Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Does God's love make hell impossible?

I'm sure many of us have heard the same objection: "How could a loving God send anyone to hell?" Recently I was given a similar challenge and here was my brief response:
John, I agree, God IS love. But I think all of us agree and understand that God doesn't love everything in the same way. Jesus said that God values us more than the sparrows.

God's love for humanity is greater than His love for the sparrows.

And God the Father's love for his Son is greater than his love for humanity. So when a conflict arises between that which God loves (love for His Son and love for humanity), it is not only just but loving for God to defend the glory of the Son over and against rebellious humans.

God does not love humanity to the dismissal, disdain, and neglect of His love for the Son. The Father's love for the Son and his glory trumps all (and vice versa). I would hate to live in a world where it was otherwise.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Halter and Smay

Missional. For some, that word represents a Spirit-led (and much needed) church shift. For others, a mere fad. For still others, perhaps something more threatening than a fad.

While I don't fall neatly into any of those camps, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay have taken the missional approach and shown how beautifully it compliments a more traditional approach to church, hence the subtitle: "The gathered and scattered church".

This book feels like a healthy balance to the abundance of missional books out there, and it is certainly less intimidating and threatening for those coming from a traditional church background (such as myself). At the core of their approach is the idea that the church needs both those who "go" and those who "make disciples". There are the senders and there are the sent. This is not only a marriage between two types of people in the church, but a union of two approaches to church itself. We gather to equip, to train, to encourage, to build up. Then we scatter to evangelize, to speak, to reach out.

The overabundance of what some would consider missional buzzwords (like "incarnational" and other words my spell checker keeps underlining) may be distracting for some. However, while this book is clearly written by a couple guys immersed in the missional and house church movements, the merits of the book and the approach itself should win out.

For some, this book may be a real paradigm shift. For others, this may simply be an articulation of what community on mission has always looked like and always been about.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Recommended for: Church leaders, those interested in evangelism, outreach, church structure

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tim Keller deal alert (one week only)!

For one week only, Westminster Bookstore is offering Tim Keller's new book King's Cross for almost nothing: $10.38 or 60% off your first copy (happens automatically when added to cart). All additional copies 45% off. Sale ends February 28th.

Tim Keller’s description of King's Cross:
“The whole story of the world—and of how we fit into it—is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.”

“[The Gospel of] Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like ‘immediately’ to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. This Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today. In his very first sentences Mark tells us that God has broken into history. His style communicates a sense of crisis, that the status quo has been ruptured… Jesus has come; anything can happen now. Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”
Click to read a couple sample chapters on Jarius' Daughter and the Syrophoenician Woman or go straight to the Westminster Bookstore.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Notes from the study

All of human accountability and responsibility before God is grounded in the first instance in creation. He made us, and we owe him. If we do not recognize this simple truth, then, according to the Bible, that blindness is itself a mark of how alienated from him we are. (p. 26)

Jesus does condemn the kind of judgment that is judgmental, self-righteous, or hypocritical. He condemns such judgment repeatedly and roundly. But there is no way on God's green earth that he is condemning moral discernment or the priority of truth. (p. 136)

The heart of evil, according tho the entire storyline of the Bible, is the broken relationship with God that sets up idols that de-god him. This results in destroying the beauty and goodness of the created order. The heart of all evil is not Auschwitz, as unimaginably evil as it is. The heart of all evil is first of all human beings, you and me, wanting to go our own way and disowning the God who has made us. (p. 171)

-D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan

Let's just admit it, the Old Testament is hard to read. It's long. The cultural context can be confusing. And all those genealogies—I learned the skill of skimming a book on those bad boys. But probably the most difficult element of the Old Testament lies in all the moral challenges that it presents for us here in the 21st century. Can the religious, cultural, ethical context for what we read there help it make sense or is it all really as harsh, heinous, and offensive as the critics charge?

Paul Copan would argue for the former, and does so compellingly in his latest book, Is God a Moral Monster? He opens his book with an introduction to the New Atheists and then uses many of their charges aimed at God and the Old Testament as a rough outline for the remainder of the book. The challenges are not new: the purging of the Promised Land, slavery, polygamy, and strange Mosaic laws for example. But what is new and welcome is Copan's careful treatment of each of these issues.

If I have one critique of this book it is of its redundancy. While Paul Copan begins with the broader and more foundational challenges first and then zeroes in on specifics (e.g. from general dietary restrictions to why one should not boil a goat in its mother's milk) the general principles and foundations were repeated often throughout. Copan apparently opted for clarity over brevity, for which some readers will certainly be thankful.

Perhaps the New Atheists should be given a round of applause. While there have always been Christian apologists answering the hard questions of Christianity, the focused attacks of the New Atheists have roused the apologists to full force and Copan's work on the Old Testament is perhaps the sharpest and most accessible work on the subject.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Armchair apologists, skeptics, anyone confused or challenged by the Old Testament

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

Perhaps no word has been more central to evangelical writing and discussion in the past decade than the word "gospel". So when Fred Sanders' latest book The Deep Things of God offers insight into "How the Trinity changes everything" some may write it off as secondary. This would be a big mistake. Early on, Sanders makes a compelling argument (one he unpacks throughout the book) that "the gospel is Trinitarian, and the Trinity is the gospel".

As the title implies, this book gets into the deep things and requires at times some deep thinking to follow along. As my pastor might say, Fred didn't exactly put all the cookies on the bottom shelf. However, for those willing to give a little mental effort, there are treasures in the facets of the Trinity that may change the way you think of the gospel, salvation, and prayer to name a few. Let me give you a few examples:
"The main practical reason for learning how to think well about the eternal life of the Trinity is that it is the background for the gospel. The blessedness of God's inner life is the only thing that is even better than the good news. The life of God in itself is the source of all the riches that fund the economy of salvation."

"When the outlines of both are clear, we should experience the shock of recognition: Trinity and gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us. Every other blessing is either a preparation for that or a result of it."
The final chapter entitled "Praying with the Grain" was most instructional for me and more than a little convicting as I do a lot of public praying in my role as a worship leader. Using the imagery of sanding wood or petting a cat, Sanders suggests that "the act of prayer has, metaphorically speaking, a grain to it. Prayer has an underlying structure built into it, complete with a directionality that is worth observing". Praying to the Father through the Son in the Spirit is rarely the structure we hear (or even the structure we pray ourselves). Praying in a more careful and conscious manner will make one a more careful theologian more conscious of the presence and power of the Trinity in our lives.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Theologians, careful gospel thinkers

Giveaway rules: Leave a comment to this post and you will be entered into the drawing, it's that simple. Within a day or two, I'll take all the valid entries and draw one winner randomly.

For everyone else: cheaper than Amazon, Westminster Bookstore has The Deep Things of God for $11.81.

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