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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Gospel According to Lost by Chris Seay

It is clear that author Chris Seay is a huge fan of Lost. He summarizes the show well in The Gospel According to Lost and navigates what could be a confusing five seasons with ease and clarity. My wife and I have been watching Lost from Episode 1 and thus I felt qualified (and excited) to review this book. Typically with a niche book such as this, I find myself saying "this book isn't for everyone, but fans of _________ will enjoy it".

However, I don't feel I can even say that, because all the things that make Lost such an arresting show are missing from this book: deep philosophical questions, challenging theological themes, and a joy in both the mystery and the revelation. Also missing from the book: the Gospel. The "good news" of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the work of Jesus in his death and resurrection was mentioned explicitly once, but that seems a little scarce for a book with "The Gospel According to" in the title.

One of the things that sets Lost apart from other television is the fact that you can tell that the writers are steeped in science, philosophy, literature and theology and it comes out in the writing. I was expecting to find the same intellectual rigors in this book, but was disappointed. This book read more like a collection of blog entries, each focusing on a character or two from the show. Rather than a logical progression through Gospel themes drawn out from the show, each chapter took a disjointed character snapshot and then somewhat awkwardly turned their dominant personality trait into a spiritual reflection. Unfortunately, for a show that so perfectly crafted deep and complex character arcs, this formula made them all seem one-dimensional.

The Gospel According to [fill in the blank] books are a strange breed to begin with. It takes a well-studied author (of both his subject matter and relevant philosophical and theological ideas) who can draw the themes of the Gospel out of fictional literature or film without it feeling forced or contrived. Unfortunately this is the very trap into which the book falls. Indeed, I finished the book feeling like nothing significant has been said about the Gospel (or Lost, for that matter).

If you're looking for a brief character study of each of the major players from Lost, you may enjoy this book. If you're looking for an intelligent way to introduce the Gospel into the conversation with diehard Lost fans, you will probably be disappointed.

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top 10 Books I Read In 2009

I know this is quite cliche', but it's the Christmas season and all of us slip into the cliche' at some point during December. So I'm going to use my pass on this one: the top ten books I read this year. You may notice that not all the books that make the list were published this year. This is because this is the first year I've been on a serious reading regimine, thus I had some catching up to do in books from past years as well.

Before we begin, I am greatly obliged to those publishers and bookstores who have made much of my reading possible this year through providing free materials for review. Notably, I must thank InterVarsity Press, NavPress Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Tyndale Publishing and the Westminster Bookstore.

10. Finally Alive - John Piper
A beautiful and much needed book for Christianity, John Piper deals thoroughly with the rebirth, regeneration, and new life of the Christian. It is exhaustive without being exhausting or intimidating (as Desiring God and some of his other works can be at times). A great place to start to understand the Reformed position on God's role in our salvation.

9. Tactics - Greg Koukl
This may be the least well-known book on this list, but Greg Koukl (host of the weekly Stand To Reason radio program) has written the perfect handbook on apologetics. He is not answering specific challenges leveled at Christian apologists, rather his book addresses techniques (or tactics) for making a defense for the Christian faith in a way that is honest, charitable and winsome. This book is uniquely helpful.

8. Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) - Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
If there were two cultural movements that generated the most Christian books this year, I am guessing it would be the New Atheism (from without) and the Emergent church (from within . . . Sorta. Maybe. Even they would probably equivocate here). Why We're Not Emergent is a good introduction to the debate though it's obvious which camp they are coming from.

7. Hollywood Worldviews - Brian Godawa
As a Christian in the movie industry, Brian Godawa is uniquely positioned to write this book. Even for those of you who don't spend much time talking or thinking about worldviews, this book has much to benefit from. In particular the first and last chapters lay out some excellent guidelines and principles for watching and engaging with Hollywood and it's culture. This book was well written, even better thought-out, and I endorse it to anyone who likes movies. I'm assuming that's all of you.

6. Total Church - Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
This book will not be for everyone, but for those in church ministry this is a must-read. While not a revolutionary book on how to "do church", it gives a wonderful picture of how a healthy church "does life together". (Shoot me for using those phrases) Do you believe church is simply meeting once a week? You must read this book. Do you believe it is something much more? You will love this book.

5. Hidden Worldviews - Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford
In Hidden Worldviews, Authors Steve and Mark deal with what they call "lived worldviews". These lived worldviews include such ideas as individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism and salvation by therapy. Every chapter details both the truth or good as well as potential problems of each worldview before drawing a conclusion. In this manner, the authors present a very even-handed treatment of each idea without sounding alarmist or too "Chicken Little". A very refreshing read and quite unique in it's approach and subject matter.

4. The Reason For God - Timothy Keller
Dealing with some of the biggest and most common objections to Christianity, Tim Keller has written one of the best apologetic books for Christianity that I have ever read. So good, in fact, that I have not been able to keep it in my possession since reading it because I've been perpetually loaning it out.

3. Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
Yes, as I warned, this book is the best example of how behind I am on my reading. I'm sure this was on everyone else's list five years ago but better late than never I suppose. And I certainly see what all the hype was about. Don talks about his own spiritual journey in a very existential manner, but there is enough orthodoxy in here to keep even a doctrinal stickler as myself mollified.

2. When Helping Hurts - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Steve and Brian have written the best book I have ever read for the Christian and poverty relief. This book is full of insights from two guys that have seen it work on the ground level. Insights like: how poverty of all sorts is linked to man's fallenness, the different stages of poverty and the different ways they need to be addressed, and how we perpetuate instead of alleviate poverty by just throwing money at it. This book is greatly needed and will become more important in the coming years as celebrity poverty aid and social justice gospels grow in popularity.

1. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl - N.D. Wilson
I am well aware that my number one book is probably not on anyone else's list or even on their radar. And it is their loss. While not everyone liked this book as much as I did (Pastor Lee), no other book this year made me goose-bumpy or made me laugh and cry at the same time. His writing evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology. His thoughts come out jumbled and scatter-shot, but in the end he paints a beautiful word picture.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Review: God Is Great, God Is Good

The New Atheists have been getting a lot of attention lately; first from the general public because of their writings, and then from the Christian community because of the general public's interest. And just as the ideas of the Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett have spawned several books, so the rebuttals of Christian academia have also been the fodder for many publications in the last year or so.

God Is Great, God Is Good is one of the finest examples of this mini-genre and it brings together some of the sharpest minds in Christian apologetics. Names like Michael Behe, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig offer their best defense for Christianity against the charges of the New Atheists. The diversity of authors in this book is perhaps both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: strength because each author can focus on their respective field, and weakness because there is a noticeable absence of a clear train of thought from one chapter to the next.

While the flow of a single-author sort of book is missing, the structure of the book in the way the essays were grouped was quite appealing and seemed to address the general categories of challenges from the New Atheists well:
  1. God Is (God's existence)
  2. God Is Great (God's creative design)
  3. God Is Good (God's goodness)
  4. Why It Matters (A shift from theistic issues generally to Chrstianity specifically)
These authors certainly are nicer (and at times more academic) than the New Atheists have a reputation of being. Love them or hate them, however, the New Atheists seem to connect with something in their audience when they are at their most acerbic, sarcastic, and down-right nasty. There is a side of me that wishes that someone would sink to their level and deal with their charges in like form, but it is certainly to Christianity's credit that no one yet has done so.

All in all, God Is Great, God Is Good is a great book from many great writers addressing the challenges levelled by the New Atheists. While a few of these ideas and arguments may be over the heads of some, this book is a perfect introduction for someone who is ready to tackle the hot topics of the debate but is unfamiliar with the major players or where to get started.

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press Academic.

Why Twilight Is So Bleeding Popular (Yes, pun intended)

Though I have not seen any of the Twilight movies yet, I found this article by John Granger to be completely fascinating and on point about popular entertainment.

Touchstone Archives: Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden:
"I suggest that the Twilight series is something for thoughtful people to be aware of and to think seriously about, first, because of its remarkable hold on the imagination of American readers and movie-goers, but second, and more important, because of the reason these books are so popular: They meet a spiritual need. Mircea Eliade, in his book The Sacred and the Profane, suggests that popular entertainment, especially imaginative literature and film, serves a religious or mythic function in a secular culture. When God is driven to the periphery of the public square, the human spiritual capacity longs for exercise, and it often finds it in the 'suspension of disbelief' and activity of the imagination that are available in novels and movies.

The books and films that satisfy this spiritual longing most profoundly are the ones that have religious content of some kind, sometimes any kind. Not just The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia but also Harry Potter and The Matrix contain symbolism and religious notes that resonate with readers and moviegoers.

People are drawn to, and many are consumed by, those books and movies that most engagingly and convincingly deliver or smuggle in this religious content and mythic meaning. Not surprisingly, though, this meaning cannot tear down or even challenge the golden calves of our modern moral landscape."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale

I've had We Become What We Worship in my wish list for months now, so when the opportunity came to review it for free, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, there have not been many books that I was so predisposed to like that have been such a struggle for me to finish. Not because of poor writing or a disagreement with the author, but rather in part due to my own expectations, as the author's intent was to write "a biblical theology of idolatry". This is a well-written and thorough treatment of idolatry that is quite academic in nature.

This book grew out of a message G.K. Beale delivered entitled "What You Revere You Resemble, Either For Ruin or Restoration" and he has certainly done his research. The hangup of the book for the average reader is that he takes us step by step along the same journey of study with him which turns the book into a monster of biblical exegesis . Of course, the average reader was not Beale's audience to begin with, and the academic community stands only benefit from this biblical exegesis on idolatry (which, again, was his expressed intent).

I basically agreed with his premise two pages into the first chapter, but he spent a chapter each on building his case from the Old Testament, Gospels, Epistles, Revelation, and even the intertestamental/apocryphal books. Beale first began to formulate his thesis during an extensive study of Isaiah 6, thus his first chapter focuses solely there for his opening argument. The first 250 pages are spent building a textual argument for his ideas before finally getting to a very good (but all too short) 60 pages of application and conclusion.

While this book was well-researched and written, it will be too in-depth for the average reader and is best suited for pastors preaching on idolatry and the academic community. But if they ever come out with a Clif Notes version, I want to be at the top of the list.

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press Academic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Federal Trade Commission Guidelines

The Federal Trade Commission recently revised their guidelines that affect testimonial advertisements, bloggers and celebrity endorsements. "The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service." In the interest of full disclosure and in compliance with the new FTC guidelines, I feel compelled to share the following:
  1. All of the books prior to this post that I have reviewed have been given to me free of charge by the publishers for the sole purpose of a review. No expectation of a positive bias was communicated or implied by any of the publishers. In fact, a cursory reading of some of my reviews will show I don't shirk from a negative review.
  2. No payment or compensation has ever been made to me from the publishers beyond free review materials.

There, I feel better.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Review: Hidden Worldviews by Wilkens and Sanford

Hidden Worldviews is not your average book addressing worldviews. There are no chapters on nihilism, existentialism, or Eastern monism (though a nod is made to The Universe Next Door, and James Sire even writes a blurb for the back of the book, calling Hidden Worldviews "an excellent compliment" to his own standard work).

Unlike most other writers addressing worldviews, authors Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford deal with what they call "lived worldviews". These lived worldviews include such ideas as individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism and salvation by therapy. They are so called because "we are more likely to absorb them through cultural contact than adopt them through a rational evaluation of competing theories. These lived worldviews are popular philosophies of life that have few intellectual proponents but vast numbers of practitioners".

Because of the subtle nature of these ideas, Wilkens and Sanford suggest that there is a greater risk of such ideas being smuggled into and blended with Christianity almost unknowingly. Indeed, to the extent that the traditional worldviews pose a challenge externally to Christianity, these worldviews seem to be a challenge within Christianity as well as without.

Every chapter deals with a specific lived worldview and details both the truth or good as well as potential problems of each worldview before drawing a conclusion. In this manner, the authors present a very even-handed treatment of each idea without sounding alarmist or too "Chicken Little".

If I have had one frustration that keeps popping up during this first year of setting a significant reading goal for myself, it has been that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes would say, "there is nothing new under the sun". However, this book was an exception, a very refreshing read and quite unique in it's approach and subject matter. Overall, it was a very readable and enjoyable book, and one of my top ten for the year!

This book was a free review copy given by InterVarsity Press Academic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Review: Respectables Sins by Jerry Bridges

Jerry Bridges wrote one of the best books I've ever read on Christian sanctification in Pursuit of Holiness. But if Pursuit of Holiness is Sanctification 101, then Respectable Sins is Sanctification 301. While the former book focused on the broader subject of sanctification and dealt with the more common besetting sins, the latter focuses on the more subtle sins that often go unaddressed.

Before dealing with specific areas of sin, the opening chapters of Respectable Sins set the necessary foundation by addressing sin in general and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome it. In this way, the first few chapters read like a concise summary of Pursuit of Holiness. The remainder of the book addresses issues like anxiety, unthankfulness, selfishness, and judgmentalism. Each of these chapters follows a similar formula, defining and exposing the sin before giving the reader practical steps of action against it.

The reader must be careful to read this book without any legalism/judgmentalism. Most readers will either be tempted as they read to think "This guy is nuts and completely overboard" or "Ooooh, I can think of some people that need to read this". I confess both thoughts while I read. As my pastor has said, each Christian has areas they struggle with where they need to be legalistic with themselves (meaning there are certain things an individual Christian cannot let themselves do that others may do). So there are points when Bridges shares his own personal areas of legalism, but we must understand it in a context of wisdom for him.

This book is not for everyone. A non-Christian may read it and think Christians are all hyper-paranoid moralists. A legalist may read it and project all their judgments on the Christians around them. But for the Christian using this book with sensitivity and wisdom, this is a wonderful book on many of Christianity's blind spots when it comes to pursuing Christ-likeness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: Faith, Film, and Philosophy

If there was one thing I wish I'd known before reading Faith, Film, and Philosophy, it would have been the fact that it should have been called "Philosophy, Film, and Faith" instead. By sheer quantity of content, there is more philosophy than film or faith, and more film than faith. For you left-brain readers, that would be: philosophy content > film content > faith content.

Faith, Film, and Philosophy is comprised of fourteen chapters, each a different philosophical essay written by a different author. It was certainly made clear that most of these authors' stock in trade is philosophical in nature. Whereas the book dealing with film that I reviewed last month had well over a hundred movies in the Film Appendix, this book had only thirty two films, twelve of those from two chapters dealing broadly with horror and Hong Kong films. The twelve remaining chapters dug deeply and philosophically into just a few movies (one to three at the most). This was enjoyable if you liked the topic or the film (ultimate reality, counterfactuals or The Matrix), but a detriment if you were interested in neither (conciousness, memory or Pretty Woman).

Surprisingly, the chapters I expected to enjoy the most I liked the least. Dallas Willard, one of the few names I recognized among the authors, spent eleven pages summarizing Pleasantville, American Beauty, and Cider House Rules in detail and then only four pages on his topic of "Liberation Through Sensuality". The chapter contrasting the worldviews of U2 in the film Rattle and Hum and Nietzsche seemed both out of place (a live concert video/bio in a list of movies?) and somewhat arbitrary (U2 vs. Nietzsche?).

However, the opposite was also true. The chapters I had the lowest expectations for were a pleasant surprise. Chapters like "Story-Shaped Lives in Big Fish" and "Religion and Science in Contact and 2001: A Space Odyssey" gave me a new appreciation for and a desire to re-view the movies critiqued and analyzed.

Overall Faith, Film and Philosophy was enjoyable and worthwhile though, at times, over my head. This book seems to be best suited for a college-level class to couch philosophy in a more palatable context for the students, or for those looking for an in-depth analysis of one of the few dozen movies used.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NLT Mosaic Bible: Exclusive guest post from contributor Tom Fuller

Today I am pleased to introduce Tom Fuller, a pastor, worship leader, and contributor to the new NLT Mosaic Bible project. Check the post from yesterday to read my own review of Mosaic, and don't miss out on the giveaway a couple posts earlier to win a free copy of Mosaic! With those points of housekeeping, I turn it over to Tom.

Tom Fuller: An email crossed my computer way back in February of 2008. The email was from the editor of a unique project and the invitation it contained was exciting – the opportunity to contribute a meditation to a new and unusual Bible project.

As an author I am always interested in new opportunities to use my craft. As a pastor I am always excited to help promote the teaching, understanding, and application of God’s Word. When I took a look at the subjects, the choice for me became obvious right away – worship.

My wife and I started leading worship at a then small Calvary Chapel in Santa Barbara California back in 1978. We met in the YMCA and were so poor that even to mike my guitar I had to jury rig a holder to my vocal microphone stand! That didn’t stop us from falling in love with worship. We’ve spent the last thirty-plus years learning about and helping people come into the presence of God. Having the chance to put some of those thoughts down in a permanent form was a wonderful blessing. I accepted the invitation right away. Then came the hard part: how to present worship in a meaningful way in just a few hundred words!

The guidelines for my worship meditation read: “Through worship, we find a way of reflecting back to God His glory. Worshipful environments are places where God's people can express their adoration to Him through various mediums.”

The words “worshipful environments” stuck out at me. What are some of the places and situations in the Bible where worship was the focus?

I first thought of Joshua. In Exodus 33:11 there is a great statement about Moses’ young assistant: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” The “tent” was the tabernacle in the wilderness – God’s presence among His people, the children of Israel. While Moses conversed with God, Joshua stood by – he wasn’t the main focus there, God was. But when Moses left to speak God’s word to the people, Joshua stayed behind, perhaps to linger in the afterglow of God’s presence. There was something that held Joshua. He didn’t just visit God’s presence, or even just spend time with God. Joshua refused to leave God’s tent at all!

I thought of our headlong flight in and out of the presence of God on Sunday’s. We rush into church just in time for the music to start. We’re hassled and hurried and try to close our eyes and focus on the Lord but our minds are moving so fast that before we know it the music is over and the sermon has begun. Instead, what would it be like if we never left God’s presence? I’m not talking about walking around singing praise or with eyes closed. But I am talking about living a life where God is right beside you all the time – where you live in his presence. You may not be in conversation constantly but you remain in proximity to the almighty.

Next I thought about one of my favorite Bible people: Jehoshaphat. In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat had come from a place of major error and God’s discipline. He may have thought that his positive response would save him from difficulty, but in reality it merely prepared him for the battle to come. Old enemies approached and threatened to destroy his nation. Jehoshaphat reacted with fear, and then faced God. He sounded the alarm and invited everyone to join him in seeking the Lord. The answer came from an unusual source with a very unusual method of fighting. Jahaziel came along to give God’s answer to their plea. The man was descended from Asaph, David’s worship leader, and he told Jehoshaphat that they need not fight in the battle to come. Instead of taking up spears, they were to take up songs of praise. In this wonderful miracle the singers sang and the enemies dropped like flies.

How many times do we fret and worry and panic when trouble hits? If we would only come before God with honesty, then sing before Him with all of our hearts. What victories would we see? More importantly, we could be still before Him, casting our cares to Him, running into His strong tower, being enfolded in his wings. What peace we would see in the midst of the storm?

Finally, though, my mind went to another section of Scripture – one not used often to teach on worship. At the time I was teaching through the gospel of John and remembered Mary. In John 12, as Jesus’ crucifixion approached, he joined His good friends Martha and Mary for one last meal before the trial. While others may have enjoyed the time, oblivious to what was to shortly transpire, Mary did something shocking – she took a jar of very expensive ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. It says “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

There was something so all consuming about what Mary did. Yes, she anointed Jesus for burial. But thinking about all that Mary did, I could sense that something much more beautiful was taking place. I imagined her feeling the jar in her hands – a year’s wages in one flask. I could hear the sound of her breaking the jar open, I could feel the ointment on her hands as she approached the Lord. What expression was on the Lord’s face as she came near, then bent down on her knees? Then the soothing cool ointment applied to the warm flesh of a Savior – whose feet would soon feel the sharp pain of a Roman nail. The smell of the nard filling not only her nostrils, but the entire house!

It got me to thinking about the all consuming nature of worship. Jesus was to die for her –t o take the blame for her sins, and ours. Worship, I realized, isn’t just about living in God’s presence, it isn’t just about focusing on God as we see Him move on our behalf and give us peace. Worship is the expression of a whole life given wholly over to the One – the Lamb of God, who will always bear the scars of our sin, but whose hands are always held out to us in love.

That’s when I knew this would be my text. It wasn’t the most obvious choice, but an unusual passage fit this unusual project.

I hope you enjoy reading my meditation on worship. You can find it in the 10th week of Pentecost. I pray it spurs you to study, meditate, and worship – like you’ve never done before!

You can get more info on me from my website: or my church site:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: NLT Mosaic Bible

I am typically very skeptical of most themed Bibles and even most study Bibles. The repackaging of every translation of the Bible into a Bible for men, for women, for kids, for tweens, and even horse-lovers (I'm not kidding, check it out) just smacks of commercialism.

Tyndale has avoided this trap and subsequently the new NLT Mosaic Bible is a very beautiful and unique Bible that follows the church calendar year beginning with Advent (See an 84 page pdf if you want to see just how beautiful). The Mosaic portion draws art, quotes, and reflections from various Christian traditions from every continent and in every century.

The Mosaic Bible is actually two books in one and, given my aversion to themed Bibles, I initially thought it would be better separated as an NLT Bible and a Mosaic Study Companion. However, the NLT Bible and the Mosaic portion are nicely cross-referenced so that you can easily find passages on a specific topic from the church calendar or art inspired by a text (for instance).

Mosaic is a broad sampling from the Christian traditions, though I feel the editors were careful to ensure that the material used actually pertained to the subject matter. This was a potential pitfall as they were using excerpts from writings by such notables as Karl Barth, Albert Einstein, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Erwin McManus, Sufjan Stevens and even J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, Lord of the Rings is in here). While some of it feels a little forced at times (perhaps in an effort to be relevant), it is not so much so that it becomes distracting.

Michael Spencer from had a helpful caution to Mosaic readers about the excerpt selection: "A section that oriented the reader to the various traditions and their historical roots and theological distinctives/commonalities would have been useful in seeing just how Athanasius and Brian Maclaren “fit” into a common Christianity. If a user of Mosaic is committed to a “generous orthodoxy,” the approach of Mosaic is positive, but if someone buys the Bible and is in a church where Maclaren or Catholics are denounced or ruled out of orthodoxy, there will be confusion."

If most readers are like me, we have largely ignored the church calendar year. However, my wife and I were both so impressed with this Bible that we plan on working through the church calendar together this year. If you have never observed the church year, would like to become more familiar with it, or would like to better understand the wide range of influence from church history and tradition, this might be a good place to begin.

Check back tomorrow for a guest post from one of the contributors of the NLT Mosaic Bible!

Book Review: Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa

I love movies. They are part of the language of our culture and generation. I believe that many in my generation absorb their beliefs and worldview from the movies they watch without even knowing it. I also believe that our entertainment in general (but movies specifically) shape our values as a culture as much as it reflects our values as a culture.

This is why, if I were so gifted, I would be making movies today. Movies that put the themes of the Gospel, of fall and redemption, of substitutionary atonement, on the silver screen in a way that makes it real and palatable to the average viewer. And this is why I loved Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa so much.

Godawa is a Christian in the industry, making (and thinking about) movies with just such a motivation in mind. Without endorsing all movies wholesale, Godawa makes an argument for the value of movies to instruct, inform, and simply reflect the God-given creativity in the creature and the beauty of creation around us. Speaking of finding the value in movies, Godawa says, "Because all truth is ultimately God's truth, we can find what we think is true in a movie and dissect what we think is false".

Godawa goes straight to the hot-button topic for the Christian concerning movies, addressing "Sex, Violence and Profanity" in Chapter 1. His key point about such issues is that "context makes all the difference between moral exhortation and immoral exploitation of sin". In following chapters he begins to address the Hollywood worldviews such as existentialism, postmodernism, and other worldviews. These chapters were some of the most personally enjoyable, as I saw many movies I've watched in a completely different light.

Even for those of you who don't spend much time talking or thinking about worldviews, this book has much to benefit from. In particular the first and last chapters lay out some excellent guidelines and principles for watching and engaging with Hollywood and it's culture. This book was well written, even better thought-out, and I endorse it to anyone who likes movies. I'm assuming that's all of you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Win a FREE NLT Mosaic Bible!!!

Exciting day! For the first time on this blog, I get to give away something! Today is the release date of the New Living Translation Bible: Mosaic Edition. You can preview or buy your own copy over at

Stay tuned for a review of Mosaic in the very near future, as well as a guest post from one of the contributors!

And now for the giveaway instructions: simply post a comment (or e-mail it to me, I must be able to contact you if you win) on why you think you should win the copy of Mosaic.

Also, double your chances of winning and head over to the Christians in Context blog where I am a contributor as well and make a submission on that blog's giveaway in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Greg Koukl on Conversant Life

I heard a quote I really liked from Greg Koukl made during an interview on
"Narrow-mindedness is different than having a narrow view. We have a narrow view. That is, we believe we are right in [our Christians convictions] and therefore other views are wrong. All of the claims of truth are narrow.

Narrow-mindedness does not have to do with the view, it has to do with the person. It's a vice of thinking. A narrow-minded person is a person who is stuck in his view and is not willing to consider alternate views. I have a narrow view, but I am certainly open to considering other people's points of view and dealing with the evidence for it."
Note his point that all claims of truth are narrow. That is, they narrow certain other claims of truth out. No one claim of truth can be truly all-inclusive, because it will, by definition, narrow out those claims of truth that are exclusive.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: Love Is an Orientation by Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin has written one of the most illuminating and challenging books of the year, pressing his finger in on a sore spot in the side of Christianity with Love Is an Orientation. The church's relationship with the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community (or lack thereof) has been a black eye for us and a favorite straw man for anyone wanting to bash the church.

I found myself agreeing more often than not with Marin's approach and reasoning, attempting to "elevate the conversation" rather than cut it short. One insightful point was that both the GLBT and fundamentalist communities will often ask closed-ended questions in order to force you to simply "pick a side" in the fight. (Questions like: Do you think homosexuality is a sin? Do you think that someone can be gay and Christian? Are GLBT people going to hell? Hint: there are better answers than a simple "yes" or "no".)

While I agreed and resonated with his approach to love, accept, and build relationships with the GLBT community, there was one full chapter with which I could not agree. When it came time to finally address the passages in the Bible about homosexuality (or the Big 5 as he called them), he considered the particulars, interpreted them into an overarching principle, and then ignored the particulars. In this way, he never addressed the individual verses themselves, bypassing them in a sort of contextual paraphrase with the surrounding verses.

I do feel that Andrew Marin soft-pedalled more than necessary around the homosexuality as sin issue. Since I work in the travel industry, I spend a lot of time around hotel and airline employees where the GLBT percentage is higher than average. Yet I am baffled by the need to treat them any different than any of my other co-workers. I work with one guy who is living with his girlfriend. I work with another who is rumored to be having an affair. Yet I do not feel compelled to go all "fire and brimstone" on them about their sexual deviance. While I am not softening in my mind the fact that they are sinners and in practicing sin, that sin is peripheral when it comes to my relationship with and evangelism towards them. I love my co-workers, I care for them, I want them all to see the superiority and beauty of Jesus. I want them all to believe on Him for salvation.

While Marin (in my opinion) at times erred too far on the side of diplomacy, perhaps he is a product of fundamentalism erring too far in the opposite direction for far too long. This is an important work for the Christian church, not always for the answers he gives, but for the questions he raises and the dialogue he starts.

Book Review: My Story Bible

Now I know what you're thinking, this is not the standard fare for my blog. But I do have a six-month old now, and so my blogger book review program may feature the occasional children's book. As the resident artist in the Totten family, my wife also made some contributions to this post, so what follows is the first official Totten family post.

My Story Bible by Jan Godfrey and Paola Bertolini Grudina is a great introduction to the Bible for young children. I was very impressed with the hand-drawn pictures on every page that illustrate some of the most memorable stories in the Bible. I was surprised, however, to find how many of the biblical stories were witnessed by butterflies, ladybugs, bunnies, birds, and cats. I kid.

There are 66 stories in My Story Bible. However, before you think that there is one for every book in the Bible (there are 66 of those too), I must clarify that they picked 66 of the most dominant, important, and memorable stories from the Bible, not one from every book. Noticeably missing are stories from Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I said noticeable, not necessarily unfortunate. Also, missing is the account of Hosea and his prostitute-wife Gomer. All in all, good editorial decisions for a children's Bible.

All kidding aside, my wife and I are very pleased with My Story Bible and have already begun reading it to our daughter. She really likes the butterflies and bunnies.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Review: Did the Resurrection Happen? by Gary Habermas and Antony Flew

Given the two names on the front of this book, I was initially intimidated at the prospect of picking it up for fear I would be subjected to a pedantic debate between two intellectuals using terms and ideas on par with their intelligence. To my surprise, this was not the case.

Did the Resurrection Happen? by Gary Habermas and Antony Flew read less like an advanced theological textbook and more like a conversation. This is, of course, because two-thirds of this book were originally conversations. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which was basically a transcript of a debate between Habermas and Flew that took place back in 2003 during an event held by the Veritas Forum. This section was an engaging read and altogether too short.

The second part was also a transcribed conversation between Habermas and Flew (long time friends) regarding Flew's journey to theism, an event that sent shock-waves through both sides of the atheism/theism debate. Through both of these sections I was pleasantly surprised to find the conversational style a very accessible read a la Lee Strobel (minus the hint of feigned scepticism).

If one section seemed cumbersome and out of place, it was the third. Written by the editor, David Baggett, it was actually longer than either of the first two sections. Unfortunately, it fell victim to the very intellectual inaccessibility who's absence made the first two sections so enjoyable.

While this book won't be convincing to the most hardline skeptics, Christians and the doubters and seekers of Flew's sort will find this a very accessable read.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review: The Lost Virtue of Happiness by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler

I was fully prepared to enjoy this book, having already enjoyed one by J.P. Moreland earlier this summer called Love Your God With All Your Mind. So if he can write such an excellent book on the role of the mind in the life of the Christian, why not on the role of the spiritual disciplines in the life of the Christian? After all, that is how The Lost Virtue of Happiness by Moreland and Issler was billed.

"Discovering the disciplines of the good life"
"A fresh look at the spiritual disciplines"

Alas, I was disappointed on two fronts. Unfortunately, the earlier book I'd read by J.P. Moreland was a factor in this book being a let-down. In at least two rather extensive portions (that I noticed), J.P. borrowed heavily and even quoted word for word sections from Love Your God With All Your Mind. This is not a grave offense, I've noticed other authors do it before. However, in this instance it felt forced and a little out of place because the sections did not seem to fit the expressed intent of the book.

Which brings me to my second critique. For a book supposedly dealing with spiritual disciplines, they were not the disciplines I was expecting. Instead of chapters devoted to prayer, fasting, and the study of the Scriptures, there were chapters like "Embracing the Hiddenness of God" and "Defeating Two Hardships of Life: Anxiety and Depression".

After I got over the initial disappointment of being misled by the packaging, I found the book somewhat insightful in finding happiness in the Christian life (I would recommend this book to any Christian dealing with depression).

I know that often the publishers have the final say on what is on the front and back cover. Unfortunately, if that was the case with this book, it made some truly engaging and helpful material feel like a "miss" for me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

For the Joy of the Master

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, "Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:14-30

This parable used to really bother me as a kid. I was always upset that the master gave the servants different amounts to work with. What bothered me even more was the fact that the master, upon his return, seemed to add talents and rewards proportionate to the gain that the servant made on the money, regardless of the fact that they didn't start with the same amount (Don't believe me? See the parallel passage in Luke 19).

Now I don't consider myself a financial guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that it's easier to make five of something back if you start with five rather than two. So when the master seemingly rewards in proportion to the profit, that seemed extremely unjust.

I say "seemingly" because I noticed something recently I had not noticed before. I had been confusing exactly what the reward was.

I realized that when the master rewards the servant with the pronouncement "I will set you over much" (in the Luke passage this is authority over cities), he is not giving the servant a reward. He is adding to his responsibility. The master is not giving money to the servant for making him money. The money, the cities, the "much" all still belongs to the master.

What then is the reward for the servant? "The joy of your master". With this short phrase, all of my materialistic categories of life are crushed.

I am guilty of using the gifts and abilities that God has given me for the motive of gaining more. I want more stuff, status, prestige, in this life and the next. How foolish! How could I have missed for so long that it all belongs to the master!

Nothing that is given to me belongs to me. Nothing that I add to what has been given to me belongs to me. And nothing that is placed under my care because I have been productive in the past belongs to me.

If I am working for anything but the joy of the master, I am working foolishly. So to those of you who are constantly jealous of the gifts or possessions or status that someone else has, consider what you have and work for the joy of the master. To those of you who have said gifts and possessions and status, work for the joy of the master. And remember, to whom much is given, much is required.

And above all, work for the joy of the master.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Imputation of Adam's Sin: A Theory

I was challenged recently that the idea of original sin and Adam's fall as our Representative Head was an unfair and antiquated idea. Nobody still believes that today, do they?

The push-back was not on universal sin, a cursory read of the Bible (or the newspaper for that matter) will settle that one. We're all sinners, no son of Adam (save one) has ever lived a sinless life. "But this idea that we are sinners because Adam sinned, that's so archaic!"

As I considered an answer, I was reminded of a similar complaint. Why did God make humans so we could sin at all?! Why not create us so that we would always choose to love and worship God?The answer is that this sort of love and worship would not be real, would not be genuine. In order for our love and worship to be real, it must be free.

So God created the first two humans with genuine moral freedom (a freedom we don't possess or fully understand). God made them this way not because he wanted humans who would sin, but because it must be so in order to have free God-worshippers.

The nature of God-worshipping freedom requires it.

And I think this may illuminate our question of the imputation (or the passing down) of sin. Just as the nature of freedom played a role in the sort of humanity God made, I think the nature of worship played a role in the sort of humanity God made.

Remember, sin is not just disobeying God, it is the love and worship of something other than God. The devotion, allegiance, obediance, and affection that should be God's is turned to something (or someone) else. So while God did not make us sinners (nor did he create sin), sin happens when we put anything else in God's place. We remove God from the throne in our hearts and place ourselves there.

So perhaps God did not make us linked to Adam in our sinfulness just because he wanted it that way. Perhaps God made us this way because it must be so in order to have the sort of worshippers he desired. The nature of freedom required the potential for a fall, and the nature of worship required the potential for slavery to sin that is transferred from parent to child. Perhaps the nature of our relationship to sin is the way it is because that's the way God desired our relationship with him to be. At least that's my theory right now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacuum Salesmen and Hell: A Parable

Last summer my wife and I went to the Nebraska State Fair so I could eat my first deep-fried Twinkie. It was worth the price of admission, price of Twinkie, and all future heart problems. While we were there we made our way to the exhibitors hall, where all the cool gadgets are peddled. These are the sorts of products that are cool enough that people will buy them at first glance, but not reliable enough that Wal-Mart or Target would stand behind them. I believe the strategy is make a good sell then flee town before your product falls apart.

While we were there, we were drawn in by an air purifier/humidifier that was free if we agreed to let a vacuum salesman come to our house and give us a 45 minute demonstration of his product. So after he came and gave us his 90 minute demonstration, I was still unconvinced. He tried every angle: need ("look at all these germs and allergens your breathing and living in"), benefit ("this will save you money in the long run over carpet and upholstery cleanings, allergy medicines, etc."), and guilt ("I've got a family, I'm just trying to provide for them. Don't waste my time"). He almost parted me with $4,000 when he showed my wife a thin, black cloth with a pile of what he vacuumed out of our couch. He should have been ashamed for playing on the fears of an already-neurotic, pregnant woman.

I was reminded of our vacuum salesman incident (as we now call it) today while reading Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Don't worry, this is not a post on the emergent church. However, this did jog my memory: "On the emergent end I think people are afraid that Christians are using hell as a sales tool to get people to buy into Christianity, and I think that should be avoided". It got me thinking of the salesman. While I agreed with his premise that we needed to be free of all the dust mites, dead skin cells, allergens, and germs in our life, I just couldn't get over the cost. When he asked for references of others he could pitch to, I certainly did not want to be the one responsible for afflicting anyone else with what I just went through. Not only that, but his approach colored my opinion of other salesmen.

Hell is a reality just like dust mites, dead skin cells, allergens, and germs (my wife would probably suggest they are synonymous). Certainly not equal in magnitude and severity, but roll with my analogy. Even if people agree with our premise that hell exists and should be avoided, many of them just can't get over the cost. When this happens, our approach and conduct up to this point will determine largely how they think of Christianity afterwards. Will they feel that we had a genuine concern for them or that we just wanted to "seal the deal"? Will they want to spend more time around Christians or less? Will they come and seek you out when their life gets too messy dirty or will they go to someone else?

I am not suggesting that our Gospel presentation should just be "hell avoidance". Indeed, the Gospel, in its essentials, need not include hell at all. But when we do talk about hell, how is it handled? Are we presenting the Gospel like our vacuum salesman, just using the idea of hell to scare, coerce and intimidate? Are people being scared away from Christianity for fear that they will have to adopt similar tactics in being Gospel salesmen if they buy in? Is my impersonal and calloused approach coloring their opinion of not only me but other Christians and even Christ? The Gospel is offensive enough without us adding offense to it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Review: True For You but Not For Me by Paul Copan

Ten years ago Paul Copan addressed and challenged the post-modernity of our culture in his book True For You but Not For Me. Somehow that book had slipped under my radar and it was only upon the release of the new revised and expanded edition that I discovered it.

Thank goodness for revised and expanded editions.

This short and smart book reads like a practical field-guide for dealing with the challenges of moral relativism and religious pluralism that face Christianity today. While each chapter builds on the foundation laid by previous chapters, each is easily referenced by type and specific challege for a brush-up if one is in need of a quick response. As a philosopher, Copan is well equipped to both understand and deconstruct the false assumptions and faulty logic of some of the more extreme forms of postmodernism. At the end of every chapter is a summary in a few bullet points for easy review and a list of recommended books for further study.

This is, in short, the most concise handbook for addressing our culture's postmodern-influenced relativism that I have read. The information contained in this book should not just be read. It should be memorized if we are to present Christianity in a way that is clear, rational, reasonable, and winsome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: Satan and His Kingdom by Dennis McCallum

As embarrassed as I am to admit this, my thinking on Satan and demons has almost solely been shaped by Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Peretti's This Present Darkness. Until now. Dennis McCallum has written a much needed work for Christian literature in Satan and His Kingdom. It is well studied, biblically balanced, and very readable.

While it may not be at the top of my list of recommended reads for the new Christian, it most certainly is for anyone in church leadership. Dennis McCallum is frank about spiritual warfare being fought around us and the tendency of most Christians to fall into a "peacetime mentality". While he is not seeing demons around every corner and behind every temptation, McCallum is honest and strongly biblical about the existence and activity of spiritual beings opposed to God and his children.

Many Christians are too quick to attribute every temptation and conflict to Satan and his minions ("The devil made me do it" type of people) rather than our own sinful tendencies and the system of the world. Others ignore their reality to the point of verging on naturalism. Dennis McCallum is a fresh voice bringing balance and biblical insight into the all too real battle going on around us.

If I have one criticism, it is that after a couple chapters of such subject matter, I felt like I needed to cleanse my palate, put the book down, and read the Bible. But I think McCallum would be happy with that.

Book Review: The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

While the gospel of social justice is a popular topic today, it is refreshing to read a presentation of the Gospel that gives both spiritual transformation and social justice its biblical due. Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, has written a compelling book that pulls the blinders off of our comfortable, American Christianity. While social justice was given the bulk of the attention here, this is due to Stearns' sense of it's utter neglect in the Gospel of many evangelicals.

This book read like a half autobiography/half World Vision sponsor video script, neither of which I particularly enjoy but both of which I found compelling. And certainly, when there is such abject poverty and suffering in our world, and when we live in such opulence by comparison, we do not deserve to enjoy everything we read.

I was not convinced by some of Stearns' arguments from the Bible. I am still of the mind that Jesus' proclamation of good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release of the oppressed was primarily (though not solely) referring to the spiritually poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed. Case in point: how many prisoners did Jesus free? Not even John the Baptist was freed by Jesus.

However, much of Stearns' offering was well-reasoned and biblically supported. World Vision's founder, Bob Pierce, famously prayed, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." How will this ever be true if we blind ourselves to the things that break the heart of God?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In defense of religion?!!

It is refreshing to hear a couple well-spoken guys defending religion in the public arena. I have personally voiced my opinion on the pariah that the word "religion" has become. Now Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck are doing the same, not only through Christian publishers (see Why We Love the Church), but through the mainstream media as well.

From the Washington Post: "Here's what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won't tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel's Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36)."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

True, Balanced Doctrine and Orthopraxy

I am currently reading The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. It has been a fascinating and compelling read so far, but he has said something twice that has stood out to me both times (I think he wanted to make sure I caught it) and I have taken exception with it. It seems to be a sentiment that is shared with many in the emerging and postmodern Christian circles.

He said "Political ideologies and religious doctrines just aren't very compelling, even if they're true" and again, "Doctrine is not very attractive, even if it's true".

I think I can understand his motivation for saying this and, if it had been only once, I may have been inclined to ignore it. But when it bears repeating, it bears addressing. Certainly his intention was to say that what is compelling and attractive is missional, communal, Jesus-like, (fill in your own Christian buzzword here _________) living that reaches out to the lost, marginalized, and hopeless.

The problem is you can't divorce that sort of living from the doctrine behind it. Some people, swinging like a pendulum away from fundamentalism, will abandon the language surrounding their faith. However, as they continue to live the way Jesus lived and wants them to live, they are still affirming and acting on true, balanced doctrine.

Jesus died for my sins. Doctrine. He saved me from hell, both here on earth and in eternity. Doctrine. He asks me to share His love and Gospel. Doctrine. When I serve the marginalized, I serve Jesus. Doctrine.

I am not defending all doctrine. There is doctrine that is false, and it is patently dangerous and destructive. There is also true doctrine that, if out of proportion and unbalanced by other true doctrine, can be equally dangerous and destructive. But true, balanced orthodoxy is behind all right living.

Though you can have orthodoxy (right belief) without orthopraxy (right living), you cannot have orthopraxy without orthodoxy. While we can run away from the words, true doctrine will be at the core of all faithful Christian living. This is because all true doctrine is rooted in the character of God and his revelation. Whether from the Bible or the motivation of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life, true and balanced doctrine lies in the bones and sinew of a Christian life rightly lived. Or, stated another way, when your life aligns with the character of God in any area, your life aligns with true, balanced doctrine.

And that is compelling and attractive.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Elephant

I am certainly aware that my position as paid staff of a "traditional" church may lend some bias in how I read this book. That being said, Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna have written a book that may be revolutionary to some burnt-out ex-churchgoers. For others (myself included) it may sound like the church they already go to—minus the Sunday morning service.

The Rabbit and the Elephant proposes that the large, complex churches (elephants) multiply and grow slowly while the small, simple churches (rabbits) multiply quickly. Thus a hybrid small group/house church model is presented as a more effective way to grow the church, foster evangelism, and promote genuine Christian community.

While I found much of the information helpful, encouraging, and even insightful, I did not find it revolutionary. In addition, I have reservations about how a "simple church" (or small group only) model allows for certain biblical aspects of the church like eldership, gathering for teaching, and church discipline. Indeed, my personal experience is that, while not perfect, my church has all but implemented their model into our community groups during the week without jettisoning the larger service. This book would be a beneficial read on how to do small groups (or simple church) well, even if you don't plan on ditching the Sunday morning service.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson

In the span of one paragraph, N.D. Wilson made me break out in goosebumps then made me laugh and cry at the same time. His writing in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl from Thomas Nelson Publishers evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology.

His bursts of thought are not always clear-cut and linear, rather they seem to be confusing and unrelated at times. As his ideas shape the chapters, however, and the chapters form the book, a step back reveals a beautiful piece of work.

And this, I think, was no accident. Wilson's premise is that the universe we live in is a work of art and the masterpiece of The Artist. It is a drama, a play, and God is the Author. And so, just as his writing style reflects, there are surprises, twists, and turns. It doesn't progress in an uneventful, gradual incline.

The best dramas have real tragedies, the best paintings have both shadow and light. Thus it makes sense that the best of all possible worlds made by an Artist/Author will have real tragedies, both shadow and light.

N.D. Wilson writes like Donald Miller on uppers and caffeine. He writes like someone with ADD who has sat through too many college-level courses on philosophy and art appreciation. He writes like I imagine Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) would if he found Jesus and switched to non-fiction.

My favorite book of the year, hands down.

You can read the entire thing online for free at Google Books. However, that's kind of like choosing to look at a Rembrandt on the internet rather than having one to hang on your wall. Yes, I thought that highly of this book, but that's just me. You have fun with your pixels.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: Trusting God by Jerry Bridges

To all of you who have been pulling your hair out wondering why I haven't posted anything in many weeks (all two of you): breathe a sigh of relief. You can thank NavPress for the breach in writer's block. And you can blame my friends over at the Christians in Context blog for making me OK with the writer's block in the first place (click here for a further explanation).

I've signed on to be a book review blogger for a couple of publishers, and I couldn't be happier about the book I got from NavPress for our maiden voyage.

Trusting God by Jerry Bridges turned into something I was not expecting, and I was all the happier for it. I have read enough defenses for the sovereignty of God, both philosophical and apologetical. Instead, Bridges presents a biblically-grounded celebration of the sovereignty of God in all things.

His central theme asserts that we can only trust God when bad things happen if He is totally sovereign, wise, and loving. This in response to the age old question of evil: either evil came about because God is all-powerful but not all-loving, or because God is all loving but not all-powerful. Rabbi Harold Kushner chose the latter in his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a position that Bridges references (and refutes) throughout the book.

Instead, Bridges presents a God that is both powerful and loving, both sovereign and wise. He does it with the awareness of the tensions between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, yet he does not rely on speculation or philosophy. Rather he draws heavily from both the Old and New Testament to defend a sovereignty that overcomes evil, a sovereignty that secures the glory of God and the good of His people, a sovereignty that can be trusted.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The stem cell debate is dead

Dr. Oz, featured on Oprah, declared "the stem cell debate is dead". He said the problem with embryonic stem cells is "they are very hard to control and they can become cancer". Ironically, he said all this with the poster boy for embryonic stem cell research, Michael J. Fox, sitting right beside him.

Instead, adult stem cell research has made ten-years worth advancement in the last year and adult stem cells are now more viable then embryonic stem cells ever were. My heart breaks at the unborn humans lost in the wake of this debate, and more so over the devaluing of all such life that lies behind this debate. I rejoice at the turn of events away from embryonic stem cell research, and regret only that it did not come from a change of heart and point of view about the humanity of the unborn.

Watch the short (1:41) video here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Comparisons between abortion and slavery?

Below is a thought by Kevin DeYoung on the similarities between the pro-slavery and pro-abortion arguments:

"The connections with the pro-slavery argument and the pro-abortion argument should be obvious. Both argue for choice. Both, at least in their more civilized forms, pretend moral neutrality. And both rely for their inner logic on strikingly similar propositions: blacks are not human persons with unalienable rights; and neither are the unborn. To quote from Lincoln's 1864 speech in Baltimore with only a slight tweak, substituting 'choice' for 'liberty':

We all declare for choice; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word choice may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor. While with others the same word may mean for some men [and women] to do as they please with others, and with other men's labors. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name--choice. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names--choice and tyranny.

clipped from
We should seek to stigmatize abortion by associating it with racism as closely as the truth warrants.
People today don’t oppose the enslavement of blacks merely because they think it's wrong.

It's easy to oppose it because to do so is fashionable.

That’s a good thing. It always helps when the right thing happens to be P.C.

So let’s be wise in showing the way abortion is closer to racism and slavery than people see.

The Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case of 1857 held that black slaves were property without rights as persons, yet today we view that as unthinkable. So the Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade (1973) held that the unborn did not have rights as persons, yet we should hope and work that the day may come when that too is viewed as unthinkable.
Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 black people were lynched in America. Today more black babies are killed by white abortionists every three days than all who were lynched in those years (L.E.A.R.N.).
 blog it

Monday, April 27, 2009

An evangelical's plea: "Love the sinner"

I was thrilled last week to find a conservative Christian addressing the issue of homosexuality on the Opinion page of the USA Today. Jonathan Merritt dealt with the topic in what I felt was an even-handed and biblical manner. You can read the entire piece here, but I wanted to share some of the high points.

Evangelical opposition to anything even remotely concerning "the homosexual agenda" has often been vitriolic and unbalanced by a message of love for our gay neighbors. Thus, it is understandable that people have incredibly negative perceptions of Christians . . . It is time for evangelical Christians to reform our rhetoric. This means doing away with cliches such as the infamous "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve".

I have been continually vocal about how I feel Christianity has mishandled the the issue of homosexuality. It is not that I am simply concerned with how Christians are perceived. Rather, I am specifically concerned when that perception is a far cry from what the Bible calls us to. I am under no delusions that Christians will ever be held in the highest of public opinion. But it grieves me to no end when that image is due to unbiblical attitudes, words, or behavior. Certain outspoken groups and individuals, with their heavy-handed and extrabiblical anti-gay rhetoric, have out-shouted the quiet love of the Christians being the hands and feet of Jesus (at least as far as public opinion reflects). As the author points out, "these groups seemingly fail to realize that our role as Christians is not to delegitimize the existence of those who do not share our beliefs".

While I was impressed with Jonathan Merritt's concessions at our shortfalls, I was even prouder that he was not willing to fudge on the clear lines that the Bible lays out.

Our biblical convictions prohibit a redefinition of marriage . . . Though I unashamedly believe that God desires a better path for their lives, I also understand that my obligation to love them is not dependent upon their capitulation to a particular belief system.
Love the homosexual and obey the Bible (which includes the mandate to love the homosexual). This is the balancing act that is increasingly placed before the Christian, not only in the eye of the public, but in the political and legal arenas as well. For many, Christians will certainly continue to be close-minded bigots until we are accepting the openly homosexual as leaders in our churches and performing their marriages. To put up any resistance is colored as hate. But the legislation proposed has significant implications on the freedom of our churches and our ability to practice biblical Christianity (see examples 1, 2, and 3).

While I don't claim to have all the answers, I am glad the discussion is taking place. I come to the same conclusion as Merritt:

God's model is a lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union, but we must balance this message with the scriptural understanding that we are all sinners. Individuals who have decided to follow Christ have not ceased to be sinners; we are simply sinners who have taken advantage of God's gracious gift of salvation.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not just scaremongering

From an article by Maggie Gallagher over at The widely respected UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who favors same-sex marriage, took time out to acknowledge that the religious liberty implications of same-sex marriage are not "scaremongering."

"It seems to me plausible that judicial decisions banning opposite-sex-only marriage rules would likewise come to be extended -- by legislatures or by courts -- to go beyond their literal boundaries (a decision about government discrimination) and instead to justify bans on private discrimination," Volokh wrote. "It seems quite likely that they will spill over into diminishing any constitutional (or Religious Freedom Restoration Act-statutory) claims to engage in such discrimination by private entities, including Boy-Scout-like organizations, churches, religious universities and other institutions."
Thanks to Melinda over at Stand to Reason for the original post.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jesus is the Way, the Gate, and the Shepherd

Jesus is pretty popular today. I mean, if you were to ask a dozen people how they felt about Jesus, I doubt one of them would have a bad thing to say (to your face, at least). The thing about this popularity is, I don't think it's the real Jesus that's the popular one. I think there's a new postmodern pseudo-Jesus, a quasi-Jesus who's just a good teacher and proponent of ideals that the postmodernist strives for.

Decidedly less popular today is the idea that salvation is exclusive, that it is solely through Christ that we can come to God. This seems to be the climate that Rob Bell is reacting to in Velvet Elvis:

As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live . . . Jesus at one point claimed to be "the way, the truth, and the life". Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions. That completely misses the point, the depth, and the truth. Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality.
Ah, how diplomatic. Just a little equivocal. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you feel about Jesus—he was not this ambiguous. In fact, Jesus concluded his proclamation of being the Way/Truth/Life by saying "no one comes to the Father but through me". It's strange that Jesus says the way is through him, rather than with him, or following behind him. It's almost as if Jesus considered himself as more than just a life-model, more than just an ideal to be pursued.

And because Jesus was so unambiguous, he was clear about what he did consider himself to be. The very same author who recorded Jesus saying he was "the way" also recorded another proclamation Jesus made about himself. In John 10, Jesus says he is the shepherd, and "he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice". Now this certainly sounds more like it! A Jesus we can listen to and follow. This sounds like the life-model/ideal that we're all comfortable with.

Unfortunately, his hearers "did not understand what he was telling them", so he had to expound what he meant—and ruined our paradigm in the process. Jesus said, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved". There's that word again: through. So Jesus is not simply the model for a Christian life, he is the means into a Christian life. And how is this done? Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep". And in plain language in the following chapter Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies".

So Jesus is the way to be walked, the gate to be passed through, and the shepherd who guards the way and opens the gate. If you're anything like me, this seems really small-minded, really narrow. Which should be a clue that we're on to something: "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it".