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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: Evil and the Justce of God by N.T. Wright

In Evil and the Justice of God, N.T. Wright enters the conversation of the problem and origin of evil traditionally dominated by the philosophers. However, by offering a fresh—and, at times, unorthodox—approach, Wright brings an offering that makes a reasonable contribution to the conversation.

Wright doesn't seem to approach anything head-on, which is at the same time this book's greatest strength and greatest weakness. He seems often to talk around the subject, but in this way he does cover material that doesn't always get included in the traditional conversation. In this way, the train of thought does go somewhere, even if it feels meandering at times, and the journey is often worthwhile.

On occasion the vagueness can be distracting and even confusing. While he believes evil is a very real thing, it is unclear whether Wright believes the Devil (or "the satan" with a lower-case "s" as he says) or demons are real beings. Not that this idea is integral to the understanding of either the problem or the origin of evil, but as often as "the satan" comes up, it is confusing in such impersonal terms.

InterVarsity Press was kind enough to send me the new Special Edition of the book that includes the DVD on the back cover simply entitled Evil. While the DVD is a good supplement to the book and certainly an excellent tool for a small group discussion, I am glad it accompanies the book because it moves through the material too quickly to standing alone.

In both the book and DVD, the main solution to the problem of evil offered is this: "Forgiveness, then—including God's forgiveness of us, our forgiveness of one another and our forgiveness even of ourselves—is a central part of the deliverance of evil". While this conclusion may be incomplete as a full answer, this was never what Wright set out to accomplish in the first place.

In the end, while Evil and the Justice of God may be less intellectually satisfying than it's more philosophical/theological counterparts, it is at times more existentially satisfying. Wright succeeds in joining the conversation and covering territory that has largely gone unexplored.

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Notes from my Bible study

This is the first in more years than I'm willing to admit that I am reading through a Through the Bible in a Year plan. I think I avoid those plans because there are certain parts of Scripture that should be read multiple times throughout the year, and I am less likely to do so if I have my whole reading for the year mapped out. But this was a challenge Pastor Lee put forth for the whole church, and so I and my wife decided to participate as well.

So yesterday I was reading through Leviticus (not one of those "multiple times throughout the year" books) and I came to chapters 4 and 5. These two chapters cover the sacrificial processes for those sins committed unintentionally or unknowingly. But as I read these chapters and tried to put myself in the mindset of an Old Testament Jew, a sense of futility began to creep in.

"If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting." Leviticus 4:13,14

"If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect." Leviticus 4:27,28

"Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the groundeven though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty." Leviticus 5:2

If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible." Leviticus 5:17

Now I don't know about you, but when I read this I am glad I was not an Old Testament Jew. I imagine I would go broke making "just in case" sacrifices for all the sins I may have committed unaware (kind of like the extra salvation prayers I made as a kid to make sure I was covered, and those didn't cost me a goat or a ram). But as I read this, the point was really driven home that one could not just have confidence in your system of sacrifices. There were still too many holes. Salvation still had to come by faith in the God who would see imperfect sacrifices by imperfect persons as faith and hope in the One who was to come and fulfill the law. Perfect the system.

Or as Paul put it:
"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." Romans 3:20

"However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Romans 4:5

I pray this dropped home for more than a few Old Testament Jews, as Paul says it did for Abraham and David. (Rom. 4)

Salvation is not in the law for we cannot keep it perfectly.

Salvation is not in the sacrifices we make at the altar for we cannot sacrifice perfectly.

Salvation is only in God, who justifies the wicked and credits faith as righteousness.

Salvation is only in the Messiah, the perfect High Priest, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect fulfillment of the law.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God by Erwin W. Lutzer

This book was not always an easy one to read. I imagine it was an even harder one to write. But when your subject matter details the parallels between the political and social climates of Nazi Germany and modern-day America—and when you bring up hot button topics like abortion, censorship, homosexuality and hate speech—author and reader alike would do well to not expect an easy ride. Though I didn't agree with every comparison, Erwin Lutzer made some poignant insights in When a Nation Forgets God.

As Lutzer explains, "Nazism did not arise in a vacuum. There were cultural streams that made it possible for this ideology to emerge and gain a wide acceptance by the popular culture." In particular, it was disturbing to read how inept the majority of the church was during the rise of Nazism. While this is a short book, he deals with some heavy material as the chapters headings suggest:
  1. When God Is Separated from Government, Judgment Follows
  2. It's Always the Economy
  3. That Which Is Legal Might Also Be Evil
  4. Propaganda Can Change a Nation
  5. Parents—Not the State—Are Responsible for a Child's Training
  6. Ordinary Heroes Can Make a Difference
  7. We Must Exalt the Cross in the Gathering Darkness
At times I felt he pressed his comparisons too far, but he was close enough to the mark often enough that the ideas must be dealt with whether one agrees with his conclusions or not. This book would not be one I would loan to my non-Christian friends, but every Christian should read and pray that our hearts would be softened and our spines would be strengthened.

This book was a free review copy provided by Moody Publishers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Call to Holiness In My Own Personal Sanctification

Whatever thing I have denied my selfish desires, Christ denied more to condescend in human likeness and perfect humility.

Whatever temptation I have had to overcome, Christ overcame more on my behalf that he might present a perfect substitute for me before God.

Whatever pain I have endured—whether physical or emotional—in denying the longings of my body and mind, Christ endured more under the just wrath of God on the cross in my place.

Whatever loneliness I feel (imagine: the pathetic loneliness of one who is a temple of the Holy Spirit and a child of God), Christ felt more when the Father turned his back on him because of my sin.

Christ has made a way. He has given me his Spirit. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.

So grow up. Be a man. After all, "you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4).

For a deeper treatment, read The Mortification of Sin by John Owen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smoking CCM Radio Unfiltered

I should stop listening to Christian radio (the music, not the talk). I tune in to sing to some familiar music or maybe even find a good worship song to use in church that I haven't heard before, and instead I wind up getting mad. If I'm alone in the car, I am literally yelling at the radio. I'm fairly certain, if people have seen me as they drive by, they consider calling the authorities (or the white wagon with the bars on the windows).

Now this is a partial exaggeration (though I am embarrassed at the portion that is not). But I have, on more than one occasion, come home from work to rant to my wife about what I heard on the radio. At this point, if anyone is a diehard CCM fan, you may want to stop reading before I challenge one of your sacred cows.

It all started when, during a promo between songs, a chipper, female voice said "I like listening to K____ because I don't have to worry about what I'm going to hear". Now I try to give "Christian culture" the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the motives behind our entertainment and marketing, but I could not get this line out of my head. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but all I hear is "When I turn this station on, I turn my brain off and just set to automatic intake". This flies in the face of the model we have in the Bereans who were commended in the book of Acts for "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so".

I am making such a big stink for this reason (hear thesis statement): I would suggest that listening to mainstream radio with your guard up and your worldview filter on is safer than listening to Christian radio with your guard down. Subtle, bad theology is more dangerous to unsuspecting Christians than is blatant bad theology.

I don't walk into a Christian bookstore assuming that everything that I read therein will be biblically faithful and theologically true. Yet my impression is (and the radio spot would further suggest) that many people turn on the radio assuming that very thing. Let me give you just two examples of the subtle bad theology I'm talking about by citing two songs currently getting lots of play on the radio.

Brandon Heath has a song ready-made for the lighting of the unity candle at your next wedding in "Love Never Fails", borrowing heavily from 1 Corinthians 13. My gripe however, is that the song never mentions God or Jesus and contains the line "Love is the way, the truth, the life". Now I know, being generous in artistic freedom and theology, one could make an argument for that lyric. However we live in a culture where people already make the one to one assumption that "God is love" is equal to "love is God". This lyric, in my estimation, is at best a shaky artistic blending of theological ideas and at worst more fodder for the fires of "all we need is love, love is all we need". Far too many people already believe that love is the way, the truth, the life. Just watch any romantic comedy in the theaters today, love is their functional savior.

I have a similar complaint of my second example. Kutless is owning the airwaves with their song "What Faith Can Do", but the song never once answers "Faith in whom?" Indeed, at multiple points where they could have given the object of the faith, they seem to make faith itself or even the person with the faith as the key component:

"You think it's more than you can take, but you're stronger than you know"

"You will find your way, if you keep believing"

"When the world says you can't, it'll tell you that you can"

I want to give these artists and songwriters the benefit of the doubt, I really do. Kutless and other bands like them carried me through my teenage years and played a vital role in my brief musical career after college. I confess that I am probably overly critical and more than a little biased being a songwriter myself. I know that scrutinizing every line of these songs as I am doing comes across as bitter jealousy from one who failed to "make it" in a Christian rock band. One will say that, in the artists' defense, these songs should be heard in the context of the entire album. The problem is that CCM radio pulls them out of that context.

Where's the line between artistic freedom and good theology? The line between being faithful to a rhyming pattern and being faithful to the Bible? The line between writing a song that is catchy and subversive enough that it might just influence mainstream culture and writing a song that's just a spiritual sell-out? And would the Bereans ever say we "don't have to worry about what I'm going to hear"? I don't have the answers to any of these questions, but they do reflect my concerns.

For those with itching fingers, gear your responses towards these two issues: the theology in Christian music and our seemingly unfiltered intake of it.

I know this is coming across as more critical than I intend. I still love Christian music, still partially make my living at it, and will definitely not stop listening to the radio any time soon. I know I am holding most CCM artists and writers to a higher theological standard than they are intending (when they write and record) or expecting (when we listen). I am not making judgments about their hearts, in fact I have the highest of respect for many in the industry. I believe Christian music stands to make a bigger impact in many lives than any book or preacher ever will. This is precisely why my concern for the theology in the music remains.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Book Review: A Million Miles In a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

I had my first Donald Miller experience in early 2009 with Blue Like Jazz (I know, I know, a little behind the curve, Jared). I loved the narrative-style theology that was described as "non-religious thoughts about Christian spirituality". There was enough depth and orthodoxy that I could loan the book to my mom, but not so much that I couldn't loan it to my coworkers.

The same could not be said of Searching For God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts. While the narrative was still there, the theology and simple, deep humanity was markedly absent. And while the story-telling was good, it was not strong enough to carry the books alone. So I ended 2009 one for three in the Donald Miller book category and looking for redemption.

And I found that redemption in A Million Miles In a Thousand Years. The book takes shape as Miller is approached to make a movie out of his stories in Blue Like Jazz. So as they try to craft the slightly disjointed chapters into a more linear story arc for a movie, Don begins to see the life he has lived in the common elements of storytelling.

While Miller's primary point seems to be that we should stop being mere observers and start taking steps to write a story worth living, I was struck with other thoughts that he perhaps did not intend. Like the fact that a steady, faithful life is as good a story (if not so glamorous) as a bike ride across America or hiking the Inca ruins. Or that our stories are written for us as much as they are written by us.

Don't expect the same theological depth as Blue Like Jazz. I have a sneaking suspicion that Donald Miller would feel like that was cheating, like he was using the same angle. But A Million Miles is a satisfying offering and a worthy shelfmate by Donald's first opus.

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