ve found a concise and clear way to journal these thoughts and prayers. And I hope it might be useful to you!

So grab your Bible, along with a pen and notebook, and find some time to be alone with the Lord, seeking his will and wisdom for the coming year.

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2018 Reading Favorites

Friends, behold, my favorite books from 2018! The art of reading felt different this year––slower––as we welcomed our daughter and enjoyed our first year with her (a blessing!). But I preferred the slowness, I think, as it helped me appreciate the quiet moments more and process what I was reading with greater clarity.

The titles I’m sharing with you below follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:

If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. (I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.) I hope these thoughts might sway you to read a few of these titles, yourself!

Theology

First Prize: The Cross of Christ (John Stott)

I’m only halfway through Stott’s excellent book, but can already give it my highest commendation. He’s a master of accessible theology, drawing out the atonement with confident clarity, biblical richness, and a humble sensitivity to its mysteries. Many people put this book on their must-read-in-this-lifetime list, and I fully agree. Read it as soon as you can!

Runner-Up: The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Sinclair B. Ferguson)

Ferguson, in his wonderful treatment on the law and the gospel, helped me see that legalism goes beyond our common definition: It’s not simply trying to work our way to God, it’s divorcing God’s good character from his law, and viewing it apart from his heart to save sinners. Ferguson exhorted me to hold fast to “the marrow” of the gospel, the cure for both legalism and antinomianism, in writing and teaching in any context. If you’ve ever been confused about the place of the law in the gospel, read this book.

Biography, Memoir, & Historical Fiction

First Prize: The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

The storyline of Whitehead’s novel depressed me, making me wonder if I could genuinely call the book a favorite––but I think that’s his point. He brings to light the horrors of slavery in America, and how quickly hoped-for dreams of freedom could be dashed for those who took the risk and ran. Read this for the rawness of his writing and for perspective.

Runner-Up: Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (Jackie Hill Perry)

I had the honor of reviewing Perry’s memoir for The Gospel Coalition, so I’ll point you to it here!

Christian Living

First Prize: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

If I had to choose one book that stood out among the rest, a favorite of favorites, Parenting is it. No other book caused me to think as much as this one (probably because we’re new parents). Tripp builds a theological foundation for why we parent; the most striking part for me was the truth that God is parenting me as I parent my daughter. Many other moms have told me this is their favorite parenting book, and for good reasons!

Runner-Up: The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (Jared C. Wilson)

Wilson is a skilled (and prolific) writer of many practical theology books, and this one is no exception. As a perfectionist who struggles with sin and failure, I was helped to read Wilson’s words: “Jesus is for losers.” I always appreciate his push-back on false gospels; in this book, he confronts the church’s typical definition of discipleship (doing good things) with what it really is (coming to Jesus over and over and over again). I often recommend this one to people who find grace hard to believe.

Vocation & Learning

First Prize: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Tony Reinke)

Confession: I listened to Reinke’s book on audio while sleep-deprived and in the fog of early motherhood. But that season was actually the perfect time to listen: I knew I didn’t want to waste away my nursing sessions on my phone. Reinke’s hard work and research is astounding and has clearly blessed many readers, based upon the feedback I’ve read and heard in the last year. Our phones are incredible tools, but they often rule over us; Reinke helped me think about my motives and habits, and especially what these communicate to the people in the room with me.

Runner-Up: Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word (Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach)

I’m not finished with this yet, but it’s wonderful! Short chapters teach the reader how to study their Bible using memorable tools like structure, context, and linking words. If you want an accessible book on Bible study, this is it.

Fiction

First Prize: Home (Marilynne Robinson)

After Gilead was recommended to me by everyone and their brother, I finally picked it up. I didn’t enjoy Gilead as much as I did Robinson’s second novel, Home, a harrowing tale of family dynamics, personal sin, and hope deferred. Robinson is a gifted writer, one whose novels I hope to read to completion.

Runner-Up: Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)

The story of small-town barber, Jayber Crow showcases the beauty of the ordinary. Berry writes like a song, so while the novel’s plot line feels slow, it’s a welcome slowness full of enjoyable rhythms, eclectic personalities, and depth. Like Robinson’s three Gilead books, Berry’s other books stand alone but are based in the same place. Read them if you want to slow down.

I hope these suggestions prompt you to read great books in 2019. Any suggestions for the books you enjoyed this year? Leave titles in the comments––I’m always looking for great ones.

Five Lessons I’ve Learned in Five Years as an Editor

“Do you have any tips to share about being an editor? Any books to read or things you wish you knew when you started?”

A friend and fellow writer recently sent me these questions. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about how someone can develop an editorial eye and make strides in this elusive, but important skill-set. I figure some of you might have similar questions, so here’s my attempt at an answer!

Let me preface by saying two things:

I didn’t study writing or English in college. What you’ll find in this article, then, isn’t lessons from a classroom, but those learned through work-related experience and diving in headfirst. I don’t pretend to have a refined knowledge of all-things-grammar and technical aspects of writing, nor do I have all the answers! These are simply reflections.

I’m writing this also for writers. Good writers are skilled self-editors, and good writers keep their editors in mind as they write. It’s a beautiful gift when a writer submits an article to Unlocking the Bible, and it’s mostly done. Growth in the skill of self-editing will greatly bless the editor who receives your submission!

Without further ado:

Lesson #1: Editing isn’t taught, it’s caught.

I can’t take credit for this brilliant statement. My co-worker and editor extraordinaire, Tim Augustyn, first said it. I was training my first co-editor and asked Tim for advice. He said, “Editing isn’t taught––it’s caught.”

By this, I don’t think Tim meant there’s no possibility of learning the editorial skill-set through books or courses; rather, we learn best by watching, analyzing, and doing. Just as an apprentice would learn by studying his master as he worked, so we learn editing in a similar way:

  • When we’re reading great books, we observe and analyze voicing, word choice, argument-flow, and the rhythm of sentences.  
  • When we’re being edited, we study what our editor is doing and learn from their suggestions and decisions, and even by the way they communicate.
  • When a writer reasonably pushes back on our work, we’re learning how to become better editors.

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10 Truths to Set Leaders Free

Friends! I’ve collaborated with some sisters in Christ from Revive Our Hearts to offer you a free ebook: 10 Truths to Set Leaders FreeWhether you lead a large women’s ministry at your church or simply gather with a few friends to study God’s Word, we all need to know God’s truth in order to point others toward it. That’s why we’re excited to deliver this ebook.

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CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE E-BOOK

We’re exploring the most common lies leaders believe and the truth that sets us free. Here’s an inside peek:

LIE #1: A leader must meet everyone’s needs and expectations. (Melissa Kruger)

LIE #2: I must be strong and always have it together. (Kristen Wetherell)

LIE #3: If I work hard serving the Lord, ministry will go smoothly. (Susan Hunt)

LIE #4: My leadership role makes me more valuable and important. (Shannon Popkin)

LIE #5: My ministry is more important to God than my marriage and family. (Erin Davis)

LIE #6: It won’t matter if I skip my personal time with God. (Kelly Needham)

LIE #7: I’m the only one who can do it. Ministry depends on me. (Leslie Bennett)

LIE #8: I’m responsible for changing people’s lives. (Linda Green)

LIE #9: My ministry is insignificant compared to leaders with larger platforms. (Paula Marsteller)

LIE #10: Ministry is so busy there’s no time to rest. (Judy Dunagan)

Together, let’s speed ahead leaving the dust of lies in the rearview mirror.