Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rounding the Bases

Kevin DeYoung reviewed David Platt's Radical: Taking Back your Faith from the American Dream and gave room for Platt to respond. Yup, it's all in one post.

Greg from Lost in the Cloud has part 3 of a summary of Roger Olson's Reformed and Always Reforming. The posts have served as an introduction to "Post-Conservative Evangelicalism". I have found all of them fascinating, and you can find links to the first two in the part 3 post.

Writing a theology or history paper? Glen Smallman passes along a Turabian citation generator for you.

A short list this week, I know. In lieu of other links, let me instead offer a tease: stay tuned this week for an announcement about some new ideas at CiC. You can barely stand it, can you?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin H. Palmer

The Five Points of Calvinism was first published in 1972. Then again in 1980, the year of Edwin Palmer's death. And three decades later, you will still be hard pressed to find a more brief yet thorough treatment of the TULIP of theology. (No, really. I just spent ten minutes looking over my bookcase—to no avail.)

Don't let the cover of this book fool you. Though it says "A Study Guide" on the front, it stands up perfectly fine for personal reading. However, every chapter is followed by over a dozen (sometimes two dozen) in-depth questions about the previous chapter. When I say in-depth, I mean you should probably have a good grasp on the material at hand before leading a group through such questions.

If I had one disappointment, it was that Michael Horton didn't have more to say in the foreword. I thoroughly enjoyed both Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life and was hoping for more than just a glorified blurb in the front of the book.

However the resource materials in the back were a pleasant surprise, making up for my disappointment in Michael Horton's brevity. Here you will find excerpts addressing the five points of Calvinism from The Belgic Confession of Faith, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone investigating Calvinism, all those who consider themselves part of the Young, Restless and Reformed

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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Math Fail

In lieu of meaningful and incisive writing for your Monday, let me instead pass along a delightful math fail I came across at Walgreen's a couple weeks ago...

Happy Monday.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: The Radical Disciple by John Stott

With The Radical Disciple, John Stott pens his final chapters in a writing career and public life that has impacted countless Christian lives for generations now and will certainly continue to do so for generations to come. I cannot imagine what goes through an author's mind as they write their final words as Stott, at eighty-eight, knew this would be his last book after announcing his retirement from public ministry in 2007. Contained herein are not only his parting thoughts for the Christian church but also the last public sermon he ever preached (as well as the address of his study if you are so inclined to visit him).

And it is an odd thing to know this as a reader. Were it just another book somewhere in the mix of his library, I would be tempted to rush through it. After all, it is only 135 small pages. But knowing that this was the author's last—and knowing the author knew it too—I took my time, I suppose expecting a sort of swan song.

But instead, I found a simple picture of the author himself, and one of him pointing away from himself and to Christ. Much like its author, the book is humble in its brevity. These eight chapters on some of the more neglected spiritual disciplines often left me wanting more. I felt every chapter could have been several times their actual length—especially the one on Christlikeness—but John remained on task and to the point. There are no revolutionary ideas here. But the steady faithfulness of one believer translates into a simple final exhortation to radical discipleship, not of him but of Jesus.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone who has enjoyed anything by John Stott, those looking for a book on Christian spiritual disciplines

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

Monday, May 17, 2010

Life on Earth

I've had thinker's block recently. I've been thinking about the lessons God has been teaching me about how to shape my thoughts, my actions, my life. In that incredibly frustrating way I have had an inkling of what the lesson is, but could not express it. "My posts have been linked thematically by . . . [insert phrase here]." Then along comes John Owen and - boom! He speaks of the purpose of life on earth:

"Sanctification is an immediate work if the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling the from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God... Or more briefly; it is the universal renovation of of our natures by the Holy Spirit into the image of God through Jesus Christ."

All of sudden things make much more sense. A Christian response to euthanasia? Sanctification. Worried about liberalisation within the church? Sanctification. How do we approach careers and our lives? Sanctification. Are things really this easy? Can I really be suggesting that the answer to any Christian for any problem is sanctification? We live to please God and only one man was ever pleasing enough. Given we are not like Him, we should desire to become like Him as preparation for His Father's House. Moreover, are we not called to live our lives as pleasing sacrifices (Romans 12:1). So yes I am.

Given the purpose of life is sanctification do we allow ourselves to be swept up into His thoughts, His ways? Does sin weight heavy upon us forcing into near continual praise and prayer for mercy? If not why not? Do we yearn to allow Him to change our lives? What else will we be doing in Heaven but communing that closely with Him? Given that do we live our lives with that thought foremost in our minds? One of the most poweful lessons the Puritans taught was to live each day with Heaven clearly in view and to drive on inexorably towards that goal. It is undoubtedly a difficult thing to do, placing God in front of everything, but hey let's give it a go - we may even like it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rounding the Bases

Kevin DeYoung asks if you feel guilty a lot as a Christian, then suggests some reasons why we feel this way and what we should think/do about it. I found this one quite helpful, as I am prone to so easily fall into the "I'm not doing enough for Christ" mentality so often.

Interested in doing grad work in theology? Dr. Allen Yeh has a bunch of helpful advice for you.

Here's a really cool minute and a half video showing how a guy and his friends slept outside their senator's office until he would lift a hold on a bill that would move the US government toward more involvement in opposing the LRA in Uganda (HT: Glen):

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - Some Pleasant Inns

"Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here. The following quote is from The Problem with Pain, and touches on an issue that I think every Christian in America needs to have some working thoughts on: what is the place of "normal" pleasures in the Christian life?

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Singing Hymns to America our Lord

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of attending my wife's graduation ceremony from Loyola Marymount University where she walked with an M. A. in Urban Education. I know what you're thinking: what kind of idiot schedules graduation on any Sunday morning, let alone Mother's Day morning? Some idiot in scheduling at LMU- that's what kind of idiot.

But that rant is for a different post. This post is concerned with hymn-singing at commencement ceremonies. Naturally when I graduated from Biola and Talbot, we opened and closed the ceremonies by singing hymns together. Biola is an evangelical university- no one was shocked (and some of us rejoiced).

At LMU, a Jesuit school, we opened with the national anthem and closed with "God Bless America". In true blogger fashion the first thing I thought was, "The substitution of patriotic songs for hymns is no mere incidental musical substitution. This says something."

And here's what it says: most folks want a sovereign to sing to, and if we cannot agree on a God, why not agree on a country? After all, patriotism for most of the people there required little more than warm feelings and maybe the removal of a hat. If we can all come together and feel good about our singing our countries praises, why not?

Well, here's a good reason: because of how easy it was to dovetail singing America's praise with an invocation from an English professor about how hard we need to work to be worthy and holy and spiritual and blah blah blah. No mention of a real God and His divine standards, or for that matter, divine sacrifice. Instead, a bunch of new age garbage that made me wonder how someone can be an English teacher at an institution for higher learning and clearly not understand what the word "holy" actually means.

The invocation had to be ecumenical given the audience, of course, and I've found that if there is one pseudo-religious notion that everyone seems to agree about, it is that we need to make ourselves better. So it made perfect sense for that invocation to dovetail with a song praising a nation whose "dream" it is to work hard and make enough money to retire early. It's patriotic Pelagianism.

Which brings us all back to the basic problem with American patriotism: when we choose a nation as our Sovereign, we're really choosing ourselves. We can and should rightly be thankful for God's kindness to us in America. This needs emphasis: I love that I live in America and fully recognize how great of a blessing it is. But I cannot bring myself to take my hat off, place my hand on my heart, pledge my allegiance, or sing any songs to America. Only one One Sovereign receives my allegiance, and for that matter, my singing, and that Sovereign both creates and demands more than warm feelings and wistful looks toward a flag. And He certainly will not sit idly by as I strike out on mission for my own comfort and greatness.

So praise God for America. But make sure you praise Him far, far above America. They do not share ideals and they cannot share our allegiance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Review: Against All Gods by Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds

Phillip E. Johnson has long been considered one of the leading figures in the intelligent design movement, due in large part to his book Darwin On Trial. His familiarity with both intelligent design and the various manifestations of evolution makes him a prime candidate to take on the new atheists and their age-old arguments. In Against All Gods: What's Right and Wrong About the New Atheism he is joined by John Mark Reynolds and the result, while lean in size at 116 pages, is anything but lean in content.

Though this book is a response to the charges leveled by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the like, you will not find a point by point rebuttal. Rather, this book is what Johnson and Reynolds consider their contribution to the conversation. After all, they point out, "although [the New Atheists] tend to give the wrong answers, they also tend to raise the right questions". This book is written in a very accessible manner and will make a good introduction to the conversation for all but those most unfamiliar with the topics at hand.

If there is one thing that complicates the Johnson/Reynolds side of the conversation, it's in the co-writing of the book. Phillip E. Johnson writes the introduction and chapters one through five then hands it off to John Mark Reynolds for three chapters before returning for the epilogue. There is certainly a shift in style and expertise—not for the worse, but it certainly breaks the flow.

In not simply answering a laundry list of challenges from the new atheists, Johnson and Reynolds (does anyone else think shampoo when I say that?) refuse to let the terms of the debate be set for them. All in all, Johnson and Reynolds have made a well-reasoned defense for the continued conversation between the two camps.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of Phillip E. Johnson, those interested in intelligent design and the new atheist debate

This was a free review book provided by InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't Spend Saturday Night Preparing for Sunday Morning

This last Saturday Challies posted this well-meaning piece (mostly a quote from Expository Learning by Ken Ramey) suggesting some ways that Christians can prepare in advance to engage with the preached word on Sunday mornings. The top suggestion: be home on Saturday night. The reason is apparently largely in suggestion #4, which I'll quote: "Get a good night's sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It's hard to listen when you're nodding off."

I've heard Piper and others suggest this sort of thing before and never really questioned it. Seems like its pretty wise advice, doesn't it? But these days I've been listening a lot to some of the missional types, who I suspect would read Challies' post with disdain. And in this case, I agree with them.

Here is the main problem: Saturday night is one of the two nights in our culture where the most non-Christians are the most likely to be spending time with others. So the advice effectively is, "Sacrifice half of our culture's primary social time so you can be ready to listen to preaching."

For many Christians, this will unfortunately not seem like much of a sacrifice because we aren't friends with non-Christians. And "many Christians" is not needlessly harsh there. I remember reading They Like Jesus But Not the Church and feeling the sting of Dan Kimball asking me to count how many non-Christians I was really friends with. Ouch. Not many.

Of course as a pastor this requires extra effort simply because I don't work with non-believers. But I'm confident that the problem isn't just with pastors- we are sadly stuck in our Christian social circles.

The strangest thing about Challies' post is how ironically Catholic the theology is. Pay attention again to the purpose for getting a good night's sleep: "...so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God." Worship and serve? Really? By listening to a sermon? I know we're emphasizing Scripture and all, but it sounds a bit like going to church to get our grace, doesn't it?

Well of course, all of life is meant to be worship, including listening to a sermon. So it qualifies as worship. But this is exactly the point that the advice misses: all of life is meant to be worship, not just Sunday morning. Dare I say that what happens on Sunday morning is in fact not as worshipful as spending our lives reaching lost people?

I simply find it crazy to suggest that what our churches need is more emphasis on listening to sermons. Great preaching is more accessible than it has ever been, even if your pastor isn't a great preacher.

What we do need is more emphasis on living worshipful lives between Sundays, giving ourselves for the hell-bound lost all around us. Using Saturday night to prepare for Sunday mornings ultimately sacrifices living as the Church on Saturday night. Why? So we can make sure to be alert at church on Sunday morning. Why? So we can hear a sermon about what it means to be the Church between Sundays.

So don't be lazy or foolish on Saturday nights- it is good to be alert at church. But all of heaven rejoices at the return of a single lost person. I for one can't remember a passage about heaven rejoicing at a single well-listened to sermon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Piss Christ and Our Own Sin

Back in 1989, American photographer Andres Serrano stirred up a firestorm of controversy when he used $15,000 of taxpayer funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to create "Piss Christ". The photograph depicted a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine. I do not know what the artist's intent was with the piece (I hate to imagine) but I do remember what my reaction was the first time I heard of it as a boy growing up in a Christian home. I was angry, shocked and a little scared at what our society was coming to.

And I am now curious what your reaction was (or is) upon hearing of this piece of "art". Perhaps you are angry at the seeming intended insult tossed at Christ and/or his followers. Maybe you are upset that public funds are being used to produce art such as this in our postmodern climate. Maybe you even resent a government and public that seems to support freedom of speech when it's anti-Christian but squash it when it's pro-Christian.

But I want to turn the finger back at you and at me. 1st Corinthians 6:15-20 outlines for us the fact that, as believers, our bodies are joined with Christ. It goes so far as to say that our bodies are members of Christ himself, and when we willfully and deliberately sin, we are doing something much worse than what Andres Sorrano did. We are not joining a plastic image of Christ with physical bodily refuse. We are joining Christ and His temple (our bodies) with a spiritual refuse.

We can too easily become comfortable with our pet sins, our vices that we think no one knows of. I hope your heart, as mine does, rises up and cries "NO! This should not be!". Oh, that we could hate our sin that much, that we could comprehend the utter vileness of it. Pray that we would be given eyes to see the despicable sin that we tolerate as Christians living under the grace and mercy of a loving God—and that we would be given the Spirit-fueled will to kill it. There should be nothing of the old man that we tolerate, nothing that we hang on to, nothing that we hold back. We must be in a constant process of mortification; death to our old self so the new creation may thrive.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - Heaven and Books for Grown-Ups

"Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here. The following quote is from Mere Christianity. I find it to be delightfully condescending.

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they do not want 'to spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review: Radical by David Platt (and free offer!)

Initially, I had no idea what to expect from this book or it's author. I should have, however, since David Platt made a big splash at the 2009 SBC Pastors' Conference, yet I only recognized his name after I was several chapters into the book. I would now dare to say that Radical stands to make a bigger splash and a longer lasting impact on the Christian community.

David Platt takes on the daunting task of deconstructing the "American Dream" that has crept in and subverted much of American Christianity. He does this primarily by demonstrating that the life of a Christian disciple should be one colored by dependence on God, by picking up our cross daily and by dying to self. Though this takes on many forms in our lives, Platt gives special attention to American wealth. The stats are familiar, but David makes one of the better arguments I have ever read for living simply for the sake of the poor and the Gospel. Finally, he presents his argument for why "Going is urgent, not optional" (just as Jesus told his followers, "Go make disciples").

Platt ends with a challenge he calls The Radical Experiment:
  1. Pray for the entire world
  2. Read through the entire Word
  3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
  4. Spend your time in another context
  5. Commit your life to multiplying community
Without a doubt, this will be a book I will recommend, loan and re-read. My pastor and I are already making plans to work it into our Community Group curriculum. I pray this book makes a massive impact on the American Christian for the sake of Gospel, the same impact it has had on me.

Click here to download and read the first chapter! And to request a free copy of the companion booklet, The Radical Question, click here!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every American Christian, but especially those in leadership

This book was free review copy provided by Multnomah Books.