Reading Recommendations

Making A Safety Plan

Making A Safety Plan


If you are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, family member, etc., you can create a personalized safety plan. If you are supporting someone in an abusive relationship, you can help them make a safety plan.

In our book, Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, Lindsey and I include “Making a Safety Plan” as an appendix.

A personalized safety plan will help you know what to do if/when you decide to leave or find yourself (and children) in an emergency.

You can create this safety plan even if you are not ready to leave.

There are some important things that need to be considered. Evidence shows that planning before leaving is really important and is more likely to help the women stay away.

Please ensure that safety is considered when creating, printing, and/or completing this document. Considering who will have access to it and where it will be stored are extremely important.


Is it My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence

Is It My Fault? is a message of hope and healing to victims who know too well the depths of destruction and the overwhelming reality of domestic violence. This book addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption. It deals with this devastating problem and sin honestly and directly without hiding its prevalence today.

Free Leader’s Guides for Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics

Free Leader’s Guides for Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics

Here are two FREE Leaders’ Guides for Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics.


Many Christians don’t know about the history of their faith, but they want to learn more. That is why I wrote these two books: Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils.

These accessible overviews walk readers through the most important expressions (and denials!) of the Christian tradition–not with dry focus on dates and places, but with an emphasis on the living traditions of Christian belief and why it matters for our lives today. They are ideal for group uses and study.

Anglican Reading Recommendations

Anglican Reading Recommendations

The Anglican Communion is the third largest body of Christians in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination. J. I. Packer writes that Anglicanism possesses “the truest, wisest and potentially richest heritage in all Christen­dom.”

Serving as Canon for Vocations for The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, I get asked lots about resources on Anglican studies.  I started keeping a list of all the books and tools I find helpful.  It is a growing list that changes frequently, so I’m not claiming these are the best or only books that should be read.

Anglican Heritage and Tradition

Anglican Theology

Book of Common Prayer

Where to start? Start with a copy of the the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer is packed with devotional and teaching resources for individuals and congregations. The Book of Common Prayer (1979) is the latest, complete BCP used by the American branch of Anglicans, the Episcopal Church.


These books serve as guides to the use of the Book of Common Prayer that is sensitive both to its liturgical and theological backgrounds and to the practical and pastoral issues surrounding public worship.

The Episcopal Church

Anglican Spiritual Tradition

Thomas Cranmer

  • Divine Allurement: Cranmer’s Comfortable Words by Ashley Null investigates Cranmer’s gospel of divine allurement. Because justification by faith emphasized personal faith, persuasion was important to the Protestant Reformers. The verb “allure” was thus closely connected with their expression of the Gospel, and this is reflected in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Thomas Cranmer: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch is the definitive account, by an English Reformation scholar, of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, architect of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, King Henry VIII’s guide through three divorces, and ultimately a martyr for his Protestant faith.
  • Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love by Ashley Null.  Null is one of my favorite Anglican theologians.  In this book, he explores Cranmer’s cultural heritage, why he would have been attracted to Luther’s thought, and then provides convincing evidence for the Reformed Protestant Augustinianism which Cranmer enshrined in the formularies of the Church of England.
  • The Collects of Thomas Cranmer by Paul F. M Zahl and C. Frederick Barbee presents the Collects (prayers) written by Cranmer in  their original form and order.  Cranmer’s Collects are each followed by succinct commentary on their historical context and an insightful meditation crafted with contemporary Christians in mind.
  • “Thomas Cranmer’s Reading of Paul’s Letters” by Ashley Null in Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis, eds., Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh
  • “The Texts of Paul and the Theology of Cranmer” by Jonathan A. Linebaugh in Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis, eds., Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh


Thirty-nine Articles

  • The Thirty-nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today by J. I. Packer and R. T. Beckwith aims to show how the sixteenth-century Articles should be viewed in the twenty-first century. They argue that the Articles should be given a voice within the Church, not merely as an historical curiosity but an authoritative doctrinal statement.
  • “Thirty-nine Articles of Religion” in Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin S. Holcomb provides a short overview of the  historical background, content, legacy, and relevance of the Articles. As the Church of England found itself in a sort of middle ground between the papacy of Rome and the Protestant Reformers, it recognized the need to set out its general beliefs. It is this need that the Thirty-nine Articles addresses.

Welcome to the Episcopal Church

The series “Welcome to the Episcopal Church” is a helpful place to start.  It covers all the main distinctive elements of the Episcopal tradition:

Canterbury Trail

  • Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber and Lester Ruth focuses on Anglicanism’s “six gifts”, as Webber puts it: mystery, Christ-centered worship, sacraments, historic identity, catholic traditions, and holistic spirituality.

Non-Anglicans on Sacraments

Here are some introductions to  the sacraments from non-Anglicans.

  • For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann.  As a seminary professor, I assign this book as much as possible because it is a compelling presentation of sacraments by an Orthodox priest. He discusses secularism and Christian culture from the perspective of the Church’s liturgy — “the sacrament of the world, the sacrament of the kingdom.”
  • Eucharist and Eschatology by Geoffrey Wainwright, a Methodist minister and seminary professor focuses on an eschatological understanding of the eucharist for the mission and unity of the church.

Logos Anglican Library

The Logos Anglican library is packed with amazing and helpful tools for Bible study and exploring the resources of the Anglican tradition. I use Logos for preparation for preaching and teaching, personal Bible study, and academic research. If you purchase it, use this coupon code (HOLCOMB7) to receive a 10% discount.

Release of Is it My Fault?

Release of Is it My Fault?

Lindsey and I wrote a book about domestic violence that releases today: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

The number of occurrences of domestic violence in the United States is staggering: at least one in four women become victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.

Is It My Fault? was written for those suffering domestic abuse—typically women—and serves as a resource on healing from the emotional pain resulting from domestic violence by giving a clear understanding of what the Bible says about violence against women.  Combining the authors’ theological training with straightforward and practical advice, the book addresses questions like:  What does the Bible say about women?  What does the Bible say about God delivering victims?  Does the Bible say I should suffer abuse and violence?

Is It My Fault? points readers toward the consistent thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments emphasizing God’s love, compassion, and mercy, while opposing cruelty, violence, and abuse.  In light of this, the authors state that there is simply no justification for abuse. Importantly, the book helps women take critical next steps to identify whether they are currently in an abusive relationship, how to get help immediately and how to make a safety plan.

“Our hope is that this book will encourage you to believe that God knows and sees your suffering, and that God cares about you and hears your cries and prayers.  He cares for you so much that He wants you safe from threat and violence.  If you have children, He wants them safe, too.  But even beyond physical safety, God wants you to heal from the many ways you’ve been hurt and wounded.”

Is it My Fault? also serves as a valuable resource for pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family, providing guidance on how to care for victims of domestic violence.

Know the Heretics

Know the Heretics

There is a lot of talk about heresy these days. The frequency and volume of accusations suggest that some Christians have lost a sense of the gravity of the word. On the other hand, many believers have little to no familiarity with orthodox doctrine or the historic distortions of it. What’s needed is a strong dose of humility and restraint, and also a clear and informed definition of orthodoxy and heresy. Know the Heretics is an accessible “travel guide” to the key heresies of Christian history.

This book started as a series of blog posts, which are listed here:

Know the Creeds and Councils is the companion book to Know the Heretics.

Know the Creeds and Councils

Know the Creeds and Councils

Know the Creeds and Councils is an accessible and relevant overview of Christianity’s most significant statements of faith. In every generation, the Christian church must interpret and restate its bedrock beliefs, answering the challenges and concerns of the day. This accessible overview walks readers through centuries of creeds, councils, catechisms, and confessions–not with a dry focus on dates and places, but with an emphasis on the living tradition of Christian belief and why it matters for our lives today.

This book started as a series of blog posts, which are listed here:

Know the Heretics is the companion book to Know the Creeds and Councils.

Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013)

Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013)

Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, was one of my favorite authors and theologians.  He died last night.

I first read Capon when I was studying for my PhD at Emory.  My advisor, Walt Lowe, turned me on to Capon and assigned him in numerous courses, for which I was his teaching assistant, at Candler School of Theology. Now that I teach my own classes, I assign Capon’s work.

Capon wrote about the radical grace of God in a way that kept me sane while I was deep in academic theological studies.

Here are a list of some of his books. Below are quotes and excerpts.


Quotes & Excerpts

“The cross is a sign of the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems.” -Robert Capon


“The church’s job in filling pulpits is to find derelict nobodies who are willing to admit that they’re sinners and mean it.” -Robert Capon


“The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.” -Robert Capon


“Jesus came to raise the dead. He didn’t come to teach the teachable, improve the improvable, or reform the reformable.” -Robert Capon


“The world is by no means averse to religion. In fact, it is devoted to it with a passion. It will buy any recipe for salvation as long as that formula leaves the responsibility for cooking up salvation firmly in human hands. The world is drowning in religion. It is lying full fathom forty in the cults of spiritual growth, physical health, psychological self-improvement, and ethical probity—not to mention the religions of money, success, upward mobility, sin prevention, and cooking without animal fats. But it is scared out of its wits by any mention of the grace that takes the world home gratis.” –Robert Capon, The Astonished Heart, page 105


“Christianity is not a religion; it is the proclamation of the end of religion. Religion is a human activity dedicated to the job of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to itself. The Gospel, however—the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the astonishing announcement that God has done the whole work of reconciliation without a scrap of human assistance. It is the bizarre proclamation that religion is over—period.” – Robert Capon, The Mystery of Christ…and Why We Don’t Get It, page 62


“The reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.  Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale, neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.” –Robert Capon


“We are in a war between dullness and astonishment. The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore; He changes them into ‘nice people’.”Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart, page 120


“Marginality, in short, leaves the church free, if it is faithful, to cherish its absurdity; establishment just makes it fall in love all over again with the irrelevant respectability of the world’s wisdom and power.” Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart, page 64


“Just remember that what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the cancer cell, the liver fluke, the killer whale, and the loan shark–that if God is holding all things in being right now, he’s got some explaining to do if he hopes to maintain his reputation as the original Good Guy. Or, more accurately (since God steadfastly refuses to show up and explain anything, except by announcing mysteries and paradoxes), we’ve got a lot of explaining to do if we are to go on thinking of him in terms of his reputation. The point is this: if God seems to be in no hurry to make the problem of evil go away, maybe we shouldn’t be, either. Maybe our compulsion to wash God’s hands for him is a service he doesn’t appreciate. Maybe — all theodicies and nearly all theologians to the contrary — evil is where we meet God. Maybe he isn’t bothered by showing up dirty for his dates with creation. Maybe—just maybe—if we ever solved the problem, we’d have talked ourselves out of a lover.” –Robert Capon, Romance of the Word


“Let me tell you why God made the world. One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems, he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things – new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff Why don’t 1 go out and mix us up a batch?” And God the Holy Spirit said, “Terrific! I’ll help you.” So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Spirit put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place, and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses. There were mushrooms and mastodons, grapes and geese, tornadoes and tigers – and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them, and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and said, “Wonderful! just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!” And all God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could think of to say was the same thing: “Tov! Tov! Tov!” So they shouted together “Tov meod!” and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for beings to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing And for ever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeculorum, Amen.

It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a Trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.” –Robert Capon, Romance of the Word


“Let me tell you how God redeemed the world. On the eve of the Big Bang, over single-malt scotch and cigars, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were making a final run-through of their plans for the event. The Son was enthusiastic. ‘I think we’ve nailed it,’ he said to the Father. ‘I’m going to speak everything into being as your Word, and the Spirit here is going to breathe life into it. Then the two of us toss it back to you, and the cosmic party dances itself right into our Trinitarian lap. Elegant! Tov meod! Kala lian! Valde bona, and all that!’

‘I have a problem, though,’ the Spirit says. ‘I’m the one responsible for the PR in all this, especially when it comes to the fail-safe gambit of the Incarnation we’ve planned to cover both creation and redemption. The Son really does make the world, right? But with the human race locked into time and space, it’s going to look as if we haven’t seriously tried to redeem the mess they’ve made until Jesus shows up late in history. The fact that we’ve had the Son in there tidying things up from the beginning is the last thing they’ll think of. How do I convince them that the Incarnation isn’t just an afterthought?’

‘Easy,’ says the Father. ‘Sure, it will look as if the Incarnation of my Word is simply a response to sin. But since all three of us will have been intimately present to everything from square one, all you have to do is give them images that show both creation and redemption going on full force from the start. From before the beginning, in fact, since we’re talking about it right now. What’s the problem with that?’

‘The problem,’ the Spirit explains, ‘is precisely with the images. However many mysterious, right-brain images of the Word’s age-long presence I give them, they’re going to dream up transactional, left-brain ones and view him as something you inserted late in the day. Think of the damage they can do to your reputation as the Father who creates or even to the Son’s, as the one who redeems if they decide to think of you as the coach in a football game and the Son as the quarterback. Since you’re not going to reveal the Word’s Incarnation until some two-thirds of history has gone by, how do I stop them from thinking you kept him in the locker room until the fourth quarter? We three may know he’s been in there right from the first possession, but no one else will. Even your biggest fans are going to be hard put to sell that as brilliant management.’

‘Listen,’ the Father says. ‘I decide what’s brilliant management, not the fans. And as for my reputation, that’s your department, not mine. Besides, haven’t we talked about this practically forever? You know the drill. All through the process of revealing my Son in history, you keep slipping them images of the hiddenness of his Incarnation – of the mystery of the Word’s activity in the world even before you arrange for him to be born of Mary. You’re going to hang images like the Paschal Lamb and the Rock in the Wilderness in their minds. After that, all you’ll have to do is get somebody like Paul to say that those things were presences of Christ before Christ – that the Lamb and the Rock are in fact my Incarnate Word anticipating himself. What’s so hard about that?’

‘Plenty,’ the Spirit answers. ‘I’ve been doing simulations of human thought in my mind. I think we’ve underestimated the effects of cooping people up in four dimensions. Look at it from my point of view. You plunk Jesus into the world at one spot in history, and then you expect me to convince them he’s present as your Word in all of history – before, during, and after Jesus?’

The Son interrupts him. ‘But I really am going to be present. Or to put it their way, I really will have been all along. So I don’t see…’

The Spirit’s patience is wearing thin. ‘Give me a break! Since I’m the one who has to take everything that’s yours and get it across to them, I’m trying to solve your problems here too. Just think about what they’ll do with a Jesus who stays in history for only thirty-three years. Even if I get John to say that he’s the Word who made everything from the beginning, they’ll probably imagine him as a pot of holy soup we delivered too late for a good many of our customers. And after they’ve jumped to the conclusion that the Word wasn’t present to anyone who lived before Jesus, they’ll leap to the even more dreadful notion that nobody who lived after him can have his benefits until their assorted churches get him canned, marketed, and distributed to them.’

The Father tries to break in. ‘But what about the Pentecost party we’ve planned to get the church going? Won’t that…?’

‘I’m sorry,’ the Spirit insists, ‘but I’m afraid Pentecost will be just one more thing for them to misread. Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally on board with both of you. But suppose I do give you the rushing mighty wind and the party hats made out of fire. Even suppose I throw in the mystery of speaking in different languages in order to get the universality of the Son’s work into the picture. They’re still going to think the church is in the world to sell clam chowder to customers who never had it before. I mean, think of the possibilities for ecclesiastical arrogance. Jesus takes away the sins of the world, right? In him, everyone who ever lived gets free forgiveness for whatever went wrong in full, in advance, and all in one cosmic shot, no strings attached. I’m even going to get the church to include ‘one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins’ in the Nicene Creed so they’ll see that the Baptism of Jesus himself does the whole job, even if no one else ever gets baptized. But do you know what they’re going to do with that? They’re going to paint themselves into a corner and say that the unbaptized go to hell or even that sins after Baptism make forgiveness flake off like a bad paint job, and that unless Christians go to confession for a second coat before they die, they’ll go to hell too. Oh, sure. We’ve also agreed on this Reformation business where I convince them that nobody has to do anything to be forgiven except trust the grace that Jesus has already given everybody. But give them a hundred years after that and they’ll manage to turn faith itself into a requirement for grace: no faith, no forgiveness. Out the window again goes the free gift we’ve given them once and for all; and back in comes forgiveness as a deal that’s good only as long as they behave themselves.’

‘But why on earth,’ the Son wonders, ‘would they balk at getting something for nothing like that? Free grace and dying love isn’t enough for them? Would they rather we dealt with them on the basis of accountability?’

The Spirit just keeps pressing his point. ‘I don’t understand it any better than you do; all I know is what my simulations tell me. Human beings aren’t afraid of accountability; they’re crazy about it. If they can’t get credit for themselves or dish out blame to others, they cry “Unfair!” That’s why I pleaded with you to let me include something less subtle in the revelation. Remember? I suggested an image of the Son hiding a box of chocolates in every person’s house: the gift would be there whether they know it or not, like it or not, believe it or not. Maybe then they’d see that their faith doesn’t do anything to get them the chocolates of forgiveness; it simply enables them to enjoy what they already have. If they don’t trust the gift, of course, it won’t mean a thing to them. But the chocolates will always be there. I was even willing to make them miraculous, just to keep the element of mystery in the mix: no matter how many pieces anyone ate, the box would always be full. I still think it would have been a good idea.’

Finally, though, the Father has had enough. ‘I understand your difficulties,’ he says; ‘but after all, somebody’s got to be in charge here. In my mind, we’ve come up with a revelation that does the work of your chocolates without making us look like candy-pushers. The Son and I have every confidence in you. If you want to inspire the odd Christian apologist here or there to come up with images like that, be our guest. As I said, it’s your department. But we’re coming down to the wire here, so let’s call this a wrap. We have a big day tomorrow’.” –Robert Capon, The Fingerprints of God: Tracking the Divine Suspect through a History of Images, pages 1-4

The Bible and Anglican Liturgy

The Bible and Anglican Liturgy

Carl Trueman writes that in the Anglican liturgy, one finds “a structure of worship which is determined by the interface between theological truth and biblically-defined existential need.”  Trueman’s blog post is about about his visit to an Anglican service and the realization that Anglican worship services are both filled with and shaped by the Bible more than “any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life.”

Readings I have found helpful in thinking about a theology of liturgical worship:

In For the Life of the World Alexander Schmemann suggests an approach to the world and life within it, which stems from the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church. He understands issues such as secularism and Christian culture from the perspective of the unbroken experience of the Church, as revealed and communicated in her worship, in her liturgy – the sacrament of the world, the sacrament of the Kingdom.

Zahl writes: “I believe in Bible-based verticality, which is another way of saying formal-litiurgical worship.” He reminds us that worship should be vertical, biblical, and Godward. No element of worship should creep into a service without having to pass this one-question test: “Does it accurately reflect Bible truth about God, Christ, and human?”

The worship of the Christian community, properly understood and done, leads worshipers to act out in their lives the love of God, which is at the heart of our worship. Worship also provides the power and the sustenance which makes this style of living possible. This Christian style of living, moreover, drives those who are committed to it back to the worship of God, to find forgiveness and strength. When this interdependent relationship is understood, the power of worship is illuminated and the power to live increased.

Liturgy For Living remains a classic text in the field of Anglican/Episcopal liturgy. This highly readable overview explores the meaning of worship from a theological, historical, and spiritual perspective. It then examines the history, theology, and meaning of specific Anglican liturgies including: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, the Daily Office, the Holy Eucharist, and the various pastoral offices.

Excerpts from Trueman’s blog post:

“So what exactly had she witnessed, I asked myself? Well, at a general level she had heard the English language at its most beautiful and set to an exalted purpose: the praise of Almighty God. She would also have seen a service with a clear biblical logic to it, moving from confession of sin to forgiveness to praise to prayer. She would also have heard this logic explained to her by the minister presiding, as he read the prescribed explanations that are built in to the very liturgy itself. The human tragedy and the way of salvation were both clearly explained and dramatized by the dynamic movement of the liturgy. And she would have witnessed all of this in an atmosphere of hushed and reverent quiet.”

“In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord’s own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles’ Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer.”

“Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Cranmer’s liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God’s word seriously in worship I fall.”

Apologetic of Mercy

Apologetic of Mercy

My friend and former student, Chris Sicks, wrote an important book titled Tangible: Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth. In today’s Church there seems to be two well-intentioned groups. “Deed” people feed the hungry and help the poor while “Word” people proclaim the Gospel and engage in apologetics. The two often seem to compete with one another, but God always intended them to be partners. Sacrificial love can grab the attention of those we serve, opening their ears and minds to the words we share.

Chris was my student at Reformed Theological Seminary, where his personal ministry and his studies in my apologetics course combined to develop his thesis, which forms the basis for his book. His labors have resulted in a great book that I am proud to endorse and plan to assign in future courses. Chris cares passionately and has thought deeply about this topic.

He invited me to write the foreword, which is below.


At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that He was the fulfillment of these words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). In this declaration and in His ministry Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed are at the very center of His divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set His people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet His teachings and example show us that if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power, the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors.

Historically, the Christian church has at its best been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The fourth-century church provides one example:

In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. . . . He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

In more recent history, Christian churches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives.

Mercy ministry is an opportunity for Christian churches to take the gospel to those most in need, provide the marginalized and oppressed an alternative community centered on Jesus (the church), and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to social injustice in our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of Jeremiah 29:7 for God’s people to seek the welfare of the cities where God has placed us, and to obey the call of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for the most vulnerable.

Chris Sicks knows firsthand that mercy ministry is an effective apologetic for the gospel. A former atheist who rejected many intellectual apologetic arguments, Chris is now a pastor who leads numerous mercy ministry initiatives. He has seen with his own eyes how God uses the church to both help hurting people and to reveal Himself to them and others. In the midst of their suffering, people need to see God as Rescuer, Healer, Comforter, and Savior. Thousands of Christians are already serving the poor and oppressed, and many are also committed to the work of apologetics. Sicks’ intent is to help the church see how deeds of compassion can be a compelling argument for the existence of a loving God.

Chris is not promoting a repackaged Social Gospel. He understands that the gospel cannot be communicated through deeds alone; as Duane Litfin has written, “If it is to be communicated at all, the gospel must be put into words.” In this book, Chris repeatedly emphasizes that deeds of mercy are insufficient in themselves, and do not by themselves form an apologetic. Instead, the combination of deeds of mercy and words of salvation comprise what Chris has called the apologetic of mercy.

Most apologetic strategies target the head. In contrast, the apologetic of mercy begins with the heart. It is often in the midst of our pain that the “God of all comfort” makes Himself known most clearly. This is not a new idea, but it is the pattern of God’s gracious interaction with His people in the Old and New Testaments, and continues in His dealings with us today.

God has placed each of us in a particular place, in relationships with people who have needs. If we ask Him to use us to reveal Himself, we will have the privilege of showing His compassion and love to hurting people. As we make meals, give rides, or provide shelter, we will build relationships. When we share the gospel in the context of a merciful relationship, we speak with authenticity. Our words about God’s love are believable because we have shown God’s love in action and in truth (see 1 John 3:18).