Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War #bookreview

The Book

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War
Joseph Loconte

One of my duties at work is to serve as liaison to the History Department. It's a bit tricky because I do not work with people in the department who do Latin American history because we have a Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) specialist who plucks those researchers, leaving me with the rest of the world. Given my location in Miami, Fl., it is understandable that most of the research conducted in the department is LAC oriented. However, in my searches I realized that a section of the community is gearing up for one big event: The Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. involvement in WWI (The Great War). So I put together a research guide on that topic with a colleague and in the course of my research I came across Joseph Loconte's book. Any time you can bring Tolkien and Lewis into the conversation, you do it. Immediately.

So this background, coupled with the fact that Barnes & Noble keeps settling lawsuits by sending me in-store credit, drove me to this book. Note the tag line on the cover, "How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis rediscovered faith, friendship, and heroism in the cataclysm of 1914-1918."

The Review

This is a very accessible book. It reads very much like a conversational lecture. Lecture because it is clearly structured to be informative. Yet, conversational in diction and in it's explanatory mature. It is an easy read. It contains just over 200 pages of content, making it an easy weekend reader if you have that kind of time to devote to reading. For this, and for excellent content, I give the book a five-star rating. It simply is a great book for historians and inklings alike.

Loconte begins the book by describing the pre-WWI world attitude towards scientific progress. Technology improved man's lifestyle enormously. Science was learning new things and implementing them for man's benefit constantly. The industrial revolution made the future look brighter than ever. This also reached into philosophy when men took Charles Darwin's Evolution of Species and ran it through to an extreme conclusion when applied to mankind. Thus, the idea that man is also evolving and improving with every generation. Loconte calls this "The Great Myth."

The Great Myth has many implications. The first of which manifested itself in the notion that evolving man will be able to negotiate peace without conflict and, eventually, wars will shrink in magnitude and carnage until it disappears altogether. But to achieve this peace—this ultimate state of evolution—man must help nature by participating in a program called Eugenics. Essentially, Eugenics is natural selection applied to mankind where only the best human specimens are allowed to breed.

There seemed to be no stopping this train of thought. Steam engines, railways, light bulbs, etc. all provided great conveniences to mankind. Science was not something that could be argued against. So the church did not. Here, we get the rise of Liberal Theology, which went along with science and called for increased eugenics programs and sought to bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth's level. It's a nice idea, though clearly unethical by today's standards. This wave of theology is what Tolkien and Lewis was dealing with.

But WWI smashed The Great Myth to pieces. Instead of eliminating conflict, Europe was embroiled in it. Instead of limiting the scope of conflict, the entire world was engulfed. Instead of minimizing casualties, this secular war killed more men than any previous war could have even conceived. Both sides, believing in this Myth, believed they would leverage new technologies and bring a swift end to the war. New machine guns, mustard gas, trench warfare, and naval improvements, unchecked by ethical restriction, mowed soldiers down with frightful speed and force.

This is the conflict that Tolkien and Lewis fought on the front lines and survived. Not only does the brutal experience of war inform their writings, but also the disillusionment that follows. After the war, mankind saw The Great Myth as a failure and subsequently lost all hope in this life. Tolkien and Lewis also fought to restore hope. Hope in the living God who moves in this world. They do this by creating their own mythologies that echo the Romantic myths they adored and, ultimately, echoes the True Myth delivered to man in the scriptures.

The Conclusion

I suppose I could continue writing, but I will not give up everything Joseph Loconte has written on the subject. Know that he goes into greater detail and provides more supporting evidence of The Great Myth and on the great casualties sustained during the battles of WWI. He also weaves passages of The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy throughout the book, showing how the war absolutely influenced their respective author's writings.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, literature or theology as this book touches on each of those topics.

SIDE NOTE: Loconte dwells on TLOTR more than Lewis' works as it is written for a more mature audience and displays some of the gruesome details not found in Narnia.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Bible Made Impossible #bookreview

The Book

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a truly Evangelical reading of Scripture
Christian Smith

I was given this book to read by my colleague. He has recommended books for my edification before and I greatly appreciate this gesture. Over the past couple weeks I have been able to digest this book section by section.

The Review

I have to give the author only 3 out of 5 stars for the actual composition of this book. While it is extremely well reasoned, I believe the points could have been articulated in a clearer, more organized manner. This is possibly due to his perspective as a sociologist writing on religion. However, his intent was clear: Smith began with the problems of Biblicism and continued toward (not a formed conclusion, but, rather, the beginning of a discussion) a better understanding of the Bible within an evangelical context.

Biblicism, as commonly defined within Evangelical circles, typically includes some version of the following nine arguments about the Bible:
  1. Divine Writing
  2. Total Representation of God's will
  3. Complete Coverage
  4. Democratic Perspicuity (anyone with common sense can understand the Bible)
  5. Commonsense Hermeneutics (read the Bible plainly)
  6. Solo Scriptura (no need for tradition when you have the Bible)
  7. Internal Harmony (the Bible fits together like a puzzle)
  8. Universal Applicability
  9. Inductive Method (anything can be learned by study)
In addition to these nine points, Smith argues that there is an unstated "Handbook Model" of reading scripture that pervades Evangelical Biblicism. This is seen by a simple stroll through the Christian Bookstores and noting titles like: Cooking with the Bible: Recipes for biblical meals, The Biblical Guide to Alternative Medicine, Biblical Psychology, & Gardening with Biblical Plants. In essence, the Bible is understood to be an authority on everything it covers, therefore opening God's credibility on every front under the sun.

The problem with this outlook is something Smith calls Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism. In short, you can give four evangelicals a single passage of scripture and potentially get four different interpretations of the passage. The problem here is that these outcomes are inconsistent and—as highlighted in the title of his book—actually impossible given the theory of biblicism. It should not happen.

Yet, it happens all the time. Particularly among the educated biblical scholars. Consider that Christian Bookstore again. In the book, Smith lays out the titles of over thirty "Four Views" books. That is, four different interpretations of biblical doctrine. These include four views on baptism, Christ, Hell, Divorce & Remarriage, Eternal Security, etc... This should not be.

Smith continues to address the typical responses which, no doubt, my readers currently have in their minds. In fact, you (my reader) may have already dismissed the problem posed by this book by your own rationale. Please note that Christian Smith addresses each response and deftly shows how their arguments do not hold up. In essence, most arguments are actually a deviation from biblicism.

Smith proposes a few ways to read the bible that might be more in tune with evangelicalism as a whole. His main potential solution (though, admittedly, not a complete solution) is a Christocentric reading of scripture. In other words, Christ is the main point of scripture. Everything else either leads up to him or stems from him. Even though most evangelicals will nod their heads and claim that they actually do read the bible Christologically, it is clear from the literature that they fall short in practice.

Other potential solutions include a redefinition of our beliefs into a tier system. There is dogma, doctrine and opinion. Dogma is the small circle of common christian beliefs. Doctrine is the slightly larger circle that includes assembly distinctives but are not necessary for a Christian Classification. Finally, opinion is just that, an opinion that can find deviations within a denomination. This paradigm allows for disagreement and unity within the same umbrella of christendom.

This is just a taste of what you will find in this book.


I had some real problems with this book. I kept arguing with him in my head. Going in, I felt that I was essentially an open-minded biblicist. I come from a tradition where biblicists abound and I grew up believing a lot of these things about scripture. Yet, after reading this book and analyzing my own arguments over the past few years I had to come to the conclusion that I am no longer a Biblicist. I still respect the Bible as God's communicative tool for us to learn about his nature and will. Yet, I do not read it as a handbook for life and science and history and psychology and gardening and cooking and... The Bible is so much more than that. It is about God's only Son who came to redeem me. That's the point and that's what I want to stick with.

I would not recommend this book to most of my Biblicist friends. I do not feel that most of them are ready to really question their reading of scripture in an honest way. The text of this book is also highly academic and potentially inaccessible to a lot of people. Granted, if my reader is ready to read with an open mind (and maybe an open dictionary) then I absolutely would recommend picking up a copy of Christian Smith's book. It may do you good.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Police Brutality: Don't be shocked

If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.

—Ecclesiastes 5:8. NASB. Emphasis mine.

Black Lives Matter

The news cycle has been overwhelming in it's coverage of the tension between minorities, particularly Blacks, and law enforcement. Blacks have resorted to technology to record and live-stream the injustices and (dare I say it) persecution directed at them in an attempt to make their voices heard and shine a light on horrendous atrocities.

The statistics are also overwhelming. The Guardian states that, to date, 566 people have been killed by police. If you do the math, The Atlantic says every other day a black person is killed by a police officer. Don't misconstrue these statistics. Not every death is a so-called street execution. That is not what I am advocating about these statistics. Already remember Mark Twain's grouping of lies, damnable lies and statistics. Things are not as they appear.

Yet, we know there's a discrepancy between whites and blacks when it comes to police aggression. Whether the culprit is outright racism or socio-economic realities, it is still a travesty. The adage is clearly coming true: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see this in our law enforcement, our court system, and our state/federal officials.

Do Not Be Shocked

So what is the Christian response? I have seen this verse used to both implicitly and explicitly tell us to just accept what we see and move along. If you don't look at it critically, that is the apparent takeaway. Leave it in God's hands and don't try to get justice for the helpless. Train your eyes on the Bible so you don't see injustice. Turn up the praise and worship so you don't hear the despairing cries. Is that what this verse is saying? Is that the message of scripture?

The operative word in this phrase is TAMAH, which is a verb that means astounded or dumbfounded. It is a state of being. In other words, our hope should not have been so firmly entrenched in this human government that when the human propensity for sin rears its ugly head we are left incapacitated by the shock. In a certain sense, we should have seen this coming given our knowledge of man's capacity for sin. Remember, sin is both natural and repulsive to God. What comes naturally is not necessarily right any longer, see the doctrine of The Fall.

Our great hope is The Lord. We trust that he will ultimately set things right. We also know that he works through the government and seeks to provide checks and balances for the benefit of society. What else is this verse saying when it talks about officials watching over officials and even higher ones? Supervisors have a responsibility to crack down on abuse from their direct reports and it goes on up the chain. But what happens when this system breaks down due to the human affinity for corruption?

Sharing God's Heart

At some point we have to reconcile "giving it to the Lord" with "have the mind of Christ." Just because I have given ultimate control to the Lord does not mean I have no emotional reaction or should have no say in what's going on in this world. We don't lay down our privileges as citizens of the USA just because my preferred citizenship is heavenly. That's crazy talk.

If God doesn't want to see this behavior in government officials, then I don't want to see this behavior in government officials. By the way, nobody (anywhere except the KKK) is saying they applaud this behavior in their police officers. Yet, by their fruits you will know them. This is a discussion that needs to take place in our Churches and small groups and families. Here are a few talking points:
  • Man is corrupt and selfish by nature.
  • Man's capacity for evil increases in proportion to man's influence and power.
  • God is holy and just.
  • God establishes government in human society and holds them accountable.
  • The form of government in the USA gives a certain amount of power to the people.
  • The people, then, are also under some obligation to do right in God's eyes.
  • What should a Christian, whose mind is consumed by Christ, do in this situation?


This post came out way more politically charged than I ever intended. I hate politics with a passion. I guess you could say disillusionment has set in for me. But I've literally cried twice this week after watching videos on Facebook. Your heart has to break for the things that break God's heart. You have to weep over the things that make God weep. Yes, He weeps because man puts his faith in man instead of God. He also weeps because man fails to meet God's standard of holiness. These things are not mutually exclusive. God can—and I dare say he does—weep for both.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Future of Evangelicalism in America: Book Review

The Book

The Future of Evangelicalism in America
Edited by: Candy Gunther Brown & Mark Silk

This book was slapped on my desk by a colleague who knows and shares my interest in all things Christian. He told me it was a good, interesting read. And it most certainly was. I saw expressed in these pages many of the things that I had worked out in my own struggle as a young evangelical (quickly becoming or, perhaps, already become a middle-aged evangelical). These struggles have to do with the fact that I both agreed and disagreed with a lot of the stereotypical stances of evangelicalism. In fact, you can read another book review on a similar topic in the aptly titled: Everything You Know About Evangelicals is Wrong plus one on a book referred to in this title: Karl Barth's Evangelical Theology.

I knew that this book would likely be a scholarly work given the one who recommended it. I was not incorrect.

The Review

The tone of this work is scholarly. It is infused with statistics throughout. Particularly, the final chapter on racial diversity in evangelical churches at times reads like a textbook. (Though, thankfully, the author finds a narrative once he plows through the data.) It is not a book for the faint of heart or mind. In addition to race relations, the essays tackled in this books cover topics like: music, divisions, and politics.

An interesting note is how the authors envision the future. Since each chapter is contributed by a different author on a different topic, there is no consensus on the future of evangelicalism. Some say the future looks bright, some say the collapse of evangelicalism appears imminent. Most fall somewhere in between skewing to one side or another. The final chapter serves as a guide of things to consider moving forward. These things include:
  • Biblicism - How will evangelicals define biblicism moving forward?
  • Nondenominationalism - Will the nondenominational denominations continue becoming institutionalized?
  • Magnetic Leadership - Who is the next charismatic leader?
  • Popular Culture - How will evangelicals assimilate and integrate popular culture into their moral code?
  • Pentecostalization - Will evangelicalism become overrun by the Pentecostal trends?
  • Globalization - Will the center of evangelicalism shift into Latin America?
  • Racial and Ethnic Diversification - How will the continued growth of nonwhites effect evangelicalism?
  • Political Realignment - As evangelicals detach from traditional political "allies," where will they turn as they exercise their voting rights?
  • Generational Change - As we get further from the roots of evangelicalism, what will the next generations do with their heritage?

Evangelical Ethos

It is important to understand how the authors define evangelicalsim. Rather than a readily apparent set of beliefs with clearly divisive properties (i.e. Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, etc.) the authors follow Mark Knoll and David Bebbington in describing an Evangelical Ethos based on biblicism, conversionism, crusicentrism and activism. These points actually work to unite Christians across denominational boundaries. This method helps explain why we have the existence of self-described evangelicals all over Christendom without there being one Evangelical denomination. Yes, you have Methodist Evangelicals and Catholic Evangelicals and Presbyterian Evangelicals and they can all work together for a parachurch organization like Youth For Christ (which figures prominently in the book) and agree with the teachings of Billy Graham.

These four points are explained as follows:
  1. Biblicism: The belief that the Bible is central to Christianity. Look to the Bible for the answer. While there is debate on whether the Bible is inerrant vs infallable, and there is debate on the role of Tradition and the Magisterium, the Bible settles all disputes in the end.
  2. Conversionism: A personal relationship and regeneration. You have to have some kind of experience with God. There has to be a moment when you were converted. The story of your personal decision to follow Christ must be a prominent feature in your life-narrative. Without this, you might not be a Christian at all.
  3. Crucicentrism: A focus and emphasis on Christ's atoning death. The Church, the Bible and all of God's efforts in this world find their culmination at the cross of Calvary. Without an emphasis on Jesus Christ, you have no Christianity.
  4. Activism: Evangelistic activity aimed at conversion, renewal and activism. Your faith must be lived out, your faith requires some kind of action. In most cases, this means sharing the Gospel with neighbors, friends, and colleagues. However, this may also mean social activism, like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.

The Conclusion

I really liked the layout of this book. It was nice to hear from different voices about the changing face of evangelicalism. More than that, I liked to see how some of my own thoughts on the subject were reaffirmed. I know I didn't go into detail on that in this review, you just have to read the book to get that information.

That being said, I would not recommend this book to everyone. At the end of the day, it reads more like a scholarly work so if that's the kind of piece you enjoy reading, go ahead and pick it up. You will not be disappointed. For a similar book that treats the topic in a more informal manner, I recommend the book mentioned earlier: Everything You Know About Evangelicals is Wrong.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Holy Thingstagram April 09, 2016 at 06:27PM

Working on a few visuals for tomorrow's message. #holythings Loving God with all your SOUL via Instagram
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