Reflections on “Holy Justice” (from RC Sproul’s “The Holiness of God”)


holiness of god

I discovered R.C. Sproul fairly recently– last year I read Chosen by God as the first book I had read by him, and I felt like I was reading an American CS Lewis. This week, thanks to my friend Mark Knight trying to consolidate his library, I started reading Sproul’s The Holiness of God. And it is a fantastic book.

Chapter Six is called “Holy Justice,” and it deals with the harsh stories of God’s judgment against Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10); Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13-15), the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanite nations that were driven out before the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. As Sproul says in the opening paragraph, these are not stories for the faint or faint of heart.

It’s admittedly hard to square our “God is love” understanding from the New Testament with the God who put Nadab and Abihu to death for experimenting with the rituals of sacrifice. It’s even harder to think about Uzzah, whose only offense (if you could even call it an offense) was trying to keep the ark from falling into the mud when the oxen stumbled who were pulling the oxcart it was sitting on. But Sproul makes some great observations which help us understand this story:

  1. The ark should never have been on an oxcart in the first place. God’s law was clear that it was to be carried on poles inserted through rings (see Ex. 25:10-16).
  2. Uzzah should never have been in a position to touch the ark in the first place. Only the Levites were authorized to approach the ark, and even then, not all of them could. Sproul suggests that Uzzah might have been a Koathite, which would have allowed him to carry the ark in the prescribed manner (see the above point). But even if he was (and I think this is a big if. I’m not sure how Sproul comes to this conclusion); the Koathites absolutely couldn’t touch the holy things, or they would die (Numbers 4:17-20). David apparently learned from the mistake, because 1 Chronicles 15 is very clear that Obed Edom, who has been housing the ark, is among the Levites who ultimately transport the ark to the City of David.
  3. It was presumptuous for Uzzah to assume his hands were holier than the ground. Uzzah did what any devout Jew would do–he reflexively reached out to steady the ark. But who are we to believe our hands, attached to our bodies, which rebel against God time and time again, are holier than the God-created ground, which never disobeys God? Sproul writes “Uzzah assumed his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would have polluted the ark; it was the touch of man” (Holiness of God, p. 108).

As I was journaling on this today, it came together in a poem. I wrote the last stanza several years ago, but this expands on that one stanza. You can kind of sort of sing it to “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Enjoy.


Look at God’s ark, on an ox-cart.

That’s a bad start, ain’t it?

Where’s the long poles that the priests hold

So their hands won’t taint it?

Oxen stumble, Uzzah fumbled,

Put out his hand and grabbed it.

The deadly lesson–don’t go messin’

With holy things, like Nadab did.

Why should we who are sinful all through

Think our hands are cleaner

Than the mud that blooms and buds at

God’s word, and earth made greener?

Obed-Edom, how we need him

To handle the ark safely

He’s a Levite; he’s got the right.

But Uzzah wasn’t, was he?


Review of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James B. Comey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: I am a conservative Christian. A Baptist Pastor. I live in Alabama, where yard signs for Democrats are as rare as college football championships everywhere else in the country.

So if you’ve already made up your mind where this review is going to go, congratulations: you have been influenced by the media.

See, media, by definition, is “that which stands between.” “Mediator”–someone who stands in the middle between two opposing parties, has the same etymology as “media.” So does “median,” which is a strip of land that divides two streams of traffic going in opposite directions. Which is an appropriate analogy for what the “mainstream media” literally does. It stands between the traffic going left and the traffic going right.

The only way NOT to be influenced by the media is to get your news directly from the source. Most of us will never get an opportunity to talk directly with the main characters in the news. So the next best thing is to read their memoirs. To that end, this year I’ve read “What Happened by Hillary Clinton (worth the read); “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (totally NOT worth the read); “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (a speechwriter for Obama whose wheelhouse was comedy writing–worth the read) and “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur (somewhere in the middle). What all these have in common with Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” is that they were all written by someone who was actually “there” for the events that were making the news. Clinton’s book and Comey’s book were directly from the POV of the newsmaker; Litt’s and Tur’s were from several rungs down. But still, they represent, at least to some extent, unmediated media.

So, if you really want to make up your mind how you feel about James Comey, stop reading this review, go read the book for yourself, and then let’s talk.

Still here? Oh well, I tried. I guess I’m part of the media now.

So here it is: The book itself is very well written, and makes a compelling case for why the FBI and the Department of Justice must be separate and non partisan. Whether or not you agree with what Comey did with Hillary’s emails, his explanation for what he did and why he did it fits with his worldview and is consistent with what he says he has done throughout his career.

I really can’t say much about the politics. That’s beyond my level of expertise. So let me comment on what IS my area: Comey handles the Bible well. When he writes about the death of his infant son in 1995, he deals with Romans 8:28 and the book of Job with sound theology. When he casually mentions Proverbs 28:1 (“the wicked man flees though none pursue”) in the context of Trump’s over-defensiveness on certain topics, you realize that this guy has more than just a superficial relationship with the Bible. His handling of Scripture was much more skillful than, say, Trump’s (mis)handling of “Two Corinthians” 3:17 at Liberty University.

And for me, that matters. For me, that speaks to Comey’s credibility in his recounting of details. Add to that his quotes from Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, two bedrock Christian ethicists and theologians; his allusion to Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” quote, and the fact that he made Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” required reading for all new FBI recruits, and I am much more likely to take what he says about integrity and honesty seriously. Much more likely than I am to swallow the version of his adversary, who so far is publishing his memoir 140 characters at a time.

As far as the much-maligned comparison of Trump to a mafia don, I can only say that once I realized Comey had ACTUAL experience with mafia dons, I was willing to give Comey the benefit of the doubt.

Comey seems to display a pretty high level of emotional intelligence, and makes a compelling argument for, 1) why it is an indispensable quality for leadership, and 2) how Trump is absolutely lacking in it. His insights into the various leadership styles of George W Bush, Obama, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and John Ashcroft lay a foundation for accepting his negative comparisons to Trump and Jeff Sessions.

I’ll wrap up this review simply by saying that if you want to truly rise above media bias, then you have to get as close as you can to the source material. Read Comey’s memoir, and make up your own mind. Otherwise, just realize you are letting Anderson Cooper and/or Sean Hannity describe for you what the traffic is like on the other side of the MEDIAn.

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Book Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Challies Challenge Category: Novel

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge, #3)A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this one, because I loved Pillars of the Earth  and World Without End so much. But this one was just okay. Other reviews have pointed out how the scope of this one was harder to get into– rather than staying in Kingsbridge, or even with people who have a connection to Kingsbridge, this one went literally all over the world. Characters were introduced that had very little to do with the overall plot. And I agree with the reviewer who pointed out that in historical fiction, the made up characters should never have such a pivotal role in actual events. But when the fictional characters are the primary instigators in actual conspiracies, and other fictional characters are the primary heroes in foiling said conspiracies, then everything just gets muddy.

But here’s what I think left me cold on this one, in comparison to Pillars of the Earth and World Without End: no one built anything. In Pillars, Kingsbridge Cathedral became a character in and of itself. In World Without End, Carris’s quest to reform the way medicine was practiced was so compelling, and the hospital, and Merthin’s bridge, and the revolutions in engineering and philosophy that marked the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance (not to mention the Bubonic Plague) gave you a sense of history being told in microcosm.

Not so with Column of Fire. I thought Carlos and Ebrima’s iron-smelting forge was going to be that thing. Or maybe there was going to be a genius ship designer who would help turn the tide for the English in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But no. None of that happened.

If you read Follet’s introduction to the anniversary edition of Pillars, you understand that the book came out of a fascination with the cathedral builders– how they wanted to start something they knew they would not live to complete, but would pass their skills to the next generation. He had visited these cathedrals that took decades to build, and imagined all the stories that could be told of the builders. As a result, Pillars felt like a work fueled by the fascination of its author. In disappointing contrast, “Column” feels like it was fueled by fans wanting more Kingsbridge stories. Not a bad motivation for an author, I guess, but it just didn’t seem like his heart was in it.

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Book Review: Introverts in the Church by Adam S McHugh

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted CultureIntroverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent read for church leaders to consider that evangelism and church leadership are not the exclusive domain of extroverts. It includes helpful ideas for how to structure the programs of our church to be more introvert friendly. It also helps extrovert-centric ministries to consider how much the body of Christ is enriched by the introverted personality. Parts of it will be a little off-putting to evangelicals because it suggests some of the more contemplative and liturgical worship practices (which we evangelicals tend to be suspicious of as mysticism). But maybe that’s the point. We tend to look at our worship experiences as being the only way to do it, and maybe that’s keeping the wallflowers on the other side of the wall–on the outside looking in.

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April Book Reviews

At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal of reading 104 books– roughly two a week. I am using a plan developed by blogger Tim Challies, which requires you to read across genres. To find out more about the plan, go to

Song of Redemption (Chronicles of the Kings, #2)25. Song of Redemption by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Started: March 23

Finished: April 4

Challies Challenge Category: Novel by a Christian Author

This is the second book I’ve read (well-listened–they are available in audiobook form)in Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series. She is very skilled at taking the details we know from Scripture (which usually aren’t many) and creating a compelling story from them that still rings true to the context of the Bible. I’ve enjoyed her work, and look forward to listening to the other books in the series. For Challies challenge, this was my entry for “novel by a Christian author.”

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture26. An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M. Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Practical, concrete, helpful

Started/Finished: April 2

Challies Challenge Category: Book less than 100 pages

This book was recommended by both Tim Challies and John Piper. I’m in a group right now that’s trying to memorize Romans, so it was well worth the 99 cents to download this one. The title is well-said: this is “an” approach. Not “the” approach. And as such, it’s pretty good.

Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me27. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Challies Challenge Category: Book about theology

Started: April 4

Finished: April 8

Fantastic! The audiobook of this is the free book this month in, (April, 2016) but after listening to about half of it I ordered a hard copy from Amazon. There really needs to be a small group study on this. The SCAN acronym– the Bible is sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary– is worth the price of the whole book. In addition, there is an an annotated bibliography of books at the end– grouped by category and graded on degree of difficulty, that makes me glad I don’t just have it on audio.

Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word28. Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie T. Baucham Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Started: March 31, Finished April 9

Challies Challenge Category: Book about Worldview

I appreciated Voddie’s commitment to keep the ultimate goal of an apologetic conversation in mind–to share the gospel. He reminds the reader that according to Romans 1:18-20, people don’t have a knowledge problem. They have a righteousness problem.

I’m also challenged to spend more time learning the creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been used to teach the faith for hundreds of years. As a Baptist I’ve never studied them much, apart from memorizing the Apostles Creed. But now, and especially as a Christian educator, I appreciate their value for helping us teach and learn how to “give an answer for the hope that is within us”
(1 Pet. 3:15)

My only complaint with the book is that I wished he had used a different example of an apologetic sermon in the appendix. He had already summarized the sermon in same sex marriage and the divisions of the levitical law earlier in the book; so the appendix felt redundant.


Martin Luther: In His Own Words 29. Martin Luther: In His Own Words by Martin Luther

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Started: April 4

Finished: April 9

Challies Challenge: Book by or about Martin Luther

The main part of this book is the 95 Theses, followed by various letters Luther wrote to defend the theses. Also included is his Shorter Catechism, and a handful of his sermons. It was very enlightening to me, primarily to realize that the Theses weren’t initially intended to start the Reformation, but to reform a specific practice in the Catholic Church. As with a lot of books that start off for me with the audio version, I found it very helpful to download a Kindle version as well.

Orthodoxy30. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Started: April 10; Finished: April 20

Challies Challenge Category: Book more than a hundred years old

So, Chesterton himself called this a “chaotic volume,” and I don’t disagree. For the first three-quarters of the book, I couldn’t figure out why it was called “Orthodoxy.” It was hard to follow any organizing principle, and if he was arguing to make a point, he argued more like a poet than a lawyer.

It didn’t help that I was listening to the audiobook. Even though it was narrated by the amazing Simon Vance (whose narrations of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are some of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard) I don’t recommend the format for Chesterton. This book is meant to be chewed slowly, like a really good steak. You need to be able to roll the words around in your mind, and unless you’ve got your finger constantly on the pause and rewind buttons (not recommended while you are driving), you can’t do that.

So, I bought a hard copy, and now I feel like I have to read it again.


Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People31. Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin R. Stapert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Started: April 14; Finished: April 16

I’d had this in my Christian Audio library for awhile, and when I saw that yesterday was the anniversary of the premiere of Messiah, I started listening. Great read. The two best takeaways are George Bernard Shaw’s criticism of mass choirs performing Messiah, and the theological question of “why doesn’t ‘Messiah’ end with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?”

Challies Challenge category: Book about music.

32.  Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisasterInto Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Started: April 11; Finished: April 16

Challies Challenge: Book written in the 20th century

This was the second time I’ve read this. I picked it up again after watching the “Everest” movie. I don’t think the previous edition I read had the postscript about the ongoing fight between Krakauer and the author of another book about the same events, which is critical of Krakauer’s criticisms of one of the guides. It is an interesting read on its own, dealt with issues of journalistic integrity and fact checking.

33.Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Date Started: April 16
Date Finished: April 21
I really enjoyed this book. Robison writes with clarity and humor (whether or not it is intentional humor is hard to say, given that he is writing as an Aspergian). There are times when he comes across like a real life Forrest Gump–a social misfit who winds up in the right place at the right time to make an impact on the world that a so-called “normal” person could never make. The main difference is that instead of meeting Presidents like Forrest Gump, Robison met rock stars.

The book is also genuinely moving as it gets into the time Robison spends with his own son.

I would recommend this book to anyone that has someone on the autistic spectrum in their life, as well as anyone that just enjoys a well-written, if quirky and oddball–memoir.

Challies Challenge: Memoir

Cry, the Beloved Country34. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Date Started: April 20
Date Finished: April 28
Challies Challenge Category: Novel set in a country other than your own

This book was a feast. Moving, deeply Christian, informative, poetic, redemptive, beautiful. The characters are richly drawn, multidimensional, and fully realized. The prose is gorgeous. The message and the issues are timeless, as relevant to Ferguson, Missouri as they were to Soweto, Johannesburg. I will go back to this one again. And for what its worth, the 1995 film version starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris, is on Netflix. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is perfectly cast.