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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore

Temptation is common to the human experience. And how we handle it is all too common as well, often either quickly caving or white-knuckling through it in sheer self-determination. So when we read the biblical account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, it is easy to see the overt supernatural elements at work, the magnificent scope of the seductions, and Jesus' flawless victory and see no connection between his testings and our own.

This is a mistake. In Tempted and Tried, Russell D. Moore magnificently draws the lines between the common temptations of the sons of men and the Son of Man. In his own words, "You will be tempted exactly as Jesus was, because Jesus was being tempted exactly as we are . . . You will be tempted to provide for yourself, to protect yourself, and to exalt yourself." Not only that, but he shows how the victory of Jesus reveals a power and promise of our own victory once we see it rightly. Again from Moore: "The same Spirit who led Jesus through the wilderness and empowered him to overcome the Evil One now surges through all of us who are joined by faith to Jesus. We overcome temptation the same way he did, by trusting in our Father and hearing his voice."

Russell structures the book around the three different temptations: self-directed provision, protection, and exaltation. Every enticement from Satan (and our own sinfulness) essentially tells us to cut God out of the loop and take matters into our own hands regarding our desires, our identity, and our future. Without getting clunky or wordy, Moore has crafted a book that is theologically rich, easily accessible and—more often than not—practical.

If I had one gripe about the book, it was structural. While I read quite a bit, the chapters felt too long (there's only seven chapters for a book of almost 200 pages). Publishers use tricks like short chapters and frequent section breaks within chapters to make a book feel more readable and friendly, but there are few of both here. It almost felt like a sermon series turned book where every chapter is a sermon.

That critique aside, Tempted and Tried is well worth the added work and discipline it takes to get through the long chapters. There are unique insights and deep wisdom that hold the gospel up as the only answer to true victory against our temptations—victory that exceeds white-knuckling it through our illicit desires and avoids jury-rigging the heart with fear or pride.

"The gospel exposes you as a sinner, and the gospel embraces you as a son or daughter."

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian struggling with a besetting sin, and every Christian who thinks they're not

You can buy Tempted and Tried from the Westminster Bookstore cheaper than Amazon right now. 

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway. 

"Tempted and Tried" Trailer - Russell Moore from Crossway on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

3 Ways the Gospel Should Influence Leaving a Tip

I've worked in the service industry longer than I have in the church (at least as far as payroll is concerned). I am currently still bi-vocational and work part-time at my church and full-time as a shuttle driver for a hotel here in Omaha. I am paid below minimum wage, so tipping is an expected part of my income by my employers.

I've experienced good tippers and bad ones, but the most memorable ones were those whom I knew were Christians and yet tipped like they were Pharisees (All law, no grace. Bare minimum, no generosity). Particularly painful to me have been the large groups of Christians who occasionally take over the hotel for an event and the entire group tips poorly, because I know I'm not the only one who's tempted to form an opinion of these Christians by their tipping. I've even found myself apologizing to co-workers on behalf of other Christians and trying to use the opportunity as a springboard into presenting the gospel. Believe me, that's a tough sell (perhaps I'll write a post on that in the near future). But for now, I want share some guidelines I formed for myself after serving just such Christians.

1. Your tip should reflect Christian generosity. God's generosity towards us should affect the bank account, every Christian knows that. But there is perhaps no better test on how great a hold the idol of mammon still has on us than how we tip. Disagree? "What about giving to the church and charities?", you ask. But both of those we do with our "Christian hat" on, when we give to such things we are acting out of our Christian sensibilities. When you tip, however, I bet you're all business. Right down to the penny (or rounded to the dollar if your lazy or bad at math). My brothers, this should not be!

2. Your tip should demonstrate grace—not law. If there's a problem with my meal, the last thing I do is take it out of the tip. I want to give the server every chance to make up what could be honest mistakes or problems out of their control. To begin subtracting from the tip before giving the server an opportunity to make it right reflects the heart of a hard-nosed legalist, not a heart stricken by grace.

But—and this is a huge "but"—nothing models gospel grace like a generous tip even after a server has blown it, been made aware of it, and was unable or failed to "make it right". I know this is a hard pill to swallow for many of you (myself included), but why should the tip be the last thing to be impacted by the grace that has been poured out on us? I've talked to Christians who will simply gush about the grace of Christ towards us . . . and then not think twice about leaving a terrible tip for terrible service. Why reinforce the system of law by which the whole world runs when we have the resources of grace to draw from?

3. Your tip should embody the gospel. I know, I know. "Embody the gospel? In a tip?!" But if the gospel really is the all-encompassing reality that it is, then it should affect every area of our lives, and every area of our lives can reflect it. When Christians tip, we should not only give more than expected (point 1), and give more than deserved (point 2), your tip should be a tangible outgrowth of the grace and generosity you yourself have received as not just an undeserving but ill-deserving sinner. We have all performed below what was expected of us and even in direct rebellion against the one we were made to serve. And yet the gospel is that God gave out of his riches both generously beyond what we could have hoped for and graciously beyond what we ever could have earned. And if God has given out his endless and bottomless generosity on our behalf, we have that same treasury to draw from. The gospel allows us to release our vice-grip on earthly riches and instead use it as a tool for the gospel.

Bonus point: Don't leave a gospel tract unless you've done points 1-3. So maybe gospel tracts aren't your thing (they probably aren't unless your 40 or older). My church encourages members to take our pens with them and leave them around. I have business cards with all the church info on it. But if you have anything you like to leave in the name of evangelism, don't leave it unless you are tipping out of generosity, grace, and the gospel. To leave a gospel tract with an average or poor tip is unattractive at best. To leave a gospel tract instead of a tip is downright detrimental. That's like saying, "You need this and I know it. I need this and I don't know it." If your tip doesn't grow out of the gospel message of grace and generosity, then your tract probably won't communicate it.

Can't afford to tip this way? Then, as one in the service industry, I would suggest one of two things. Either eat at fast/casual restaurants where you place your order at a counter and no tip is expected, or dine out in such a way that no one knows your a Christian (i.e. no prayer, no "Jesus talk", no books at the table with crosses on the front). I think you know which option I would suggest.

Feedback: Have you ever worked in the service industry? What do you think is a good tip? Do you think a gospel tract left with the tip is ever effective? 

This is a cross-post from the Christians In Context blog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Recommended reading for Christian men

Recently, someone from church asked me to recommend some books for Christian guys who want to grow as Christians, as leaders, and as men. The following brief list was my recommendation:

Date Your Wife - Justin Buzzard     I know, I know, you're not married yet. But this book spends more time talking about what it means to be a man, created in the image of God, and what it means to be a faithful image bearer than it does about being married.

Crazy Love - Francis Chan     Not just a book for men, but a book that uses simple speak to say some challenging things to the church. It will push you.

Don't Waste Your Life - John Piper 
    One of my favorite authors and preachers, this is a partially autobiographical book about how John came to realize the only thing worth pursuing in life.

Death By Love - Mark Driscoll     I don't think there's more of a man's man preacher/author than Mark Driscoll. While none of his books are specifically on manhood, this is probably his strongest and most forceful book to date.

The Masculine Mandate - Richard Phillips    I've just started reading this, so I can't give you a hearty endorsement yet, but what I've read is good and this is as close as my recommendations have come to a book on biblical manhood. 

Feedback: What would you add to this list? 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

The Explicit Gospel is vintage Matt Chandler all the way. I really wanted to love this book. It had everything going for it: a dynamic pastor in his debut print offering, a trusted publisher, and the hottest topic in Christian literature right now. Alas, the book I hold in my hands is not the book I had dreamed up in my head, and thus I had to settle for merely liking the book.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good book and worth the price of admission. However (as a subscriber to Matt's sermon podcast for years now) I was hoping that sitting down and writing out his content would force Chandler to reign in some of his rabbit-trails and awkward trains of thought. Unfortunately, this was not the case. And only adding to the confusion, Jared Wilson's name also appears on the cover, but I finished the book still at a loss as to what exactly his contribution was (even after a prolonged search).

But—and this is a huge "but"—if Matt Chandler's clarity in his train of thought suffers at times, his clarity about the gospel stands out all the more starkly. Matt Chandler bleeds the gospel. When he gets excited, he gets excited about the gospel. When Matt Chandler goes off on a rabbit-trail, he rabbit-trails to the gospel. If we must choose to sacrifice clarity regarding something, it is better by far to sacrifice clarity on a train of thought rather than clarity on the gospel. Only one thing is needed. Matt has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from him.

 In the end, I am happy to recommend The Explicit Gospel because it has a burning center of gospel heat. While it didn't always suit the tastes of my logical, linear, Enlightenment-addled mind, my heart was inflamed at the beauty and the sufficiency of the gospel. I'm sure Matt would be the first to say along with Paul, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." If that's not the explicit gospel, I don't know what is.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, fans of Trevin Wax and Jared C. Wilson

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Book Review: A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes, PhD

Every year there's a book that comes across my desk of which I have little or no expectation but ends up being one of my favorite books of the year.  In 2009, it was Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson (you can buy it here). In 2010, it was Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles (buy here). In 2011, it was A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester (buy here) and Red Like Blood by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington (buy here).

Without a doubt, the strongest contender for the title so far this year is A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes, PhD. While I had heard nothing about the book (or the author, for that matter) before receiving it, once I had picked it up and started in, I couldn't put it down.

"Finally," I thought to myself as I read, "someone who's matching the atheists not only on the level of arguments (which many good Christians apologists have done), but also on the level of wit, sarcasm and biting intellect." After all, if the New Atheists have done anything well, they have so ridiculed the supposed anti-intellectualism of Christianity that even smart Christians feel they must compromise or live a contradiction. Stokes has now begun to level the playing field and not only show that we have reason on our side, but that the New Atheists should be ashamed of their scathing condescension and perhaps consider their own contradictions for once.

If I may give a spoiler by way of summarizing the book, A Shot of Faith to the Head broadly covers three areas: rationality, design, and absolute (moral) standards. Stokes shows how the atheist depends on one or more of these ideas every time they present their arguments, yet all three of these ideas have no grounding in the atheist's world, only in the theist's. As Stokes concludes:
"The notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards—of which there must be many—their worldview would entirely collapse.

"And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape. Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are."
 This book was a delight to read and an honor to recommend.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Apologists, philosophers, anyone challenged or threatened by the ideas of the New Atheists

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: How Good Is Good Enough by Andy Stanley

Tim Keller defines defeater beliefs as any culture's "'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people." If I may be so bold as to add to the wisdom of Tim Keller, I would suggest that any belief that makes Christianity unnecessary or inconsequential would fall into such a category as well. And of all the beliefs that make Christianity unnecessary or inconsequential, there is perhaps none more common than the one confronted in this book: "all good people go to heaven".

In How Good Is Good Enough?, Andy Stanley spends the first two thirds of the book dismantling this defeater belief, clearing the way for a clear and compassionate gospel presentation. The dismantling of the "good people go to heaven" belief is surprising simple, primarily because it is so often assumed and so rarely analyzed. The frailty of this assumption is quickly revealed as Stanley begins measuring it against a few questions (the first of which is the title of the book).

Consider. How do you know when/if you're good enough? According to whose standard of goodness? Jesus? Buddha? Mohammed? And if God is good, shouldn't he have communicated a little more clearly that standard and where exactly the cut-off line is? And the kicker in my mind: no matter where the line is, what do you say to the poor sap who falls below that line by one measly good dead? That he missed the cut-off for heaven and is now in hell because of one white lie? One errant word? One stolen piece of candy as a child?

To put it another way: if a passing grade is 3.0, what do you tell the schmuck who scores a 2.999? "Sorry chump, to hell with you and Hitler and Pol Pot"."All good people go to heaven" is often touted as a much fairer option against the Christian view of the afterlife. Yet, like a good apologist, Stanley shows that this approach to eternity fails at its own test of fairness and equality.

I can't decide if How Good Is Good Enough? is a really short book (92 small pages) or a long gospel tract, but either way it's well worth adding to your library so that you are ready to loan it or cite it next time someone says "Well that's great if Christianity works for you, but I'm just trying to be a good person".

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian 

This book was a free review copy provided by Multnomah Books.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Mind Your Faith by David A. Horner

The college years can be an intimidating stage of life for anyone, but I imagine this is doubly true for the Christian teen attending a secular institution. Mind Your Faith by David A. Horner is meant to address just such students and the near-inevitable crisis of faith that can confront them. As Horner points out, these crises typically assault three areas of the student's life: the mind, the faith, and the character. Undoubtedly, these three areas overlap and influence each other, but Horner neatly handles them in that order (which incidentally forms the outline of the book).

Horner ably navigates (and creatively names) such chapters as "Thinking Contextually: Find Common Ground", "Thinking Worldviewishly: Connect the Dots" and "The Credibility of Faith: Worldviewish Apologetics". The depth and wisdom of Horner's writing is balanced well by personal accounts of his own university experience.

Throughout the book, Horner is intelligent and in-depth. The greatest strength of this book, however, is also it's greatest weakness. As a college professor at Biola University, Horner is uniquely positioned to coach prospective college students in these challenges. But it seems his biggest difficulty was remembering that his target audience for the book is not his college students, but high school students. I readily admit that both the size (272 pages) and depth of the book would have scared me off as a high schooler.

This is not to say the book is a waste of time. I would simply recommend it for a different demographic. This book is perfectly suited for those students already in undergrad or graduate classes or student ministry leaders who are working with high school students. 

If my thoughts here ever made their way back to Horner or the publisher, my suggestion would be simple: Mind Your Faith For Dummies (I know, I think it would sell too!).

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Teen ministry leaders, parents, college students

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

Discipleship isn't exactly the hottest thing in Christianity these days. While the parachurch organizations of a couple decades ago firmly planted their flags in this ground, the evangelical church of the new millennium seems to have moved away from discipleship (at least in name) or altogether replaced it with small groups. (Case in point: while the concept of discipleship remains, my church uses "apprenticeship" to emphasize a thrust towards getting disciples involved in and serving the church.)

At the same time, there doesn't seem to be any hotter topic today (at least in Christian print) than the gospel. So at first glance, the title of Jonathan Dodson's new book is a bit of a mixed bag, Gospel-Centered Discipleship draws together the new and the old, the hot and the passé.

But if you get passed the cover—which by any standard is pretty boring—you will find an idea that is anything but passé or boring. Dodson makes quick work of showing that discipleship is rooted not in a fad of the 80's and 90's but in the example and instruction of Jesus himself. He also draws the connection often missing between the gospel and discipleship: the same gospel people believe to be justified and "saved" is the same gospel people believe to be sanctified and discipled. As Dodson says, "Followers of Jesus make and mature disciples by going with the gospel, baptizing disciples into gospel community, and teaching the gospel".

The other liability of a title like Gospel-Centered Discipleship is that it risks limiting the audience of this book more than it deserves. While the book begins and ends addressing the ideas of the gospel and discipleship, half of the chapters at the heart of this book address the gospel and sanctification and deserve to be read by more than just those Christians who consider themselves either "disciple" or "discipler".

All in all, Gospel-Centered Discipleship is a solid book that I am sure I will be loaning out a lot. This book merits a broader audience than the title and cover art(?) may draw. Here's hoping that we can help fix that!

Stay tuned to Christians In Context (my other blog)! (i.e. subscribe if you haven't already) We will be giving away a copy of Gospel-Centered Discipleship sometime in the next couple of weeks!

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Disciples of Jesus, whether you are currently in a discipleship relationship or not

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

A book like Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris is hard to describe simply because it's so unique. I might call it theology in narrative form. Or conversational doctrine. No matter what you call it, Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris is a rare book in Christian publishing and I would love to see lots more of its kind.

This is the book that I recommend to all my friends who liked Blue Like Jazz but need more answers than questions. And while he's not in-your-face about it, there are some solid answers here in these personal stories.

But more than just personal stories that incorporate doctrine, these personal stories lean and pivot on doctrine. No doctrine lives in a vacuum disconnected from real-world applications and consequences, and Harris digs down to the roots of the things he finds cropping up in his life. This sort of thinking is an excellent model for every Christian, as we would all benefit from following our beliefs to their logical conclusion or (as is often the case) tracing back from events, experiences, and behavior. While our experience doesn't trump the revealed word of God, it can be a confirmation or a corrective on our theology.

 Dug Down Deep is an easy read and a perfect introduction into Christian orthodoxy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian theologian, young and old alike (read: every Christian)

This book was a free review copy provided by Multnomah.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

In Real Marriage, Mark and Grace Driscoll are giving the talk that your parents should have been having with you. And they're giving you the marriage counseling that your church should have been offering you. And this is both a good and a not-so-good thing.

Good: On the one hand, the Driscolls' point is well taken that if today's generation can't get (or isn't getting) their questions answered by their parents or their church, then they will simply go to the internet for answers.  So the need for a book like this is greater now than perhaps ever before. They address the issues at hand with honesty, vulnerability, and a clear sense of wisdom gained from past mistakes.

Some of this content may be familiar for those who have trafficked in any of Driscoll's past blogs, books, or podcasts, but it's also some of his most tested and proven marriage material. And there's enough new content here to make the book worth the money for all but the most avid Driscoll followers.

Grace Driscoll's contribution to the book is a welcome addition as she gives us a fresh perspective to the marriage of a man who has been both a firebrand and a lightning rod in evangelicalism. No matter what you may think of Mark, both his strengths and flaws, successes and failures, have almost always been very, very public. Thus Grace gives us a peek behind the curtain and reveals that, whatever else he may be, Mark is genuine. 

Not-So-Good: The problem I have with this book is that I feel this is still a talk that churches should be having with their members (especially those considering or already in a marriage). Much of this content, detached from a personal sense of what needs to be addressed and what needs to be skipped, verges on the edge of being too much information. Of course the Driscolls would argue that these are the questions that my generation is going to the internet to answer, but I would counter that not all of them are asking all of these questions. And there's the danger of the book: without the grace of a local church shepherd delivering this content with  prayerful wisdom and discretion, this book could remove stumbling blocks for some while creating them for others.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, marriage counselors, church leaders

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hell Doesn't Exist (Neither Does Heaven)

Alright, pop quiz: if you were to die tomorrow, where would you go? No, this isn't the beginning of an evangelistic spiel (though if you want to have that talk, I'm available). Well, if you've been influenced by popular Christian thought, your answer would probably be one of two options: heaven or hell.

Now I admit, my title was a little sensational. But what I am suggesting is this: the common conceptions that Christians hold of heaven and hell are not necessarily in operation right now. The popular  picture of both heaven and hell is actually a blending of a few different "stages" of the afterlife that we've just balled into two simple concepts (in fact, biblical writers sometimes do this as well, only adding to the confusion). However, a careful reading of the Bible reveals that the afterlife for both the righteous and unrighteous is in process. So if I were going to be completely honest and aboveboard with my title, it should have read "The hell you imagine doesn't exist as of now, neither does heaven". While this sounds complicated, the stages are simple and clear-cut: they advance with the greater revelation of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Stage 1: B.C. (Before Christ)

In the Old Testament, Sheol (sometimes translated "the grave" or "hell" in our Bibles) represented the place where all the deceased go. It is used in reference to the destination of both the righteous (Gen. 37:35, Job 14:13) and the wicked (Prov. 9:18, Ps. 55:15, Is. 5:14). While the Old Testament doesn't develop the idea much, Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus actually gives us a vivid illustration. Luke 16 tells us that Hades (the Greek version of Sheol) was split into two subdivisions, a place of comfort and a place of torment, with a chasm between.

Stage 2: A.D. (Anno Domini "In the Year of our Lord") 

At Jesus' crucifixion, he tells the repentant thief "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Yet when the resurrected Jesus meets Mary outside his tomb, he says "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn. 20:17). Where has he been for the last 48 hours if he hasn't been "up"?

However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it seems the dwelling place of the saints is moved above (2 Cor. 12:2,3)—at least inasmuch as you can give directions like up and down to the spiritual realms. Regardless of where the current "location" of Paradise is, we can be certain that it is in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8) which is not a complicated thing for God no matter where Paradise is currently located.

Stage 3: The final revelation of Jesus Christ

Upon the return of Christ, we finally see the popular conceptions of heaven and hell finally implemented. The new Jerusalem, streets of gold, the river of life, the tree of life, the city of God all coming down from "a new heaven" (Rev. 21,22). This seems to fit perfectly Jesus' message to his disciples: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:3) Notice the timing: when he comes again they will be taken to the place Jesus prepares. This makes logical sense when you consider that we don't get our resurrected bodies until the return of Christ, thus the current "heaven" only has to be compatible to souls/spirits while the new heaven and new Earth have to be compatible to remade bodies. And concerning "hell", the transition is even clearer: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14)

So what?

Before you panic, let me clarify. This is not limbo. This is not purgatory. Nobody's working off sin, waiting for merit, or getting extra chances to respond to the gospel. All three stages of heaven are a realm of blessing and comfort in the presence of the Lord. All three stages of hell are outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Nobody's changing sides after death.

What does change (as I mentioned before) is the level of revelation regarding Jesus Christ and the gospel. This is actually (in my opinion) an elegant solution to some historically problematic verses that are highlighted by a phrase from the Apostle's Creed: "He descended into hell". These verses (Eph. 4:8, 9, 1 Pet. 3:18,19) say that he "descended into the lower regions", "he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison", and "when he ascended on high he led a host of captives".

I am proposing that at his death Jesus descended to Sheol and proclaimed the mystery of the gospel. Now this is not an evangelistic proclamation, rather he is saying "All you rebels, this is what your self-righteousness was rejecting" and "All you saints, this is what your faith was looking forward to, built upon, hoping for, and trusting in". And that upon his victorious proclamation of the gospel, Jesus led a mass exodus of saints out of Abraham's bosom (part of Sheol) and Paradise was carried away from Hades and "up".

Bonus Material: This is much more speculative than the rest of the post, but it's possible that this view would also give a reasonable answer to two of the most bizarre and confusing verses in the Bible: :"The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:52-53)

If Jesus is proclaiming the gospel to the saints "below" and there's a transition of Paradise so that it is "above", it's not at all beyond the realm of possibilities that these saints appeared briefly and proclaimed the same gospel message as they passed by. This would also fit the timing as Jesus ascended to the Father (John 20:17) and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised "after his resurrection".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life TogetherReal Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together by Mark Driscoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My wife and I have not been unaffected by the increasingly sexualized culture that we are living in. This book has been some important material that we are still working through together in podcast form. Highly recommended.

I think my first critique is that the book isn't as comprehensive as I would like, given the title. A whole 50% of the book was about sex, and though that's not bad but rather necessary for people living in our culture today, it seems a little imbalanced. Also, I think they narrowed their target audience by getting so detailed in the sex talk. This book would be good for premarital counseling BUT not without a counselor to still work through the material alongside the book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fear God?

The idea of fearing God is a common one in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. But it is almost completely foreign to the modern conception of God, one that often no deeper or well thought-out than the simple platitude of "God is love". For this reason, the idea is often a difficult hurdle for many reading the Old Testament the first time.

The first thing that must be made clear is that fearing God is not equal to being afraid of God. Certainly, being afraid may be part of one's proper response to God. Consider the prophet Isaiah's response (Is. 6) or the disciples' response at the realization of who Jesus really was after calming the storm (Mk. 4:35-41). This kind of fear is the natural response of the finite in the presence of the infinite, the response of the sinful in the presence of the holy. But being afraid is not the sum of fearing God. In fact, I would suggest that the greater part of the biblical concept of fearing the Lord has nothing to do with being afraid (this would explain why God and the angels so often had to begin their messages with the phrase "Fear not"). Thus when God calls us to fear him, he is calling us to much more than being scared and faint-hearted.

 In 2 Kings 17, God explains why he has sent the nation of Israel into exile. And it begins with this:
And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.
(2 Kings 17:7-8 ESV, emphasis added)
Are we to take this as meaning that the Israelites spent sleepless nights huddled in the corner with their swords for fear that the their little household idols might turn homicidal? Of course not. In fact, this passage makes little or no sense if we force our simplistic, modern meaning of "fear" on the text. But the author doesn't leave us guessing. The rest of 2 Kings 17 details the nature of their fear of other gods, and in doing so fleshes out the the biblical idea of fear.
  • Worship - "They built high places", "they set up for themselves pillars", "they used divination and omens". We only worship those things that we believe have power over us or power to benefit us, those things that are in some sense greater and "other" than us.
  • Sacrifice "There they made offerings", "they burned their sons and daughters as offerings". Every sacrifice is, by definition, something that costs us. Whether it be our time, money, family, or lives, when we make a sacrifice, we are deeming the recipient of our sacrifice as worthy of the cost we bear.
  • Obedience - "They served idols", "they sold themselves to do evil". Of course, obedience is the natural response to the things we worship. Everything that we worship makes some sort of demand on our lives, and the things that we obey reflect what we truly worship. 
So in summary, the biblical concept of fear (both the Israelites' misplaced fear of other gods, and our properly directed fear of God) speaks of that which we deem greater than us and worthy of worship, sacrifice, and obedience. Some Christians thinkers have summed all this up in one word: reverence. Yes, there is a place in this definition for the natural response of the finite in the presence of the infinite, the response of the sinful in the presence of the holy. But I submit to you that this is not the whole (or even the greater part) of godly fear. To fear God is to esteem him most worthy of our worship, sacrifice, and obedience.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?"
(Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV)

For further reflection: Acts 9:31, 1 John 4:18, Hebrews 12:28-29, Deuteronomy 6:1-2