Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Is your reading broad enough?

A few years ago I decided to start keeping a record of the books I read each year. This was partly inspired by a comment by my late great-uncle that he read on average one hundred books a year, and partly by the fact that I'm quite sad and like keeping a record of this sort of thing.

Once I started keeping a list of the books I had read, I noticed a pattern: There were areas of Christian reading that I never touched at all. I suppose we all have our own favourite types of writing that we automatically reach for. So I decided to break the list down into categories and keep a record. That way I could make sure my natural tendancies didnt cause me to leave out whole sections of the library - eg. biography, and church history.

Anyhow, I thought I'd give you my list of categories (in which I also include secular reading, since I dont want to become a complete hermit). Feel free to add and develop as you see fit.

Christian Living
Church History


Books in Process

Happy Reading!

PS the nearest I've come to by great-uncle's total is 65. I found his notebook, where he kept a record and I see that the highest he achieved was 143!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Self-Esteem and coincidence

Sometimes a few random strings all happen to fall together…

Some random strings:

Banner of Truth Magazine lands through the letterbox
Buy London Times newspaper to do number puzzle.
Books loaned to me by a pastor away on missionary service in Peru

The weaving

In a number of contexts recently I've been thinking about self-esteem. I'm fairly convinced it's a pile of nonsense. The Christian is a worthless sinner, useless in the universe, but for some reason God has set His love on them and He esteems them. That is where their esteem comes from.

Saturday - I need input for help in counselling so I pull down a Rich Ganz book from my shelves. PsychoBabble, published by Crossway. Its not mine, but belongs to Tim Donachie a minister working in Peru. I read through most of it in one sitting. Great help. Well basically it told me stuff I should have known. More accurately it told me that when God's people use God's word to help people with their lives, they will do better than psychologists who pay no attention to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday - Banner of Truth magazine plops on the doormat. This is a publication that excites me as much as Brussel sprouts. Anyhow - I do often read the news items and book reviews. And under News items this month was the news (strangely enough!) that Mt Olive tape library has been turned into MP3 and put on SermonAudio.com. Never having heard of Mt Olive Tape Library, I looked it up to find among their list of speakers - Ted Donnelly, Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, Geoff Thomas and, you've guessed it - Rich Ganz. So I clicked on the link for Rich and there staring me in the face was a talk entitled "Self Esteem - Myth or Marvel". I haven't listened yet, but I intend to give it a go asap.

Tuesday - I'm down at the hospital visiting, and I buy The Times to kill some time and do their number puzzle. As I flick through the rest of the paper the T2 section falls out and their on the front cover is a women kissing herself in the mirror with the headline: The Myth of Self Esteem - Why thinking you are great will get you nowhere. It was a really interesting article - here's the link, but since The Times have a habit of moving stuff, I've included the most of the article below.

Sometimes it's strange what patterns come together from seemingly disparate threads.

The Article

Forget self-esteem and learn some humility
Contrary to the received wisdom, showering yourself, your children or your employees with praise is counter-productive

IN THE film Meet the Fockers, a proud Bernie Focker attempts to impress the parents of his son's fiancée by waving to a shelf of trophies. "I didn't know they made ninth-place ribbons," says the bemused would-be father-in-law.

"They have them up to tenth place," Focker replies earnestly. "There's a bunch on the 'A for Effort' shelf there."

Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, represents a generation of American kids reared in the 1980s on the philosophy that any achievement, however slight, deserved a ribbon. Plaudits replaced punishment; criticism became a dirty word. In Texas, teachers were advised to avoid using red ink, the colour of reprimand. In California, a task force was set up to inject the concept of self-worth into the education system. Swathing youngsters in a sturdy shield of self-esteem, went the philosophy, would protect them from the nasty things in life, such as bad school grades, underage sex, drug abuse, dead-end jobs and criminality. Even the taxman would benefit - those kids would supposedly go on to earn more. And so the National Association for Self-Esteem rolled out the feel-good mantra across the States.

Except that the ninth-place ribbons are in danger of strangling the very children they were supposed to help. America's obsession with self-esteem - like all developments in psychology, it gradually filtered its way to Britain - has turned children who were showered with compliments into adults who crumple at even the mildest brickbats. Deborah Stipek, dean of education at Stanford University, revealed recently how she keeps a box of Kleenex in her office for students who, for the first time in their lives, receive tough feedback and can't deal with it. Many believe that the feel-good culture has risen at the expense of traditional education, an opinion espoused in a new book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add, by the conservative commentator Charles Sykes.

Not only that, but the foundations on which the self-esteem industry is built are being exposed as decidedly shaky. Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University and once a self-esteem enthusiast, is now pioneering a revision of the populist orthodoxy. "After all these years, I'm sorry to say, my recommendation is this: forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline," he wrote recently. "Recent work suggests this would be good for the individual and good for society - and might even be able to fill some of those promises that self- esteem once made but could not keep."

In 2001, at the invitation of the American Psychological Association, Baumeister and three other academics came together to review the self-esteem literature to investigate whether a positive opinion of oneself really did trigger an avalanche of measurable benefits. After all, given that the bandwagon started rolling in the Eighties, it should be clear if the intellectual policy was paying practical dividends. The result, Baumeister says, was "one of the biggest disappointments of my career".

The take-home messages were these: high self-esteem does not of itself earn children higher grades (although high grades cause self-esteem to rise); it does not make people better at their jobs, although employees with a strong sense of self-worth may erroneously think they are more competent than their less confident colleagues (much to their colleagues' annoyance); a survey for the Harvard Business Review found that humility, rather than self-regard, is a better predictor of who will make a successful leader; far from having a low sense of self-worth, bullies and other aggressors tend to have an inflated sense of their own importance; praising a child constantly won't stop him from cheating, stealing, engaging in risky sex or abusing drugs; adults who think highly of themselves do not have better love lives, and are not necessarily more popular with their peer group than adults who don't think much of themselves.

It is not unadulterated bad news - people with high self-esteem tend to be happier, show more initiative and are less prone to eating disorders. Even so, Baumeister was unable to uncover proof that ratcheting up an individual's self-esteem could either increase happiness or reduce depression. In other words, the link is there but the evidence of causality is not. As Baumeister puts it: "Those (benefits) are nice, but they are far less than we had once hoped for, and it is very questionable whether they justify the effort and expense that schools, parents and therapists have put into raising self-esteem."

In a comprehensive article for Scientific American, Baumeister reveals that much self-esteem work is flawed because researchers have asked people to rate themselves, and psychologists accept that we are not always as truthful or impartial as we should be (psychometric tests even include questions designed to elicit the extent to which a candidate is bending the truth to appear socially desirable).

For example, when people are asked to judge both their own looks and self-esteem, a clear correlation emerges. People who rate themselves as attractive also report high self-esteem, while those who consider themselves unappealing report low self-esteem. It sounds plausible - beautiful people appear to be valued more highly in society and treated better, which may well lead to high self-esteem.

But when objective assessments are carried out - with a panel of judges deciding the attractiveness scores - the link between prettiness and self-esteem vanishes. "Clearly, those with high self-esteem are gorgeous in their own eyes but not necessarily so to others," he sums up. In fact, whenever a correlation crops up between a self-reported positive attribute and high self-esteem, it may just reflect that people who think highly of themselves rate themselves highly in other areas, perhaps without justification.

Only 200 out of around 15,000 studies used objective measures, all but emptying the pool of reliable data on self-esteem. The remaining puddle, Baumeister argues, just doesn't provide proof that self-esteem can steer an unswerving course towards fulfilment. Not only that, but an unjustifiably high self-esteem can tip over into narcissism (excessive self-love). A failure by others to return this unearned high regard can result in violence. The data on bullies, for example, shows that they report less anxiety than other children.

Baumeister concludes: "We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

On Boys and Bikinis

(Hat-tip to Adrian Warnock) I thought some of you might appreciate this. Some of you might still be in utter agreement! (My tongue was firmly in cheek!)

Wittingshire: On Boys and Bikinis shares a conversation had with her eight year old son:

"'Why do girls go around in bikinis?' he groused. 'Of all the dumb things to wear.'

This struck me as funny, which provoked him still further.

'It's just like underwear,' he said. 'They wouldn't go walking down the street in their underthings, would they? So why go around in bikinis?'

'Girls wear bikinis because boys like them,' I said.

He stopped short and stared at me, incredulous.

'Not boys your age,' I went on. 'Teenagers, and grown up men. They think women look pretty in bikinis--but that doesn't mean they think women should wear them in public.'

He was still staring at me, utterly flabbergasted. Finally he found his tongue: 'It disturbs me,' he said formally, 'that you are telling me that one day I will think girls look pretty in bikinis. That disturbs me. I know what I think, and I don't think that.'

By this point I was laughing out loud. He was so serious, and so affronted.

'It isn't funny,' he said. 'Why on earth would I suddenly think girls in bikinis look pretty? They look cold. They look naked. Skin is just skin, and tummy skin isn't any prettier than arm skin. That's what I think. Why would I ever think different?'"

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Too good to miss

I got an email from ChristianBook.com - They obviously dont read my blog! They were offering Charnock's Existence and Attributes of God for $9.99. An amazing $30 off.

In case anyone out there wants to avail of this stupendous offer here's the link

They also usually sell Calvin's Commentaries at a ridiculous price

These were the guys I got my NIV audio bible from. It was about £60 including postage - while the best the UK NIV people could do it for was £139. It really gets up my nose when people try to make big money out of the bible.

So you could probably put together a really worthwhile order and make the most of getting Charnock.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Not mad after all

This came into my inbox today from John Piper's Fresh Words email. The book looks like a good read, but I thought you all might like to read his article:

The Good, Insane Concordance Maker

May 11, 2005 — Fresh Words Edition

By John Piper

Permanent Link

There’s a catch to this story that comes later. I hope you read to the end. I think you’ll be encouraged. I was. I read in a recent issue of Books and Culture a review (by Timothy Larsen) of a new biography of Alexander Cruden, the man who single-handedly wrote one of the early concordances to the King James Bible (Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Who Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay). That means he recorded every one of the 777,746 words in the Bible and made a note of every place where it occurs. For example, the word “him” (6,667 occurrences), “her” (1,994 occurrences), “God” (4,444 occurrences), etc.

In the mid-1720s, Alexander Cruden took on a self-imposed task of Herculean proportions, Himalayan tedium, and inhuman meticulousness: he decided to compile the most thorough concordance of the King James Version of the Bible to date. The first edition of Cruden's Concordance was published in 1737. How could he have possibly completed such a project? Every similar undertaking before or since has been the work of a vast team of people—in recent times made incomparably easier by computers. Cruden worked alone in his lodgings, writing the whole thing out by hand. The KJV has 777,746 words, all of which needed to be put in their proper place. Cruden even wrote explanatory entries on many of the words—in effect, including a Bible dictionary as a bonus. The word “Synagogue,” for example, prompted a 4,000-word essay.

Furthermore, Cruden’s day job was as a “Corrector of the Press” (proofreader). He would give hawk-eyed attention to prose all day long. Then he would come home at night, not to rest his eyes and enjoy some relaxation, but rather to read the Bible—stopping at every single word to secure the right sheet from the tens of thousands of pieces of paper all around him and to record accurately the reference in its appropriate place. He had no patron, no publisher, no financial backers: his only commission was a divine one.

Cruden’s Concordance has never been out of print. Some hundred editions have been published, many of which have been reprinted untold times; shoppers at a popular online bookstore today can choose from 18 different in-print versions of Cruden’s.

For this, thousands of lovers of the Bible thank God. They have studied the Bible seriously for almost three hundred years with Cruden’s help. If this is all we knew, we would simply be amazed at his industry and give thanks. But here’s the catch. He was, if not insane, utterly maladjusted.

Cruden was institutionalized for madness four times in his life. His behavior was often bizarre.

On another occasion, Cruden had apparently gone to break up a brawl but ended up spending the best part of an hour admonishing disorderly soldiers not to swear while periodically whacking them on the head with a shovel. He also would propose to women with whom he had established no romantic bond (one such intended he had not even met). Being unable to take no for an answer, he would then turn himself into a persistent nuisance, if not a stalker.

Eventually he decided that God’s call on his life was to reform the morals of Britain. “He therefore started a one-man campaign to have the King name him to a position hitherto unknown in British government, ‘Corrector of the People.’ He then went rambling about the country admonishing strangers to observe the Sabbath.”

He simply could not discern what was fitting and probable. This meant he did foolish things. But not all foolish things are bad. “He did not know—as all normal people do—that when a man gets propositioned he can feel sad for the plight of the prostitute, but there is really nothing he can do to help. Cruden instead hired her to do legitimate work, and she lived a respectable and grateful life thereafter.”

On another occasion “Cruden did not know that a prisoner’s case was never reconsidered when he was only a few days away from execution. He went at this campaign in his usual obsessive and forthright way and pulled off a political miracle—the man’s sentence was reduced to deportation.”

What encourages me about this is to realize that God’s ways are strange. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). And in this strangeness, sinful and sick and broken people fit into God’s designs. He has purposes for the mentally ill and for the emotionally unstable and for the socially maladjusted. And he has purposes for you.

As Timothy Larson observes, Cruden did not have the sense to know that “one man working alone in his bedroom could not produce a complete concordance of the Bible.” And from this folly millions have been blessed. Beware of belittling God’s crooked sticks. With them he may write the message that that makes a thousand people glad.

Looking for merciful design everywhere,

Pastor John

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Message worth listening to

Sorry I havent been writing for a while. Life is busy at present. Hopefully I'll be back in a day or two.

In the meantime I would recommend that you all listen to some of these audio files

Hell's best kept Secret - Ray Comfort
This one is a real eye opener on a more biblical way to do evangelism. Have a listen


Dick Lucas on the Psalms
I havent listened to these yet, but I heard him speak at another conference recently from Psalm 42, 43 and if that was anything to go on then these should be good


Look for the Christmas at the Castle 04 series

Don Carson on Revelation
Also from the same site is a series on Revelation that I have listened to. These are great.
Just scroll down to the talks labelled 'Carson'

Happy listening