Thinking Out Loud

July 7, 2020

The Illustrated Sermon on the Mount

Review: What if Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore – by Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers, 2020)

I first became aware of Skye Jethani through his old blog Skyebox and the Phil Vischer Podcast. I was immediately impressed by his demeanor which I can only describe as forthright. He spoke with authority and wasn’t afraid to speak to problems in what he called, ‘The Evangelical Industrial Complex.’ To learn that we shared the same denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, was just an added bonus.

Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of his books here. Skye isn’t a household name in the Chuck Swindoll sense, and his writing requires firing up dormant brain cells to appreciate his message. For example, in The Divine Commodity he uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif to discuss what it means to be a Christian in a consumer culture. In With, a book I called ‘the preposition proposition,’ he looks at what it means to try to live life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God when in fact it’s supposed to be — no spoilers here — another preposition entirely.

With Futureville he uses the New York World’s Fair of 1939 as a motif to discuss the effect of negative visions of the church. In Immeasurable he offered a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; a topic which is his long-suit when it comes to public speaking appearances. I’m pleased to own a copy of all four books and have done my best to review them here.

But it’s the book With that’s significant today, because in it, we saw a foreshadowing of what we get in his newest book, What if Jesus Was Serious? which is a series of restaurant-napkin sketches, or if you prefer doodles.

I’ve written several times in several places about the trend toward visual media. An increasing number of people are visual learners and several books have emerged over the last few years which infographics to communicate material that would have heretofore been relegated to the Biblical reference genre. Also, let’s face it, we’ve seen a drop in the attention span of many readers, and a picture can be worth anywhere between 900 and 1100 words, right?

This time, it’s The Sermon on the Mount that Skye Jethani has in his sights. It’s radical teaching from Jesus, so one can be forgiven for asking Jesus the question, ‘Are you being serious?’ Or maybe more simply, ‘Really?’

He breaks Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 into 72 bite-size pieces and each receives a two-page spread with an appropriate doodle. If you’ve ever sketched something on the back of some scrap paper to get a point across you’ll appreciate the approach. There’s also quotations from a diverse group of writers across the Christian spectrum.

Who is the audience for this?

A few weeks ago I recommended the book to a woman to give to a very mature 11-year old who is checking out Christianity. I don’t know that he is the intended audience. I also referred to it as a possible graduation gift. That gets a bit closer, but still not the target reader.

Rather, Skye brings with him to this project many of his views on church and Christian institutional leadership. If you know him at all, you see that reflected clearly. I can see giving this book to a pastor — who possibly has a whole shelf of Sermon on the Mount-related titles by now — as an alternative way of looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. Equally, I can see giving it to a recent convert who wants to better understand the teachings of Jesus. The book is layered if you know what I mean.

In addition to binge-reading it, it can also be read devotionally. Skye writes a daily subscription devotional called With God Daily, which was no doubt the genesis of this project.

But in the spirit of visual learning, here’s a sample. This link takes you to nine of the project’s 72 chapters and may represent an earlier version and not the final text. You’ll appreciate both the simplicity of the presentation and the bite or edge that’s contained in his writing. You can also learn more at the publisher’s website.


Thanks to Martin at Parasource Canada (Moody’s Canadian distributor) for an opportunity to add Skye’s latest to my bookshelf. This one’s a keeper.

July 6, 2020

Pages from a Church-Planter’s Diary

Review: Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020)

Kevin Makins has assembled the story of planting Eucharist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada so vividly, that there were times I felt I could actually smell the buildings and hear the floors creaking in a succession of five inner city locations.  Eucharist Church is located in the urban core of a city that is now part of what is called the GTHA — the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area — and the book is packed with insights and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.

As I mentioned here just days ago, the period post-2000 brought a bounty of church growth books and no end of people making the attempt to create alternative church experiences that would make it past the critical five-year mark. It had been a long time since I’d looked at this particular book genre, but after some superficial email exchanges with Kevin about book publishing and distribution, something drew me to ask the publicist if any print copies were still available.

I’m so glad I did.

Why Would Anyone Go to Church? arrived on a Tuesday, but I didn’t pick it up until Friday. Before suppertime on Saturday I had consumed its 192 pages. The chapters are somewhat equal parts story and teaching and the story also resonated because my youngest son now lives in Hamilton, where he’s involved with two very different churches in the urban core so it was somewhat easier to picture the environs where the story takes place.

The story is told with generous amounts of humility. That the church has existed in five different locations in ten years offers one indication how it would be hard to proceed otherwise. But Kevin and his wife Meg also demonstrated great resolve and self-awareness as to what projects to accept and which ones to pass, as various opportunities arose. Their giftedness for such a church as this is evident, even if a ‘professional’ team of church planting experts didn’t agree.

Eucharist Church clearly lacks the homogeneity you see in the sprawling suburban churches conveniently located at the intersection of two freeways with a massive parking lot for Becky and her husband to park their van and take their well-dressed 2.4 children to a very age-specific Christian education program tailored just for them.

Rather it’s a mix.

Kevin writes,

Part of our family is toddling. They help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Part of our family is married. They practice love together for the sake of the community.

Part of our family is single. They strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Part of our family is contemplative. They model how to listen.

Part of our family is faith-filled. They urge us to keep hope alive.

Part of our family is doubting. They remind us that skepticism has its place.

Part of our family has immigrated. They carry in their bodies and culture a different side of the Imago Dei.

Part of our family is queer. They remind us that God is found uniquely among those who don’t fit neatly into our societal boxes.

Part of our family is building its career. They teach us about the importance of work and hustle.

Part of our family is retired. They remind us that there is life after work.

That list just scratches the surface.

It includes people who technically speaking, don’t actually come, at least to weekend services. It includes people who only show up after their latest relationship has crumbled, stop at the church for a reset, and return when the next relationship has collapsed.

The cycle of any given year might include a children’s ministry for which no children show up. Or a Sunday service where everyone stretches out on the pews and shuts their eyes and snoring is absolutely permitted.  Or perhaps a Sunday where, instead of a longer sermon, everybody just shouts out the name of the denomination or type of church they came from, and the list becomes quite lengthy.

It includes potluck dinners which are almost sacramental in nature, a statement I make in this context realizing it could be the subject of a whole other book.

Finally, it includes laughter; it includes tears. Sometimes a lot of tears.

This is church in the margins, the type of church I truly believe Jesus would choose to attend over the mall-like complex in suburbia; and this is a book about a team of people who were willing to risk and willing to get their hands dirty to make it happen.


I used an excerpt from the book last week at Christianity 201. I won’t say this is a typical passage, as I had to choose something devotional for C201, but I wanted to create further awareness of the book. You can read that section at this link.

To recommend a book like this and just continue to go on with Christian life as usual isn’t possible. I have the good fortune of being married to someone who herself demonstrated a great heart for people on the fringes and now serves a church that could hardly be called upscale. Before we got married, I spent several winters doing street ministry in nearby Toronto. Maybe that’s why I get this book.

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go to the mission field. My guess is there’s one not far from where you live.


A copy of Why Would Anyone Go to Church? was generously rushed to me by Graf-Martin Communications – Providing Integrating Marketing in Canada.

Additional media:

June 29, 2020

Gold in Exodus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

Guest Post by Aaron Wilkinson

If you grew up in the church, you probably know the story of the escaped slaves ending up in the desert and making themselves an aureate bovine to worship while Moses is up on the mountain being told that making golden cows-idols is a bad idea. (As an aside, gold-leaf hamburgers are a real thing served at some ridiculous restaurants.)

This story was probably told to you as it was to me: a moral tale on the importance of obedience and the dangers of idolatry. The question I had never asked was this: how did escaped slaves have gold? I recently read Exodus from beginning to end without skipping sections (possibly for the first time) and the story of the gold itself, and its eventual intended purpose, is rather interesting.

During the Burning Bush account near the start of the story, we read the Lord saying this:

“…You will not leave empty handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house for silver and gold jeweler and clothing. You will put them on your sons and your daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3: 21b,22 (Tree of Life Version). See also 11:2 where this command is repeated, in case you missed it the first time.

Shortly after, we read that it happened just as God had promised.

“So [the sons of Israel] acted according to the word of Moses. They asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. ADONAI gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and let them have what they asked for. So they plundered the Egyptians.” – 12: 35,36

Two things stand out to me at this point: first that this seems to be a move of willing compassion on the part of the slaves’ wealthy neighbors rather than a move to pay the Israelites to leave. A divine-inspired compassion, but still far from an extortion. Second, I think the “plundering” language is meant to be somewhat ironic. The outcome is the same (Israelites have gold, Egyptians have less) but the means is rather different.

I’ll have to skip over the plagues, the Passover, and other pertinent details of the story, but I do want to mention that I had never before realized that the crossing of the Reed Sea takes place during the night and the Egyptians’ demise coincides with dawn. So imagine the starry night sky and the gold- and silver-bedecked Israelites passing down below in the sea bed. Someone should paint that.

Kids’ Book Illustrators: Take notes.

Then we get to Sinai and the delivering of the 10 Commandments. Afterwards, in the same speech, God tells Moses: “Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves.” – 20:23

Moses relates these instructions and the Israelites respond with a resounding ‘by golly, we’re in!” Moses goes back up the mountain and receives more instruction.

” ‘Tell [the sons of Israel] to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him… Gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet cloth; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, seal skins, acacia wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastplate.” – 25:2-7

At this point, I think of my Minecraft world and how stoked I feel when I have stacks of materials to make into something awesome. You might think how it would feel if someone gave you a million dollars to make your dream home. The possibilities with what you can do with all these resources are limitless and God has a plan for all of it, which includes:

– The Ark of the Covenant, which has gold-covered wood sides, gold rings, gold-covered rods for carrying, and a solid gold cover!
– Gold statues of these Cherub creatures which are wildly amazing!
– This really awesome tree-shaped lampstand with floral details of blossoms and bulbs! (A burning bush, if you will. In art, the Chapter 3 bush is usually portrayed as leaf-less twigs, but what if it was actually covered in leaves and flowers?)
– All these ceremonial clothes with gold details and a cool tent made from all this flowing coloured cloth!

And lots more! This is going to be a monumental artistic masterpiece.

See? Twigs.

Leaving the gold aside for a moment, wrapping up all this instruction at 30:11 we read “Then ADONAI spoke to Moses…” Adonai has been speaking to Moses for like 5 chapters now, so why this phrase? Well, from here to the end of Chapter 31, this phrase appears 6 times. In these speeches, he promises to send his Spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, two artists who will make this all happen. And at the end, God calls Moses to remember the Sabbath “…for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.”

Six acts of speech. Two humans who will be intimately connected with God. Then finally the Sabbath. I do believe we are meant to see this story at mount Sinai as mirroring the Creation in Genesis. And if that’s the case then the next thing we should expect is a fall.

Imagine you just came home from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or whatever your local art supply store is. You just had a great idea for a painting and you just bought the most expensive high-quality materials you could get your hands on. You put the shopping bag on the table, take a quick trip to the washroom, and when you come out you see your kid has gotten into the paints, spilled most of them on the floor, and finger-painted a pile of dung onto the wall.

Now imagine you just got the blueprints for this awesome tabernacle and all these rad liturgical symbols and tools, and you head down the mountain and find out your brother made… a cow.

Sup, Broses? Check out this neat cow!

The tragedy of the golden calf is more than just an act of disobedience and idolatry. Those are surely important aspects, perhaps even the most important aspects, but these are compounded by subverted artistic potential. The scope of God’s creative vision was vast and intricate, and Aaron made… a cow.

“Then [Moses] took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the surface of the water and made [the sons of Israel] drink it.”

I’m left with some questions. If this story is meant to evoke the Creation and Fall, can we infer backwards that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually served a vast and intricate purpose? Would there have been a Knowledge of Good and Evil pie in making? Is Israel’s punishment here supposed to evoke the curse on the serpent in Genesis to eat dust? Was the tabernacle any less golden then it could have been for this waste of material? What is the “gold” in my life that God wants me to save for a special purpose? I’m sure I could ask more.

Now there’s Gold in the Garden of Eden, and there’s Gold in the New Jerusalem. There’s Gold everywhere in between. There’s entirely too much gold for me to consider all at once, but if I’m patient then I’m sure God will show me what to do with it.

° ° ° °

My fellow Tolkien fans may appreciate both the motifs of the Tree the gives Light (Menorah / Trees of Valinor), and the deliverance that comes at dawn (Reed Sea / Helm’s Deep.) Almost makes you wonder if Tolkien was some kinda Bible-reader.


Aaron Wilkinson graduated in English and Theatre from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas. All three of his gig-economy jobs were completely shut down by the pandemic.

June 27, 2020

When You Try to Make a Difference at the Local Church Level

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:08 am

Not only would more guys make the group more dynamic, but we might get better toast.

I know my spiritual gift: I have the gift of networking. I love to connect people with books, DVDs, organizations, teachers and other people.

Today’s the last Saturday in the month. Normally, I’d be attending a Men’s Breakfast thing at the church we attended up to mid-2018. The church where my wife now serves on staff (which is where I’ve been going most often) doesn’t have anything similar for its small cohort of men so I’ve been encouraging the pastor of the latter to formalize a relationship with the former, or at the very least simply announce the thing. The leader of the group is not only open to guys from the other church attending, he’s been pretty well expecting they would, with my enthusiastic promotion. I’ve invited a number individually myself.

The problem is, I’ve failed. No guy from Church ‘B’ has ever attended this event at Church ‘A’ and it bothers me immensely that in this teeny, tiny area, I’ve failed to make a difference.

It’s not the first time.

I often find myself waving the flag for some event only to find myself alone in passion for that particular activity. What’s the saying? ‘A leader who has no one following is simply a person going for a walk in the park.’ (Or something like that.)

So I’ve found myself able to blog and tweet over the past ten-plus years and make those aforementioned networking connections eagerly received by people in England and Australia and South Africa, but I can’t get a dozen guys in my own hometown to show up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning for some fellowship, scrambled eggs with toast, and a 15-minute devotional.

I think they would benefit, and the existing members of the group would benefit by connecting with more people.

If I could just make it happen.

June 24, 2020

In the 1970s and 80s, Church Planting, Wasn’t Always “Churches”

In 1987, I wrote an 8-page document entitled, “Proposal for a New Kind of Church in Metro Toronto;” went to a copy store and had 200 copies printed to younger Evangelical leaders. The particular church itself didn’t happen — perhaps it was ahead of its time or perhaps God knew that I just wasn’t ready to lead something that significant — but it’s with some regrets I consider that I could have been known today as the founder of _______ Church. I’d like to think that because the recipients of that document were especially hand-picked that its distribution had some impact.

By 2007, I was part of a cohort of people from different cities who met monthly to discuss what had become a boom in church planting. People who didn’t quite know how to spell ecclesiology were talking about it. Lay people. Not clergy. The term was well-traveled.

This was reflected on the blogs, and I started one myself on a now-defunct religion forum at USAToday, and it was also the subject of many, many books that were published, many of which I carried at a small chain of Christian bookstores I owned. Our small group met every six weeks in a city chosen because it was somewhere in the middle. We continued to have some contact when the group disbanded. The phrase “a different kind of church” was on everyone’s lips and alternative churches were becoming mainstream.

I’ve had a lot of opinions on this subject, but a key word search this morning showed that not all of them have landed here at Thinking Out Loud. I would have thought they had, because this subject is something close to me.

Someone once put it this way,

“Church planting is the extreme sport of ministry.”

In 2004, I started a church of my own. Transformation Church was located in downtown Cobourg, a small town about 70 minutes east of Toronto, Canada. Our first series was 17 weeks entitled, “Ground Zero: Where Everything Ends and Everything Begins.” Just four years out from the World Trade Towers falling in New York City, the series name had more resonance then than it does now. That church ran until March of 2006. (It’s a long story.)

I was reminded then that while it’s probably a good idea to be theologically trained to administer a church, you don’t need a degree to start a church. Of two significant ones in our town, one was founded by a woman they simply refer to as Grandma Caffin. Another came out of a meeting of five families at a picnic table in the park. Most of the people attending those churches — Baptist and Alliance respectively — probably have no idea as to their inauspicious beginnings.

But today, in June 2020, I want to return to the title of today’s piece, but to do so involves one more time travel.

Back in 2008, I wrote an article about a weekly Saturday night event in Toronto called Reach Out.

The setting:  The first Reach Out took place in a Lutheran (I think) church that was built overlooking a large river valley parkland. The front of the church was all glass, so when you looked towards the front, you looked out on a beautiful view. (A later incarnation of Reach Out took place in a downtown church. I only attended that once, and it was so packed I had to sit on the stairs.)

The motto:  “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”  Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”  (NIVMOL – stands for NIV more or less) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say. That way nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog!”

The format:  People gathering talking, mostly in their teens, 20s and 30s; then they would sit down; and then — I don’t know how else to say this — a holy hush would fall over everyone.  What a moment! There would be silence for a minute or two, and then someone would start playing their guitar.   There was blended worship.  This is where I first learned “Oh, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and I had never heard younger people sing classical hymns with such passion. Then there was an extended prayer time. I can’t remember if we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 — I’ve got this part confused with another group I belonged to — but there was plenty of opportunity for people to share requests. Then a teaching.  Then some worship.

I don’t know if we considered it church or not. The test would be to go back in time and ask the people attending if they also had a connection on Sunday mornings. It was just an event that happened and we didn’t try to over analyze. The problem with dissecting a cat is that once you’ve got it all figured out how it works, the cat is dead. Today, Twitter provides us with far too much dissection.

There were other similar things in Toronto. A Christian Church on A Hill, Catacombs, Shekinah. Sadly, I never made it those. I did frequent Christian coffee houses — there were so many in Toronto that several people undertook to publish directories — and a monthly camp reunion (for a camp I’d never attended) called Power and Praise.

Part of what got me thinking about this was watching a YouTube documentary this week about Love Inn, a ministry in Ithica, New York founded in the 1970s by Christian radio personality Scott Ross and part of the Jesus People revolution which was taking place at the time. Watching the 8mm film footage reminded me of the whole vibe.

I know what you’re thinking. When are you going to get to the title of today’s article?

The point I want to make is that on reflection, those early events were created in lieu of church planting. The people who today might be scouting for community centers and high schools to hold weekend service were back then content to put together Tuesday night or Friday night events. They were interdenominational which means the people who attended, often under 30, were part of other fellowships on the weekend, including some who were mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic.

These days, the energy that might go into promoting something like this at a local level is often put toward conferences. They have the advantage of reminding everyone that ‘it’s a big tent’ and that we’re part of a larger family, as well as being able to bring top name speakers and musicians, but they do get expensive and unwieldy.

What about where you live? Is there a weekly Christian event that’s not church your city is known for? Or do people simply attend the megachurch for one service and then go to their own smaller church for connection to family and longtime friends?

I think that gatherings like the ones I described are still needed and hopefully — after the pandemic — we might see new expressions of what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

June 22, 2020

The ‘Gospel Truth’ The Enemy Wants You to Believe

Review: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared Wilson (Nelson Books)

Although this title released in January, I’m just getting to it now. I wasn’t sure if I would do a review — I normally don’t unless I’ve read every page, which I’ve done here — but after completing two of its eight chapters I decided I was all in.

First, I need to address the giraffe in the room. Regular readers here will know that this review is highly uncharacteristic of me, because you’ll also know that Jared Wilson is associated with The Gospel Coalition, which represents a doctrinal position on some issues which is light years the opposite of my own. I decided there was enough about the book to interest me, and certainly enough to commend for giving as a gift to someone you know whose idea of Christianity consists of motivational platitudes which are often not contained in Scripture.

So I won’t belabor that point, except in a mention of the penultimate chapter. (See below). So let’s dive in!

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity or still tracking at a very elementary level. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today. Let’s list them:

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

These are general enough and timeless enough that the book doesn’t address current social issues, although some thing are alluded to. I think that timelessness is one of its enduring qualities.

The chapter on living your truth echoes the whole postmodern question of subjective truth; an apologetic issue that is still very much with us.

The section on feelings/reality is actually a good lesson in hope; that having Christ we “defy what is visible.” I included a short excerpt from that chapter on the weekend at C201; click here to read.

The discussion based on “God helps those who helps themselves” notes that since the fall, we’ve been “wired for works.”

I want to share with you all the various instances where I underlined sentences and circled key words, but space does not permit. (It’s never a good idea to write a review longer than the book.) In most cases, the discussion was advanced to the point where someone would need to be a little further down the road to understand everything, and yet naive enough in terms of their having perhaps adopted some of these non-Biblical maxims.

There are three more ‘lies’ I think could well have been included here:

  • “everything happens for a reason” – often based in a misreading of Romans 8:28
  • anything that riffs on a misreading of Jeremiah 29:11
  • “all roads lead to God” – as Universalism continues to creep into Evangelical thought

and perhaps you can think of others. Maybe there will be a book two! (The author suggested “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”)

So…about that second to last chapter.

This chapter is all about penal substitutionary atonement. It’s a major linchpin in the core doctrines of people in the Reformed/Calvinist world. The chapter’s premise is based on a look at the book Lies We Believe About God written by The Shack author Wm. Paul Young. I’ve seen some of the positive fruit of The Shack and for the right person, I would still recommend it. But there were things in the Lies… book that concerned me and I intend to have a second look at it.

Jared Wilson directly addressed one of my concerns with his view on substitutionary atonement, namely his own objection to the idea that God poured out his wrath on sin, which is where I land the plane. He said that throughout scripture, God’s wrath is always poured out on people and brought many references. In and of itself, that wasn’t enough to change my mind, since my view — in fact my perspective on much of what the modern Reformed movement propagates — is based on a different picture of God, though I admit, not necessarily Paul Young’s view.

No, my objection to the inclusion of this chapter is that it was out of place with the other seven. It addressed a statement one doesn’t hear in the marketplace as they might hear the others. It went in a heavy theological direction where the other chapters didn’t. I almost felt that Wilson wrote this out of an obligation to his tribe, the same way the reigning Popes have to be sure to include a statement about Mother Mary in each major address they give and each book they write.

That said, I stand by my assertion that this would be a suitable book to give to someone who is doing Christianity-lite and might be harboring the beliefs in the other seven statements. Especially if you’re walking with them to continue the discussion. It’s a good title for giveaway, or even as the basis for an entry-level Bible study for seekers or post-seekers, though I’d lead it as a seven-week study.


For a very short excerpt from the book check out this one at Christianity 201. A longer excerpt from the chapter on the wrath of God appears at The Gospel Coalition. For the publisher overview of the book, click this link.

Today’s review title was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

June 16, 2020

The Tomb of the Prophets

This was originally supposed to appear on Saturday at our devotional blog, Christianity 201, but due to a glitch in scheduling, it didn’t go out until I discovered the problem yesterday evening. Again, while I don’t want Thinking Out Loud to simply become a mirror site for C201, I put a lot of work in to this one, and furthermore it was a rare request, in this case from my oldest son. So you get to read it here today.

NIV.Luke.11v47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.

Throughout scripture we find definite definite support for landmarks and memorials. We’ve covered this theme here at least three times previously:

So why do those who built tombs for the prophets show up among the list of “woes” proclaimed by Jesus? Is it suddenly wrong to remember those who have gone before? There must be something else going on.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes that:

The second woe for the scribes is for their support of the slaying of the prophets. Now this woe contains irony: “you build the tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.” They built these tombs, no doubt, to show how they honored the prophets. But Jesus argues that in fact it shows their support for killing these divine agents! By building the tombs, he says, you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did. Here is one of Jesus’ fundamental critiques of the leadership: they have been disobedient as their ancestors were…

The Wikipedia reference for “tomb of the prophets” states,

The Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi… is an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. According to a medieval Jewish tradition also adopted by Christians, the catacomb is believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew Bible prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th-5th centuries BC. Archaeologists have dated the three earliest burial chambers to the 1st century BC, thus contradicting the tradition.

Is that what’s referenced here?

As with all adventures in Biblical archeology, the journey is (pardon the pun) rather rocky. One article I read suggested that Haggai was buried near the tomb of the prophets. I think this is an example of a situation where we can get mired in the details — ‘Is this the right city?’ ‘Were they from the same family? ‘Was that the first cup or the third cup?’ — and miss what the passage is there to teach us. We shouldn’t get too caught up in what the Bible does teach us, especially when referenced to a 21st Century online encyclopedia in which many people (including me) have editing privileges.

Matthew’s version of this, in chapter 23, verses 29-32 is more detailed, but for greater context (and since it also mentions tombs) I’ve picked it up here starting two verses earlier:

NIV.Matthew.23v27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

On this Matthew passage, the website BibleStudyTools.com quotes John Gill,

Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their fathers had done to the prophets of the Old.

What can we apply from this? The Wycliffe Bible Commentary has an interesting take:

The martyrs of one generation become the heroes of the next. It was easier for the children to build monuments to the prophets than for their fathers to obey them.

And perhaps the tombs were to ‘seal in’ those prophets as The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary suggests:

Although they built elaborate tombs for the prophets, they were really at one with their ancestors who had killed them by making sure they would stay dead. God in His wisdom had foreseen what they would do; their attitude to the prophets and apostles of the church would simply be the culmination of a long history of persecution of his messengers and judgment would follow. (emphasis added)

The International Bible Commentary echoes this,

The only prophets they honor are dead prophets.

This is the constant challenge of scripture and Christian teaching. If certain things are true — in their case it was the words of the prophets — then it may mean that I am going to need to make adjustments to my life.

I love how Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Study Bible indicated these types of passages using a wrench as a symbol to represent adjustment. (The Bible is based on the author’s “7 Realities of Experiencing God” of which #6 is, “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”)

The Life Application Study Bible confirms this, noting in reference to Jesus that even as he is speaking, they are in fact doing the exact same thing. They are choosing not to answer the call for adjustment, response,

God’s prophets have been persecuted and murdered throughout history. But this generation was rejecting more than a human prophet — they were rejecting God himself.

There is always the danger of ourselves doing the same thing: Covering over a situation where our ancestors were complicit in something we would rather forget by appearing to be taking the opposite side. It appears noble, but not when we recognize that motivation is itself incorrect, and not until we realize that the heart attitudes are common to us today and require repentance.

 

June 15, 2020

Racism in America: How the U.S. Ended Up Where it Is

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

Systemic racism is not exclusive to the U.S. A few days ago I mentioned a guest speaker at Hillsong Church in Sydney who said that 432 people have died in Australia while in police custody. They face the same issues we do in terms of how they treat non-white and indigenous people.

Phil Vischer has a serious side. I wish it came out more often, the Holy Post Podcast tends to be rather laid-back affair, with Skye Jethani left to carry the bulk of the more pointed commentary. But on this video, he collaborated with his brother Rob (who is trained as a lawyer) to produce this 18-minute explanation of how the U.S. got to be in the state it currently finds itself.

I want to be part of helping see this get more views.

While we’re on the subject, I want to embed another 3-minute video here. Diane Strickland included this clip in her sermon on Sunday at The Meeting House. It was recorded before the current crisis.

And since things come in threes (whatever that means), I want to include the 6-minute video from The Bible Project which was posted at Christianity 201 yesterday.


The Bible Project video was also featured on yesterday’s devotional on racism at Christianity  201, our sister blog. To read, click this link.

June 13, 2020

Christian ‘Cancel’ Culture: The New ‘Farewell’

Invoking names like Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, Rob Bell, etc., the discussion was quite lively over the past 24 hours when Christian journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey posted,

This morning, before my feet had touched the floor, I had read each and every one of the nearly 200 comments which were in the thread at that point.

If you’ve been aware of the modern culture term, “cancelled”

  • To dismiss something/somebody. To reject an individual or an idea (Urban Dictionary)
  • Canceling, today, is used like a massive, informal boycott when someone or something in the public eye offends … or when we’re just over them. The exact origin of this usage is unknown, but as is similar with most word trends, one clever quip sparks a cascade of copycat usage, and suddenly things we never imagined uttering are part of our vernacular. (Dictionary.com)
  • To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person. The act of canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Christians are good at boycotting institutions (Disney), supporting other things (Chick-Fil-A) and wavering somewhere in the middle (Hobby Lobby). It’s something we — especially American Christians — do extremely well. Living blissfully as in a world of black and white before there was color. Or even greyscale.

►► You don’t need to be using the Twitter app to follow the link to Sarah’s post, but be sure to read through as much of the tread as you can. Just click this link.

Here’s two I especially liked; though the sub-themed posts about Rob Bell were especially interesting:

(Love that last term; border maintenance.)

What do you think? Is cancelling a more final-sounding word than farewell-ing? How does grace fit in?

 

June 11, 2020

Cookie-Cutter Book Recommendations

Two days ago I watched a YouTube video with a title something like, “Top Ten Books Every Christian Should Read” that had been posted two or three years back by a popular Christian blogger. It came up in the YouTube/Google algorithm as something recommended for me, but I also considered the possibility that Google is being paid for search engine optimization.

As I scrolled through the list, my reaction, to use the words of a well-known climate activist was, “How dare you!”

As someone who has been blessed by Christian books since my pre-teen years — which is a long time ago — I have books that I’ve enjoyed on a personal level. They’re part of my story, and if people ask, I share what some of them were, but not to the degree of recommending that they need to read them.

And as someone who has spend a lifetime working in Christian publishing at both the wholesale and retail level (and on the fringes of the acquisitions and author development level) I don’t think I have ever recommended any of these books to the people with whom I’ve been in contact.

Mind you, seasoned Christians, veteran Christ followers, whatever you call them, usually know what they’re looking for. The people looking for advice are often wanting to get started at going deeper and for that I have suggestions. (As I’ve stated recently, keeping up with those means there were times my own reading wasn’t as deep as it could have been. If starting over, my library would be more InterVarsity Press and less Thomas Nelson/Zondervan, but what do you do if the former isn’t cooperating and the latter actually knows how to market books?)

My wife suggested I simply publish my own list.

I also know that any ‘Top Ten’ lists are considered clickbait, and when you are a very successful blogger the pressure to publish is immense. I say that as a once moderately successful blogger who felt compelled to produce new content every day for more than ten years.

I guess that, although I’ve poked at this topic repeatedly, what was printed was simply a list of ’10 Books Every Reformed Christian Should Read.’ That would describe it, right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t even that. It was a list of ’10 Books Which One Reformer Thinks Every Other Reformed Christian Ought to Read.’

1. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
2. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
3. Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur
4. The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges
5. Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen
6. Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore
7. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
8. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
9. The Pleasures of God by John Piper
10. The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Yes, there’s a woman on the list, but honestly, until two days ago, after the aforementioned lifetime in Christian publishing, I had never heard of her or the book, or had an inquiry about it. Perhaps she paid for search engine optimization, too.

Lists like this need to be subjective. It reminds me of an instructional article that shaped me years ago as to how to respond when someone asks what is the best Bible translation. “Best for whom?” we were taught to say.

Not knowing where this list is going to land, I would not begin to recommend these books, nor assume that the recipient fits into the “Every Christian” mold that is presumed. People are unique. Their journey with Christ is personal.

“How dare you!”

 

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.