Friday, December 30, 2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Holy Mobile! December 25, 2016 at 07:41AM

A quick thought while on the go...
Come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant.... This carol always made me feel uneasy 😳. Come if you're faithful, but if not you'd better stay away. To this day, it gives me a shiver of doubt. Am I faithful enough to come near? The answer is always no. We don't hear 👂 much about the Magi's 🐫 Theology, just that they came based on what they knew. We don't know much about the shepherd 🐑 fidelity, just that they came based on what they knew. And so I come with what little I have. Dear Jesus, thank you for being faithful to your Father's commission. Thank you for meeting my deficiencies with your grace.
via http://ift.tt/2hEgITo

Holy Mobile! December 25, 2016 at 06:41AM

A quick thought while on the go...
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.... that's a strange pairing. Comfort. Joy. At first glance, it is a positive➕ set of words. But really think about it; who needs comfort? Those who are in distress. This carol doesn't bring tidings of pleasure and happiness. This world 🌎 is a dark and fallen place. We need comfort. We need a reminder to be fearless. Better yet, we need someone to take our fears away and leave behind relief. Comfort. That fills our hearts 💕 with joy. Dear Jesus, thank you for appearing one blessed night to meet my needs and comfort my soul.
via http://ift.tt/2ifmtY6

Holy Mobile! December 25, 2016 at 06:41AM

A quick thought while on the go...
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.... that's a strange pairing. Comfort. Joy. At first glance, it is a positive➕ set of words. But really think about it; who needs comfort? Those who are in distress. This carol doesn't bring tidings of pleasure and happiness. This world 🌎 is a dark and fallen place. We need comfort. We need a reminder to be fearless. Better yet, we need someone to take our fears away and leave behind relief. Comfort. That fills our hearts 💕 with joy. Dear Jesus, thank you for appearing one blessed night to meet my needs and comfort my soul.
via http://ift.tt/2ireVVI

Holy Mobile! December 25, 2016 at 04:36AM

A quick thought while on the go...
We three kings of orient are. Bearing gifts 🎁 we traveled afar.... I'm about to jump in my car 🚗 for a 5-hour drive to worship service and Christmas 🎄 festivities with my in-laws. Seems far at 4 am with 3 screaming kids in the backseat.... Travel for family. Sure. Travel for fun. Done that before. Travel for the King of Kings. I don't know that I've ever done that before. Have I ever been through discomfort of any kind for my Lord and Savior? My drive will be in air conditioned comfort on heated leather seats 💺. The guys in the song did their thing through the wilderness on a camel's 🐫 back. Lord of Lords, as I journey this morning I remember that my life is a journey through this world 🌎. May my focus and destination be you always. May my shining star ⭐️ be the very Light of the World who pierced the darkness one ☝️ fateful night in Bethlehem.
via http://ift.tt/2i4Sm5Y

Holy Mobile! December 25, 2016 at 12:32AM

A quick thought while on the go...
Away in a manger --no crib for a bed!-- the little Lord, Jesus, lay down his sweet head.... Thank you "little Lord" for proving that you care for me. Thank you for reaching out to me in the exact spot I find myself. Thank you for experiencing my condition. Thank you for being with me. Thank you for Advent. Thank you for Christmas. Thank you for Easter. Thank you for planning this through from humble beginnings through bitter times unto a glorious end. Thank you for the mission of Emmanuel.
via http://ift.tt/2hjYNUb

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Flying Inn. G.K. Chesterton #bookreview

The Book

The Flying Inn
G. K. Chesterton

I saw this book on a friend's GoodReads list and decided that since I like Chesterton I'd give it a try. As a bonus, since Chesterton's works are in the public domain, I was able to get the book free of charge (and you can too!). So there really is no excuse for not cozying up with a little G. K. Chesterton.

To add to my bonus, I scored an audiobook from LibriVox. If you are not familiar with LibriVox, you can go to their website. In short, people volunteer to record books in the public domain and distribute them. You can actually subscribe to a book in your favorite podcast app and listen to it that way!

NOTE: While this is not a review of LibriVox, and beggars really can't be choosers, but note that when you subscribe to a LibriVox audiobook you are at the mercy of the readers who volunteered. Some readers are top notch. Some should be encouraged to volunteer to do other things. Some need better equipment if they plan to continue doing this type of work. Enough on this. Overall it's a great service you should totally look into!

The Review

G. K. Chesterton was bold, brash and british. He writes with the dry wit one commonly associates with his type. As a result, it takes some time to acclimate to his prose if you are completely unfamiliar with his writing. But once you get used to it, there are many gems embedded in his writings.

The premise of The Flying Inn is that the English government is slowly being infiltrated by a group of Muslim extremists while in the process of enforcing the Temperance Movement. Inns (pubs/taverns) can only sell alcohol if they retain their sign as an inn, something that law enforcement has been restricting.

Enter Humphrey Pump, hero of the story. Pump is an innkeeper who owns and operates The Old Ship. After a scuffle with Lord Ivywood, Pump and Captain Patrick Dalroy grab their sign, rum and cheese and canvas the countryside serving liquor under their traveling sign.

The pair effectively executes their subversion by finding other such loopholes throughout the story as the law becomes more and more restrictive.

The Conclusion

Chesterton cleverly uses this backdrop to present a critique on Christianity more so than Islam. While the heroes are struggling with the Muslim impetus for temperance, Chesterton offers a blazing critique on Christian ascetics who would prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol and meat (forced vegetarianism is also covered in this book).

This is an interesting book in that it anticipates a world where extremists may successfully take over a major metropolitan area and use their sectarian views as the basis for their governance. Chesterton was not contending with Isis when writing The Flying Inn. Though fanciful, it is an interesting mental exercise and reinforces the positive aspects of the separation of Church and State.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Screwtape Letters #bookreview

The Book

The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis

As is my tradition, I try to read a C.S. Lewis Signature Classic every year. This year, the lot fell on The Screwtape Letters.

The Review

The Screwtape Letters serves as a window to the correspondence between a young devil and his affectionate uncle named Screwtape. Being a novice tempter, he seeks advice to properly ruin his assigned human being. Screwtape offers his advice in letter form. You only read what Screwtape has written throughout the entire book.

This is another example of Lewis' masterful work. This is still my least favorite of his works due to the limitations of the format. Although, it can be argued that the format he chose was apropos to the subject matter. It would have been far more difficult to get all the content into a traditional prose-style work of fiction.

Note that since this is a collection of letters, the chapters are really small. This makes it a great on-the-go read when you are not sure if you have 30 minutes or just 5 to get a chapter in.

Content wise, Screwtape generally advises to use current culture as a means to distract the human through life. It does not matter which side of any issue the mortal takes, so long as he confuses it for Christianity. Extremism, whether it be extreme pacifism or extreme warmongering, is really the goal.

Below are a few of my favorite bits of Screwtape's awful advice:

  • It is funny how mortals always picture us putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. (p 16)
  • The safest road to hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (p 61)
  • The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality. (p 64)
  • Parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in a kind of unity that the Enemy desires. (p 81)
  • The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin they already had... The 'Gospels' come later and they were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made. (p 126)
  • [Substitute] negative unselfishness for the Enemy's positive Charity. You can, from the outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in foregoing them. (p 141)
  • Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is important thus to cut every generation off from all the others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. (p 151)

The Conclusion

The Enemy is very tricky. As mentioned in the book, they have no resources of their own and must pervert God's goodness. This book helps the reader to think sinisterly and really consider their own struggles in light of the cosmic battles being fought around them.

I recommend this book heartily to anyone willing to give it a read. It is actually a very easy book to pick up and complete.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism #bookreview


The Book


Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants
D.H. Williams

This is the second in a series of books recommended by a colleague centered around a discussion on Sola Scriptura and it's validity as a protestant argument. While an older work (published in 1999), it still holds an important conversation around several pertinent questions of tradition and the Church's catholicity.

The Review

As another scholarly piece, the text is not readily accessible. That is, if you are not familiar with Patristics or any Church history, you may get a little lost. Sadly, D.H. Williams is keenly aware of the fact that most Protestants, particularly Free Church Protestants are out of touch with the history of the church. He apologizes right away for all the historical discussion he must have in order to prove his points and advises unfamiliar readers to catch up on the topic.

Once critique I have at this point is the lack of supplemental material to help with the historical part of his argument. There is a lot of text when a chart or timeline could have provided a nice visual to go with the sentences and paragraphs explaining the flow from the Apostles to the Church Fathers. He argues that, historically speaking, the Church Fathers arose sequentially and naturally from the Apostolic age. A chronology could have illustrated this point powerfully and elegantly.

In addition to a seamless transition from the Apostles to the Church Fathers, Williams argues against the notion of Constantinian corruption, explains the place of councils and creeds and discussed how Luther and the Reformers protected Patristics as a guide to Orthodoxy.

However, William's main point centers around the fact that Scripture does not live in isolation. We have Sacred Scripture because Church Tradition venerated and preserved it. Conversely, whatever was proposed as Church Tradition was first measured by Sacred Scripture as part of acceptance. The two go hand-in-hand and could not be separated.

Tradition (capital T) is different than tradition (lower case t), which can also be called mere custom. Scripture itself refers to the Traditions that were being "passed down". In fact, the term "passed down", Williams points out, is a form of the word translated "tradition". Hence, Tradition refers to how the Church interprets and hands down doctrine from generation to generation. In other words: Jesus teaches the Apostles who pass the teaching on to the next generation of believers who encounter challenges to the faith and draw from the teaching to answer said challenges. Doctrine is synonymous with Tradition in the sense that it is the extraction and communication of a coherent system of belief based on the Bible.

Without Tradition, doctrines of the Church must be re-formed and re-argued while heretical beliefs will need to be re-refuted. Things that are settled in orthodox teaching will be up for grabs once again. I close this out with the following quote from the text:
Whereas Scripture does indeed define the center of gravity of the true faith, it does not set the limits of its reading or knowledge. The Reformers' appeal to scriptural sufficiency was crafted on the assumption that the Bible was the book on the church's faith. That faith of the church, New Testament and patristic, was seen as contiguous with the biblical narrative, so that the only proper way to read the Bible was within the framework of the church's teaching and practice. (Williams, 200)

The Conclusion

I would argue that everyone reads the Bible within the framework of a "tradition." Whatever you grew up being taught, that's the tradition that you will hold. Unfortunately, when the tradition once grew up with turns out to be a- or even un-historical, you begin to undermine the entirety of Christendom. D.H. Williams believes that reading scripture through the framework of the Church Fathers is the historical path to orthodoxy which has been unnecessarily undermined by some in Free Church traditions.

Note: He is not arguing for a return to Rome. He looks to a pre-Roman catholic (Little 'C') Church (though he concedes that this church eventually became the Roman Catholic Church). He cites early church sources all the way to Luther, Calvin and beyond as groups that looked to the Fathers for a framework to the reading and interpretation of scripture.

If this review piques your interest, go read the whole book. It is a bit dense but not very long (243 pages including index). I recommend it to anyone interested in church history and biblical interpretation.

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.

Conclusion

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?

Conclusion

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

All Your Mind: An Extension



Material not included in the sermon due to time constraints.

Jesus' Follow-up Question

Mark 12:35-40
So after all this crazy questioning, Jesus continues the debate with a follow-up question about David calling his own kid "Lord." At first blush, this question apears to be another example of reductio ad absurdum—a bit of crazy talk meant for either an exaggerated point or for empty discussion.

Jesus wants to re-orient the discussion to his Messiahship. That is precicely what David was referring to in the Psalm Jesus referenced.

The Scribe was not far from the kingdom of God. But he needed to take the next step and love Jesus with the same love he offers God. Nobody becomes a Christian by virtue of their knowledge. It is by grace through the virtue of faith. Yet, one's knowledge is a doorway to faith. Some things must be realized first, for instance:
  • Man's Depravity: Man has fallen into sin, which displeases God.
  • The Wages of Sin: Since Man has displeased God, he has no hope to be in God's presence. Without God—the source of life—he is doomed to the only alternative: death.
  • God's Grace: God, in His grace, has provided a solution for this predicament in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.
If you do not know these things, how could you ever believe them? There are levels of understanding. Admittedly, I understand them better than some. Most understand them better than me. The level of understanding does not matter much. Regardless of the level of understanding, one is judged by their response to the information they have.

Beware of the Scribes

The scribes abused their knowledge. They used it unwisely, in the pursuit of selfish gain. They had good information, but their application was wrong.

Library Science espouses a theory of knowledge that works as a hierarchy. In it, the slight differences are highlighted between data, information, knowledge and wisdom as follows:
  • DATA basic facts, building blocks (look in the kitchen: eggs, flour, milk, sugar)
  • INFORMATION data within a framework ("Hey! I can make a cake with these ingredients!")
  • KNOWLEDGE information that can be applied ("Here's my mom's favorite cake recipes. Which one...")
  • WISDOM reflective, decides what to do with the knowledge (Should I have cake for breakfast? Should I eat the entire cake myself in one sitting? Is there a healthier option for breakfast?)
It would be a shame for someone to get to the point where their knowledge is applied unwisely. It would have been a shame for that scribe who agreed with Jesus in Mark 12 to have rejected Jesus as his Messiah. It is a shame that the religious leaders seem to have fallen short at this point.

Conclusion

We can pursue knowledge wisely and honor the Lord with it. It starts when your knowledge draws you towards your knees in repentance and continues by informing your daily routines.
  1. Apply your knowledge to God's word.
  2. Apply God's word to your life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Love the Lord with All Your Mind: A Sermon



From a sermon delivered on February 7, 2016 at Fellowship Bible Chapel in Fort Myers, Fl. Part of a study series on The Greatest Commandment. Browse mini-studies on this topic.

3 Questions

In Mark 12:13-34 we have three questions asked of the Lord Jesus. The first two were cold, calculated inquiries intended to trap Jesus in his words and give the religious leaders just cause to condemn him. The third was an honest inquiry. Notice that Christ offers a legitimate, lucid answer to every inquiry regardless of the intention behind it. The only difference is the benefit to the inquirer.

Paying Taxes

Mark 12:13-17
The Pharisees begin the questioning by asking if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. What is interesting is the way they pose this question. They layer four compliments before finally getting around to the money question. The tactic they employ is known as an argumentum ad superbiam—an appeal to pride.

The appeal to pride is common, you've probably heard it before or even used it. A few examples include:
"You are so good at doing the dishes, you should do them more often."

"You students are way too intelligent to believe some mystical being bothered to create this world, you should accept that an uncoordinated, unthinking big bang set the laws of nature into motion."

"This is the car for you, you look 10 years younger behind that steering wheel!"
It is fallacy to believe that an appeal to pride can take the place of fact when drawing a logical conclusion. Notice I did not say an appea to pride means to lie. These compliments may well be truthful (skill at dishwashing, a student's intelligence, how young one looks behind the wheel of a car) but they distract from the actual point of the argument. That's the intention.

The Pharisees did not lie about Jesus. Here are the things they said about him in verse 14:
  1. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth. He only said what is true and never omitted truth.
  2. Jesus is no respecter of persons. He had no problems calling out the religious leaders.
  3. Jesus is no respecter of persons. He comes to seek and save all who were lost.
  4. Jesus knew the Father in a way no one else ever could. He is one with God the Father.
However, the Pharisees' flattery was intended to cloud the issue and lure Jesus into making a grave mistake. They set up a platform where a politically charged, revolutionary statement was the easiest thing in the world to make. The problem is, Jesus' revolution was a spiritual one and not a worldly one. Jesus did not come into this world to overthrow the government. He came to obey the Father and establish his spiritual kingdom.

Jesus cuts through the flattery and gets at the core of the issue. In verse 15, the Pharisees try to cloud the issue even more by asking if it is lawful to pay taxes—Roman law is clear: pay taxes. Mosaic law was written for Israelites in a different time. There was no king ruling over Israel at the time. Jesus' response clarifies all of that by saying, You are under both God and your Government. Respect both. In other words: You are where you are because God has placed you there. Praise the Lord and pay your dues.

In the end, Jesus retains his focus and displays his testimony.

Afterlife Nuptuals

Mark 12:18-27
The Saducees take over the questioning with a theoretical story. They propose (pun intended) a scenario in which a man dies and leaves a widow with no child who is then taken, by Jewish law, as wife by his brother. The brother also dies without leaving an heir and this cycle repeats itself through seven brothers. The question then becomes: In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?

It is can be quickly deduced that this line of question follows the fallacy of reductio ad absurdum—it is a reduction to absurdity. It follows the same lines as Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal or the exasperated mother scolding their child by reciting the old line, "If your friends all jumped off a clff to their deaths, would you do it too?" Both are absurd. For Swift: of course we are not going to eat Irish babies, that's gross and should not even cross our minds. For the child: of course I'm not going to jump off a cliff to my death just because Johnny did it. All I wanted was to skip school and watch the new Star Wars movie.

NOTE: I do not condone skipping school. But comparing following foolish friends in skipping school with jumping off a cliff is absolutely an example of reductio ad absurdum. It is an exaggeration with the intent to prove a point. The conclusion is supposed to be so crazy that you must reject the premise of the argument.

The point of the Saducees' story? The doctrine of resurrection is ridiculous.

However, I can certainly see this scenario's place in the synagogue. It is a religious football that can be kicked around and pondered for ages with no resolution. It is an endless debate. It is an opportunity to stroke your intellectual ego.

The Saducees huddle together and laugh at how funny those resurrectionists are for holding on to this crazy belief while Pharisees stand up and try to answer the question of the Seven Brother's Bride:
  • "It will be the first brother because he chose her."
  • "It will be the last because his vows were the final ones taken into the afterlife."
  • "It is not for us to know. Whichever brother was her bashert will be her husband."
  • "Whichever loved her most..."
  • Whichever made the greatest sacrifices for her..."
The debate is endless. There may be great truths to uncover in these responses, but none of them effectively end the discussion. There is a lot of discussion in the Christian community that falls under this category: interesting but not effective.

Jesus' answer brings clarity to the debate. He effectively says Wow, you've got it all wrong. Remember, Jesus is no respecter of persons. His only aim is for truth.

Jesus assumes the resurrection in direct contradiction to the Saducees. He does not even bother to meet them at their level on this one. Further, He calls out the fallacy that marriage bonds exist in eternity as they do in this world. Note that he does not go into much detail on the nature of marriage in the afterlife. And fi;juy6dedc5rtcd nally, he shifts the focus to something concrete and unquestionably true:

God IS. He is the God of the living. He is the God of life itself.

The religious football of speculation is worthless when compared to the revelation of concrete truth.

Sincere Inquiry

Mark 12:28-34
"A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel" Proverbs 1:5
Verse 28 represents a shift in the line of questioning. There was a scribe who was actually listening to Jesus and recognized the wisdom in his words. So, he extends the conversation by asking Jesus about the greatest commandment.

Jesus' response is unique. Only here and in Matthew does Jesus separate the MIND from the HEART in the recitation of this verse from Deuteronomy. Even the account in Matthew is couched in the same context, which makes Jesus' highlight especially poignant. He says that the mind is a critical part of man's makeup and it should be devoted to God's pleasure. Jesus had just fielded questions soaked in pretext, an honest inquiry will never be ignored. Ask and you shall receive.

The Scribe Agrees

When the scribe says "Right" or "Well said" he is agreeing with Christ's answer to his question. Not only so, but he goes on to state that the Lord desires love over offerings & sacrifices—the trappings of religiosity. In doing so, he echoes the sentiments of the prophet Samuel and writings in the Psalms.

Jesus Responds

to the scribe with both recognition and affirmation. According to v.34, Jesus recognizes that the scribe's answer is intelligent and well reasoned. Then he affirms that his rationale was on the right track. He is not far from the kingdom of God.

Conclusion

What did Jesus see in the scribe? He saw someone who truly loved the Lord with all his mind. But what did he do that proves this statement?
  1. He came to Christ with no Presuppositions. He had a true inquiry.
  2. He came to Christ with Prior Knowledge. He knew the law.
  3. He came to Christ with his Powers of Perception. He was able to take knowledge of Christ and apply is to knowledge of the Law.
Finally, these points are applicable to anyone who seeks to love the Lord with all their minds:
  1. Presuppositions: We lay down our paradigms and honor God's
  2. Prior Knowledge: We don't check our intelligence at the door.
  3. Perception: We know what prior knowledge needs to be abandoned in light of Christ & what prior knowledge dovetails with scripture

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Remembering Easter

Notes from a message at Fellowship Bible Chapel in Fort Myers, Fl. Delivered by Gary Clark.

Who Remembers?

Who remembered Jesus' words about his own resurrection? More importantly, when did they remember? Who was the first to remember what Jesus said about his own death, burial and resurrection? You may be shocked to learn who remembered, when.

3. Last: The Disciples/Apostles

You would think that the disciples. The men who were devoted to Jesus. The men who fervently followed Jesus. The men who gave up their livelihoods for Jesus. The men who ate, slept and prayed with Jesus. You would think these men would be the first to remember Jesus' words because, you know, they hung on his every word.

They were actually the last to remember that Jesus predicted his own death, burial and resurrection.

2. The Women

The women who visited the tomb on Easter morning fully expected to see a corpse. When they didn't see a dead body, they freaked out. They did not remember Jesus' words. They needed an angelic reminder and a visit from the resurrected Christ to refresh their memory.

Commend them for their belief. At least they believed when they were told. That is more than can be said for the disciples.

1. The Pharisees

Shocker! The Pharisees remembered Jesus' claims and ensured that the disciples would not be able to steal the body away. This was done while Christ was in the grave. This also proves that they understood Jesus' claim to "destroy the temple and raise it in three days." He wasn't talking about Herod's temple, he was talking about his life.

The Pharisees, though they did not believe, certainly understood Jesus and memorized his words. This goes to prove that head-knowledge is not a substitute for faith.

Conclusion

It is a shame that the followers of Christ were not the first to remember his words. It should be a sobering thought to all Christians. We need to be vigilant and remember that Christ is in control in every situation. Do not let our emotions cloud our view of Christ and his words.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Evangelical Theology: Book Review

The Book

Evangelical Theology: An Introducton
Karl Barth

I came across this book quite by accident. I had finished a novel and wanted to grab some weightier substance to crunch my brain cells on and so I searched my local library for various names I thought might serve that purpose.

Through their recommendations, I came across Karl Barth—a name that I recognized from my undergrads. So I clicked and was confronted with the Evangelical Theology: An Introduction audiobook. I snagged it and listened to it all the way to Walt Disney World (My wife was running the Glass Slipper Challenge).

No, I did not finish it in one weekend. No, I did not digest everything there is to learn in this work. But what I learned, I will share in this review using quotes that I think can be loosely attributed to this book. Please bear in mind that I listened to the book and furiously wrote down quotes.

I absolutely plan to buy this book and give it a thorough reading before shelving it for reference.

The Review

I gave the book 4 stars on GoodReads. The content is absolutely fantastic. The only problem I have is with the way certain things are phrased. I understand that Theology is not an easy subject, yet I feel that things may be phrased more simply. Perhaps this, again, has to do with the fact that I listened to the book and did not read it. It certainly does not lend itself to audio.

This could also be due to the fact that the work is a translation into English. That always makes for dodgy literature since translators may be to blame. Yet, there are moments when Barth bores through the dense language with a clear, condensed thought that cuts to the quick. I will not share some of those statements:
Think of Christianity more as a new nation and less as a system of beliefs.
Here, Karl Barth was referring to this new community that developed after Christ's resurrection. This new community that was called "Christian" in Antioch. They were a new kingdom that was held together by their King. They were less dependent on creeds than they were on their love for one other. They had no doctrine but the story of what Jesus had done. They had no qualifications other than what they heard from Christ.

Perhaps it would be good to remember that part of primitive Christianity. To be evangelical is to be devoted to basic biblical truths. It does not get much more basic than this.
How is your heart? That is the question every theologian must face.
Barth hones in on the study of Theology a lot in this book. He places a greater burden on theologian, for the theologian should know the most and be responsible for more than a person who does not study scripture. Theology is a dynamic study—the process should fundamentally change the theologian. Inevitably, the theologian will have to ask themselves: What about my heart? There will be nowhere to hide from the answer.
Christian faith is not a belief THAT but a belief IN...
Theology is the study of a person, not a thing. Likewise, the Christian faith is a belief in the person of Jesus Christ and not a belief that anything happened or that anything is. Without the living Christ, our faith is useless.
It is terrible when God keeps silence and, by keeping silent, speaks.
Returning to the Theologian's struggle to know and believe, Barth touches on the single most disturbing part of the study of theology: times of silence.

There are times when the theologian may cry out for understanding or clarification but hears no answer. But the silence is not God withholding a response, it is God's intended response. This could be due to a number of things like:
  • The theologian's stubbornness.
  • Some undealt with sin.
  • God's timing.
This leads right into another quotable from Karl Barth, "The theologian can only have God for himself when he has God against himself." That is, true faith is held against all doubt. True faith says, I believe. Lord, help my unbelief. It is not a stubborn refusal of facts to the contrary. It is the act of holding on to facts that were true yesterday and allowing them to carry you into tomorrow.

Conclusion

Again, there is no way I got all of this down. I listened to the book and wrote this review from memory with only the quotes to guide me. This review is more impression than actual rendering of the writer's work.

So I would recommend that you go out and read this book for yourself. It is a tougher, rewarding read so be cautioned in that regard. Do not let it intimidate you. Read and get what you can out of it.

Note that Barth does not bother to defend basic questions in this book. He assumes that the Bible is authoritative and that God exists and that Theology is important, etc. He tackles the next steps after those things are sorted out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Free Audiobook - N.T. Wright

I never do this. This blog is not devoted to freebies. However, whenever I come across a freebie that pertains to our pursuit of Truth, I gladly pass it on. I don't know how long this offer will be available, but right now you can download N.T. Wright's audiobook: Hope in a Hopeless World from Noisetrade, presented by Regent College Audio.

I just downloaded it myself and I am in the middle of other books so I have no knowledgeable recommendation. All I can say is that I've heard a lot of good things about N.T. Wright from people I trust. So readers, here ya go! Don't say I never give you anything. ;-)

Friday, February 12, 2016

How is your love life? (Frank's Morning Devo)


What follows is a short, daily, SMS devotional that one of my old Sunday School teachers sends out. It follows along with one of my studies here on WTHT, so I figured I'd pass it along to my readers. I suppose it is also especially poignant for Valentine's Day. Enjoy!
Jesus once made an incredible statement. He said that you can summarize the entire teaching of the Bible  in just two commands. The most significant of all directions ever given to man, said Jesus, was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The second most significant? Love people. (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus is saying to you that the whole Bible was written to teach you to love God so completely that, compared with that love, everything else in your life is insignificant. How much people like you, how wealthy you are, what car you will drive, how big your TV is - all those things matter zero compared to loving God. So. How is your love life? What could you do to increase your love for the Lord?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Come Thirsty - Max Lucado

The Book

Come Thirsty
Max Lucado

I bought this book for my wife. We went through a phase where we could not read enough Max Lucado. It was a good phase. Max Lucado is an excellent teacher. I try to read Lucado's Grip of Grace once a year, though I have (admittedly) not been able to do so for the past few years. It will probably be on my short list for my next read.

I had a long run scheduled for this past weekend, so I decided to grab the audiobook version of Come Thirsty from my local library. (Overdrive for the win!) After saying my usual prayers for the first couple miles, I dove right into CT. I finished the book during my ice bath. Two conclusions:
  1. An audiobook is great for a long, pleasure run.
  2. An audiobook is terrible for a run which pace is important.

Review

Max Lucado's calling card is Grace. It is his number one topic. Don't read Lucado for a treatise on anything other than God's marvelous, infinite, matchless grace. Yes, he touches on other subjects. But his forte is the grace of God. Come Thirsty is yet another angle on that theme. If you are parched by this desert of a world, drink deep from the wellspring of God's Grace.

Using his trademark conversational style, Max Lucado invites you to God's well for a sip of God's goodness. That sip is followed by another, then another, then a gulp and before you know it, you will dive headfirst into the ocean of God's grace. This WELL breaks down as follows:
  • Accept Christ's Work
  • Rely on His Energy
  • Trust His Lordship
  • Receive His Love

Conclusion

This is a strong 3.5-star book which is often overlooked in the canon of Lucado's writings. No, it's not an essential read like several of His other books, but you will not be sorry you spent some time on this one. I heartily recommend it.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

Mailing List