Thinking Out Loud

February 1, 2022

John Mark Comer on Culture Non-Conformity

The phrase has grown antiquated.

The seven-letter phrase was standard in Evangelical preaching in the mid-20th Century: “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” It was the stuff of spiritual warfare seminars, revival meetings and Pentecostal preaching. And then, like some other words and phrases, it became outmoded.

That is, until Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer (Waterbrook, 2021), though this time around, the order is reversed and Comer considers “the devil, the flesh and the world,” and in ways the seminar leader, revival leader and Pentecostal preacher of days gone by might not recognize.

Like his previous work, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer is all about awakening people to recognize the ways in which they have become conformed to popular culture. Or trapped by it. Or enslaved to it. As much as I wanted to review that book when it released, as a regular listener to online sermons at Bridgetown Church in Portland where, until recently, Comer was lead pastor, I’ve heard much of the sermon material which gave birth to both books and the link between them is so strong, I can’t help think there’s got to a third book to complete the trilogy.

But Comer’s methodology is always somewhat subversive. What if you, while taking a firm stand against popular culture and the hold it has on people, were to quote the culture’s own poets, authors, playwrights, and spokespeople? It’s not a new idea, Jesus and Paul walked that road before, and unless you’re extremely conversant on things written by academics, trend-spotters and cultural analysts, you’re going to indirectly hear from voices which are new to you.

But what if you don’t believe in the devil?

Comer is very charitable toward readers who are in a different space. He’s created a book that you could hand to that non-church-attending neighbour or coworker or relative and say, ‘Check this out and tell me what you think.’ The use of the aforementioned ‘secular’ pundits and experts helps facilitate that type of book-giving. The Bible is also generously applied to the discussion, but the book’s primary text is devoid of chapter and verse scripture references which can only be found in the endnotes. There are also quotations from Christian writers ranging from the Desert Fathers to Comer’s mentors and contemporaries.

In calling us to resist the pressures of the dominant culture, Comer seems to include both an individual and corporate response. In other words, a mixture of ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can my Christian community do?’ in observing and reacting to the world in which we live.

For the ADHD readers among us, each of the three sections contains a two-page recap with key points on how we fight and overcome the devil, the flesh and the world in this cultural moment.

Live No Lies is not however a spiritual warfare manual in the sense of other books you’ve read before. It’s more of a manifesto, seeking to challenge and inspire readers to build a different type of kingdom.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource (distributor of Waterbrook Press titles to the Canadian Christian bookstore market) for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a book I was dying to read!

December 29, 2021

The Philip Yancey I Never Knew

This was not the book I was expecting. It was also the book I almost set aside without finishing. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent Books, 2021) is the sometimes gut-wrenching story of the early life of one of today’s most popular Christian authors. It is not a pretty story.

Raised in an ultra-conservative Bible Belt family by a single mother, it’s a story of hardship on every level. Having read nearly half of Yancey’s two dozen books, I thought I knew some of the backstory, but nothing prepared for me for these revelations.

After reading the first forty pages just before turning out the lights for the evening, I set the book down and that night, sleep just didn’t come. It would be a week before I would pick up my copy and continue, and with some of the worst of the timeline behind me, I more eagerly continued to the end.

But the end was not what I expected. I knew of Yancey’s work with Campus Life magazine and co-editing The Student Bible, and co-authoring three books with leprosy doctor Paul Brand. But only two of those three surface for a fleeting mention toward the end. The focus here is on earlier times; younger days.

I’m sure he would agree with me that the memoir is a story of family dynamics, and from the outset it appears that the mother-son relationship will dominate. However, in later chapters — and this isn’t really a spoiler — it becomes more about the relationship with his brother Marshall Yancey, and the contrast between two boys who share so many things in common at the beginning, and then arriving at entirely opposite places. In a different world, it might be Marshall’s autobiography people were reading.

Over the years I’ve introduced dozens of people to the writing of Philip Yancey. If pressed, I often say that the draw for me is that as journalist and not a pastor, I am struck by the way he wrestles with scripture and theology.

Now I understand why. I understand why it’s necessary, why it’s imperative for him to fully work out anything he’s going espouse in print. He places a high value on raw honesty and transparency. He’s not always interested in providing the right answers as he is in the process it takes to arrive there. Only then will the answers suffice.

Living one country removed from the U.S., there’s so much of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s America that never touched my own experience. Still, our family’s yearly car trips to Florida meant driving through the southern states, and particularly in the years before the interstate highway system was completed, there were snapshots in the book — especially those portraying extreme poverty — that brought flashbacks to things I’d seen from the backseat of my parents’ car.

The guest speakers at Yancey’s summer camp were not entirely unfamiliar names, and the names of the Christian magazines his mother subscribed to also resonated. But my contact was fleeting whereas he was immersed in that milieu, and it had repercussions on every choice with which he was confronted and how he and his brother saw the world.

For those for whom this is a foreign experience, the book is a necessary tool for processing Evangelical history in the post-war, mid-20th century. No wonder that on book tours, he had said, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write.”

It was on such a book tour years ago that I got to meet my favorite writer. I shook his hand and thanked him for all that his books have meant. He had just released What Good Is God? and the publicist had handed me a complimentary copy and I waited until all the purchasers of the book had left and then asked him if he would autograph mine. Being last in line, if I had known things about him that I now know, I might have extended our conversation by a few extra minutes discussing the Christian world which I got to see from a bit of a distance, and that he lived in every waking moment.

I also find now, I’m longing for a part two. How that upbringing shaped those experiences working for a mainstream Evangelical magazine like Campus Life or a publisher like Zondervan, with whom his books were released. Perhaps part two consists of re-reading some of those classics — What’s So Amazing About Grace, or The Jesus I Never Knew or even Soul Survivor — through the lens of what’s been revealed here in Where the Light Fell.

For those familiar with Philip Yancey’s previous works, this is a must-read. For those who have completed other recent books which deal with the history of Evangelical Protestantism in the United States in the past century, again a must-read.

Just be prepared to recognize this as the story not just of one person, but of a mother and two sons, because that’s the essence of what you’ll find.


Thanks to Martin Smith of Parasource, Canadian distributor for Convergent for providing a chance to read this when I’d given up hope of getting a review copy!

December 4, 2021

Rachel Held Evans’ Wholehearted Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:55 pm

There might have been moments as you’ve read this pages when you’ve felt frustration and even despair, because it has seemed as if I am asking you to do more, try something different, think in a way you’ve never thought before… (pp 173-4)

Fifty years from now, all things being equal, I can envision a world where the words of Rachel Held Evans are being studied, long after the works of many of today’s popular authors are no longer considered. In the face of criticism for her approach to Christian belief, she was always gracious, and to those for whom her writing fully resonated, it was as though she sparked an entire movement.

Wholehearted Faith (HarperOne, 2021, no subtitle) is in part the next book Rachel Held Evans was working on before her untimely death in 2019, and excerpts from her blog posts. That being said, I was expecting a rather disjointed collection of chapters, but honestly I have to confess I didn’t know where the book manuscript ended and the other material began. Her writing is just … so her.

Some of that continuity is owing to longtime friend Jeff Chu, also pictured, who assembled the final manuscript.

Sometimes in reviewing a book, unless you make notes, your final impressions are tied to later chapters, not unlike the situation where your most vivid memories of a loved one are those final days of old age and not the vitality of their youth. That’s how I was impacted when, toward the end of the book (pp 163-6) there is a detailed description of Rachel taking the hate mail she received electronically, printing out the worst of it, and then folding those printed pages into origami “swans and then sailboats, flowers and then foxes.”

You have to either laugh or cry as you read that.

Earlier in the chapter (p 159) she remembers her own words posted to Twitter on hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden; “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.” Forget the adage about lemons and lemonade; when the world seems full of hate, you make paper “birds and ships, flowers and kites.”

But why would anyone send Rachel hate mail?

I suppose there is simply something unsettling about someone who challenges our conventional lenses for looking at spiritual life; who states truths without falling back on the familiar words and phrases that have become clichés.

Or if they openly wrestle with doubts and misgivings.

…Most people live with some uncertainty in life, even with — especially with — complex religious and moral questions. Indeed, as I began writing about my experiences on my blog and in my books, a whole community of kindred spirits emerged. Many of them felt as lonely in their questioning as I at times have. They expressed through their letters, emails, and social media posts the affirmation that every spiritual wanderer and religious misfit deeply craves — that I was not alone in this. (p 37)

Later she writes that

…certainty isn’t faith. And faith is marked by the humility to let yourself question — which is not a shortcoming but an acknowledgement of one’s humanity. (p 56)

And that simply, is where some of the hate mail possibly originated. Many people in our churches simply crave a doctrinal system of belief that dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ and ties a bow together on top. A faith that leaves no room for mystery; that doesn’t allow that, as Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter,’ presently “we see in part.”

But Rachel knew that need for theological tidiness all too well from personal experience.

This system was comforting in the way that math can be comforting, or the perfect creases, or a row of books neatly arranged. The quintessence of Enlightenment rationalism, the system had its own tidy, self-reinforcing, seemingly airtight and therefore undoubtedly divinely inspired logic. (p 70)

This up-ending of the theological apple cart will definitely produce some unfriendly mail, but the consideration of other possibilities is also what drew a greater number of people to Rachel’s writing and later conferences she helped organize.

She then modeled for her readers a more grace-filled approach to responding to the people who are theologically different.

After Christ’s departure, the first apostles allowed themselves to be changed by the goodness they encountered in the world. When law-abiding, kosher-eating, Roman -hating Peter encountered a centurion who feared God and gave to the poor, Peter, to his own astonishment, said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Then Peter even went so far as to share a meal, as Jesus might have, with his new friend. “You are well aware that it is against are law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile,” he said to Cornelius. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (p 115)

As Jesus might have. Indeed.

If Peter had been closed to such God-shaped possibilities, we wouldn’t have Acts chapter 10. Early on in the book she allows for the possibility of cultivating a faith which occasionally, like the GPS on your car when you’ve turned two blocks too soon simply says, “Recalculating.” Those are my words, but I think Rachel would concur. Her description is,

…But like so many things, faith is best held with an open hand, nurtured by both boundaries and improvisation, tradition and innovation. What a gift my parents gave my sister and me in their blessing of holy exploration. (p 38)

concluding that

…as she [Anne Lamott] had chronicled the meanderings of the heart as well as anyone, and as she famously puts it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

When I read that I found it reassuring. If uncertainty is a marker of faith, then I must be pretty darn faithful… (p 40)

She adds,

I believe not in spite of all my questions but because of them. I believe not in spite of all the theological points that I undoubtedly have gotten wrong — and the ones I’ve gotten right — but because of them. I believe not in spite of my sins but because of them, just as I am — and just as all those saints and sinners who came before me. (p 47)

This is a long review, and I’ve excerpted far more quotations than reviewers are usually permitted, but I wanted you to get of taste of why Rachel’s words are so enduring and so transformational for so many. She’s all-in. Wholeheartedly.


Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada (HCCP) for the opportunity to read and own a copy of Wholehearted Faith.

 

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.


Read an excerpt from Searching for Enough at this link.

April 30, 2021

Change: Resisting vs. Embracing

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:25 am

A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend…

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 – The Voice Bible (selected)

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
A time to tear apart, a time to bind together

Ecclesiastes 3:2-9 – The Message (selected)

I am creating something new.
There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts,
streams in thirsty lands.

Isaiah 43:19 – CEV

I think it was Skye Jethani who I first heard use the phrase, “The Myth of Continuity.” The meanings I just looked up are above my pay grade, but I believe he was referring to the more common state of believing that things will always continue just as they are. This can be true in both a micro and macro sense.

In my lifetime, I’ve known people who seem to thrive on change. Perhaps you know them also. People who have had several quite different careers. People who have lived in very distant cities. People who can re-invent themselves at the drop of a hat to adapt to new challenges and new situations.

Then there are those who are happy for each day to be somewhat the same; somewhat predictable. They take the line in the poem attributed to James Francis Allen, “One Solitary Life” which says that Jesus “never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born” as prescriptive, as a model for life.

In Greek culture there were four different concepts of love. Growing up in the church I heard many sermons that helped me remember philia (the love we have for a brother and maybe the hobby or activity about which we are most passionate); eros (the sexual love that the kids in the youth group were told to save for marriage); and agape (the unselfish love which when lived out places others above ourselves.) But I heard rather varied definitions of storge.

Storge (stor•gee) is described in the things I’m reading as I type this as a love between parents and children, but although the usage isn’t common, I was taught it can also mean the love of things familiar. And we all see that. The familiar, the routines, the rituals, the personal traditions. It’s that feeling you get when you attend the family reunion each year, or that particular sequence of events on Christmas Eve that start with the eggnog — that’s strange, I seem to have set my glass down somewhere and now I can’t remember where — to the reading of Christ’s birth narrative and the opening of gifts.

The enemy of storge when used in that sense would seem to be change and disruption. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory takes the events one might encounter in a lifetime and gives them a stress rating from 11 (receiving a minor traffic ticket) to 100 (the death of one’s spouse.) Even seemingly positive events like an outstanding personal achievement (25 points) or taking out a loan to purchase a new car (17 points) or the birth or adoption of a new family member (39 points); each of these can be stressful in their own way.

Personally, while (for example) I love to travel, I don’t think that overall I relate to change well. Especially the unexpected kind. Or the changes that bring with it an entry into the unknown. I want to be in control.

My first roller coaster ride in my life was Space Mountain at Disney on a day that they were doing a fuller “lights out” ride through the darkness than what they provide today. (I should also add that nobody told me ahead that it was a roller coaster.) I don’t care if the coaster jerks or drops but I want to be sitting so I can see the track or see the car ahead. I want a road map. I want a copy of the program for the play.

Changes are inevitable, however. Heraclitus (you remember him, right?) said that “The only constant in life is change;” and commenting on this Plato added, “Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”

On our trips to Cuba, the tour guides will often remind the Canadians and the Europeans that Cuba doesn’t have the seasons we know: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rather they have the “regular” season interrupted by the “rainy” season and “hurricane” season. When I was in California the first time, it was strange to see the Christmas decorations being placed without the atmospheric and meteorological markers I associated with them.

But at least Cuba has some variance. I do suspect there are parts of equatorial Africa where every day is truly the same. Still, people who have moved to these type of climates will tell you that after a certain number of years, they began to miss winter; they began to yearn for some snow, not in the storge sense, but in terms of needing the escape from the sameness; from the too easily predictable.

Sometimes we need things that get our adrenaline going, and while the stimulus may not be positive at the outset, much depends how we challenge that energy; how we choose to dissipate the stress.

Which brings us back to the concept of seasons. In the Evangelical milieu in which I find myself, seasons of life is a phrase often repeated. Something ends, and the conclusion is that “it was for a season.”

The question is, do we embrace such changes of season or do we resist? I think our personality types (God-given personality types, I should add) determine that outcome. 

From Christianity 201:

If God uses seasons to prepare us, then I believe that you can be fruitful no matter what the season is in your life. You can glean from each season of your life things that will grow you and produce fruit for the future. You may be looking at your life right now and see a desert wasteland, but Isaiah 43:19 says that God is about to do something new. He’ll make rivers in the desert so that you can produce fruit and grow. No matter how dark life gets or how abundant your blessings are, God has a design and a purpose to grow you through this season.
– Chris Hendrix

From an older article here:

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!
– Andy Elmes

If we really believe that God is moving us on to the next stage of life, we’ll thrive on the challenge, even with its short-term pain. If we’re really trusting Him, we’ll see where the next chapter takes us.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to … well, you know who you are.

February 1, 2021

Dan Kimball Tackles The Bible-Reading Elephants in the Room

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 am

Review: How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball

I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take a friend to your church and had that moment where, seeing everything through your friend’s eyes, you suddenly see everything that is happening in that space through an entirely different lens.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. We pick it up every day and are often quick to skip over potentially troublesome passages because we know the bigger story, we know the outcome, and we know the divine author. But your friends get tripped up in the first few chapters and then, human nature being what it is, are quick to write off the book completely.

Dan Kimball’s newest book How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020; and winner of the ‘World’s Longest Subtitle’ award) is an attempt to confront the elephant in the room; many elephants actually of which he focuses on six:

  • unusual and antiquated laws given to Israel
  • the relationship in both Old and New Testaments with the practice of slavery
  • the role of women in society; in Jewish religious life; in the modern church
  • the relationship between the Bible and science; particularly in Genesis
  • Christianity’s claim of exclusivity over all other religious viewpoints
  • the so-called “texts of terror” and seemingly gratuitous use of violence

One of the striking things about the tone of the book is the degree to which Dan Kimball is at ease discussing such things. He understands the mindset of those not yet part of the family, so to speak, and both addresses them directly, but gives the rest of us greater insight into their way of thinking. This is actually the third book by Kimball I have in my library. The title of one says it all: They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which again reflects how conversant he is with reactions to Christianity in the broader marketplace.

So two potential audiences emerge here: Those needing a seeker-friendly addressing of the problematic passages in scripture, and those wishing to better understand how to engage those discussions. Because of his relaxed writing style, I can also see this being a useful tool for homeschool families, though some might not appreciate his treatment of the seven different models for examining creation.

His treatment of the serpent tempting Eve reveals this as a wordplay, with the original having three possible meanings and the text incorporating all three in different ways. His nod to Christianity at the time of Galileo reminds us that the church hasn’t always been at the forefront of scientific understanding.

There isn’t a bibliography as such, but in the footnotes, we see material was drawn from writers such as Michael Heiser, John Walton, Paul Copan, The Bible Project, and a book I’m now anxious to look at, In the Beginning We Misunderstood.

All this said, the book is rather repetitive at times. While I love Kimball’s ideas and presentation, the editing here seems somewhat lacking. Its 300 pages might easily be cut back to 250, and there are times the book almost plagiarizes itself, such as the sentence on page 142 which is repeated three sentences later on page 143: “Unless Paul is contradicting himself in the same letter, he doesn’t intend for women to never speak a word;” and “Unless Paul is contradicting himself, the verse cannot mean for women to be totally silent.” There is also very frequent mention of Greg Koukl’s “Never read a Bible verse” principle (you should read the whole context) though I recognize that perhaps for Kimball, you can’t state this too many times.

My greatest question reading this was wondering if the arguments presented would be sufficient to allay the objections of non-Christians. Perhaps. Hardcore skeptics? I’m not sure. Perhaps to that end, the book would need to be longer, not shorter. Where Kimball gets full marks is his willingness to confront these issues, and the aforementioned ease with which he navigates each potential stumbling block; a few of which were part of his own personal faith journey.

Better yet, the reader is assured that, ‘I’m not the only one wondering about these passages;’ and offers springboards for further investigation and conversation. A number of additional resources were due to be ready in January to promote additional study by groups or individuals. Learn more at DanKimball.com.

 

 

 

January 21, 2021

“I” vs. “We” — Couples, Families in God’s Presence

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
– Romans 14:12 NIV

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.
-Matthew 12:36 NLT

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
-2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
-Matthew 25:32 NIV

Before we begin, apologies to those of you who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed. I wrote this with couples in mind, but as you see from the title, have expanded it slightly to include the concept of entire families.

I have several married couple friends who have shared social media accounts. It isn’t something I recommend. It was hard enough for Ruth and I to share an email account until she finally got her own computer. But I realize that, with Facebook in particular, there are sensitivities that some couples overcome by not having any contacts or communications apart from the other.

The problem is that many times all of us express opinion on Facebook and Twitter, and believe me, husbands and wives don’t always agree on everything, and this is probably a healthy situation. Some work around this by presenting names in parenthesis, such as: “I (Paul) thought the show was funny.” And of course there are things on which we do agree, not everything should be a battleground.

Beware of “We”

Almost every day at this site’s sister blog, I begin with something like “Today we’re featuring the writing of a new author…” Of course we is me. I produce and edit and format the daily devotions on my own; it’s a one-person project. “We” in this case is sometimes referred to as an editorial “I.”

But it can be overused. I tend to type, “Today we want to consider…” first and then, taking a moment to reconsider, realize I need to own the content more, and re-type, “Today I want to look at…”

I have some friends who share a few social media accounts. They use “we” a lot. I decided to call them out on it. Friends will forgive, right?

And they did. While they made it clear that I was making assumptions, they also assured me that while I may see them speaking with one voice on various things online, they do hold and value individual opinions on various issues, including theological ones. Honestly, I was relieved to hear that. I really shouldn’t have expected anything different.

When the stakes are higher

But then I think of another couple who recently gave up on church and I would say perhaps for one of them even any pretense of deism.

I opened this article with several scripture verses. (I know some of you thought I’d written this for my devotional blog, but I actually wrote it for you guys!) I keep thinking of the idea of each of us standing before God individually. We don’t get to have our spouse stand next to us.

This is also true for families. We don’t have the option of an inherited faith. Perhaps growing up your parents rooted for one particular college sport team and so you just joined them in that passion. Or liked one late night talk show host over another. Or one local radio station’s format better than another which played similar music. This is the stuff of good humored banter at the dinner table. Dare I mention political parties?

With faith, you stand on your own. I am aware that there is a passage in Acts from which is derived the idea of household salvation, and I know it does happen where an entire family turns to Christ at the same moment and is perhaps all baptized on the same day; but from that point on each of us is on an individual journey.

This leads to the possibility of one member of a family, or one spouse attending church and being faithful to Bible reading on their own, and I do frequently run into personal contact with a woman who is the wife of an unsaved husband or the man who is the husband of an unsaved wife. I feel deeply for people in that situation, and try to point them to resources written specifically to address this.

But let me clear on this: That’s better than not attending weekend services because your husband or wife won’t attend. Or not being active with a local congregation because your brothers, sisters, parents or children don’t want to take part.

In the end, when I stand before God, I simply can’t use the word “we” as any possible line of defense.

 

December 3, 2020

With the Arrival of Jesus Comes Something Completely Different

Book Review: The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus (Revised Edition) by Bruxy Cavey (Herald Press)

I’ve never undertaken to read and review an updated edition or second edition of any book I’ve already covered, but this is an exceptional undertaking worthy of fresh consideration. Besides, I’ve often said that while some writers’ body of works builds up to a crescendo over a lifetime, other authors state most plainly and forthrightly in their first volume what represents the tenor of their ministry; so why not revisit that a decade later, as is the case here.

The updated version of The End of Religion represents a complete revamping of the original NavPress book from start to finish, with the addition of a new preface and five entirely new chapters.

This is a book about Jesus.

In that vein, it looks at the manner in which the human tendency to religiosity has sometimes, and in some places made the Christian faith about everything but Jesus. Its aim is to renew us to seek the restoration of the type of faith practiced in the First Century and echoed throughout history by those who practice that goal, but also a type of discipleship seemingly lost in modern Protestantism, Catholicism or Evangelicalism.

This is a theme the book constantly returns to, but it does so inasmuch as it is constantly returning to Jesus.

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of an alter-cultural church in the greater Toronto, Canada area called The Meeting House. With one mother-ship in Oakville on the city’s western fringes — they prefer the term ‘Production Center’ — they have 20 satellite sites — they prefer the classic term ‘parishes’ — which in less pandemic times meet in theaters in Southern Ontario, with a number of additional distant affiliates in diverse places such as Scotland and Italy.

By the way, I love that word alter-cultural. Bruxy’s teaching style, self-deprecating nature and overall sense of humor are found in the book which makes the serious topics it studies a fun read, although I do recommend using two bookmarks, keeping one in the text itself and one in the notes.

Organizationally, the 27 chapters of the book are arranged in three sections which look at the irreligious life of Jesus, how his life and teachings stood in contrast to key elements of the Judaism which provides the context for his time on earth, and the implications for our own words and deeds. Each chapter contains an ample helping of scripture references and there’s also the aforementioned notes to consider.

Who is the intended audience? In many respects, his 2017 title (re)Union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints and Sinners (Herald Press; see my review here) is by definition the book you give to someone camped out on the edge of faith. That said, this newer one covers so much primary, formative and apologetic ground that if the seeker in question isn’t intimidated by 400+ pages, they might really appreciate gaining a very thorough understanding of what it is to which they are potentially making a commitment.

While there were echoes of the previous edition to be encountered, I found them to be rare. This is a very updated update! I’d recommend this to anyone looking to read something with an intense Jesus focus.

9781513805498 | Herald Press | $19.99 US – $25.99 CDN

November 16, 2020

Why There’s Never Been a Typhoon in The Caribbean

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:01 pm

Today’s header is a bit of a tease; click-bait if you will.

There has never been a typhoon strike The Dominican Republic or Cuba. It’s never happened. It’s not that the conditions necessary for a typhoon-like storm have never developed there.

Rather, it has to do with the word. By definition, a typhoon is a tropical storm that develops and makes landfall in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, or the Indian Ocean. The Caribbean is affected by the Atlantic Ocean weather systems.

Could the word be changed over time?

The word marriage certainly did. Contrary to some of my more conservative Christian friends, I don’t have a problem with governments recognizing civil unions. But historically — and I know some will get upset with me over this — I’ve objected to gay or lesbian unions being called marriage because as a writer, I valued the original intent of that word just as much as I would strenuously interrupt you if you proposed that south Florida had just been hit by a typhoon. In other words, do it if you are compelled to, give it a name, recognize it for tax purposes, but don’t call it marriage.

(I now have just as many progressives upset with me for objecting the use of the word in an LBGT+ context as I have conservative Christians upset over the resignation in my laissez faire phrase, “Do it if you are compelled to.” I’m not gonna win on this one, am I?)

The same is also true of the word Evangelical. It meant something, but a few Evangelicals themselves shot the category in the foot when they — intentionally or accidentally — made it mean conformity to a particular political agenda. The word has been damaged goods for some time now, and a combination of Evangelicals, journalists and linguists are constantly looking for a new adjective to replace it. (Or collective noun, depending on where it lands in the sentence.)

(These same Evangelicals used to knock on doors two-by-two to share The Four Spiritual Laws or invite your children to hop on the Baptist bus for Sunday School, but then Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually owned the whole going-to-the-door-in-pairs thing. So the meaning of actions change just as words do.)

Words change. I’ll grant that. Often they lose their original force or are reduced to something less than they started. (It’s the second law of thermodynamics again.) Hence we have the word pejorative to describe the depreciation of meaning.

But while Evangelicals may find a new word, what will replace the longstanding man-plus-woman heterosexual marriage?

Maybe we’ll call it classic marriage.

Here’s the advertising copy: “Looking for a new twist on relationships? Consider a classic.”

Or something like that.

 

 

 

August 20, 2020

How Conservatives Demonize Progressive Christians

Excuse me while I come to the rescue of some people that a few regular long-time readers here wish I wouldn’t defend.

Recently someone posted a Babylon Bee ‘news’ item on Facebook proposing that progressive Christians now have a brand of Bible highlighters that are actually five different shades of Whiteout, in order to, quoting a fictional source, “give progressive Bible readers many options, from lighter shades of correction fluid for erasing problematic Scripture passages, to heavier shades for completely eliminating sections that are clearly heretical to a modern understanding of God’s heart.”

It’s been at least a year since I stopped reading the Bee, and I’m certainly not going to post the link, but I did check back last night and can only tell you that the article is actually two years old, but apparently still making the rounds.

I found it absolutely infuriating. It comes from the same mindset that thought nothing of using Rachel Held Evans’ name as a swear word on a weekly basis. (Podcast hosts, you know who you are.)

I wrote back the person who had copied the ‘story’ to Facebook and said that, “essentially this appears to equate those who embrace a more progressive perspective on some doctrines to Thomas Jefferson, who would have used Whiteout if it had existed. Besides, things are never that black and white. I would be considered very conservative on the essentials, but regard other matters as adiaphora.”

To be honest, I had been waiting all week to use adiaphora in a sentence.

He wrote back, “There are people who pick and choose what doctrines they like, then essentially whiteout the ones they don’t. When I hear the word “progressive” I tend to equate that more with rejection of doctrine with an air of superiority and elitism. I could be wrong about that though. Just my gut reaction to the word.”

And everything — his reaction, the Bee piece, and the whole habit of conservatives to rail against everything that’s not emanating from their tribe — is indeed a “gut reaction.” To him, Progressive Christians are picking their doctrine from a salad bar, putting some things on the plate and leaving others aside. So another shot gets fired across the bow.

Here’s the thing: The so-called “Progressive Christians” that I know personally, and whose books I’ve read have no desire to use Whiteout — isn’t that a brand that would require The Bee (and ourselves) to include a TM symbol — or a pair of scissors. They wrestle with the scriptures. They desire to take it all into account. They would actually make the original Bereans proud, not earn their condemnation.

Since he was unfamiliar with what Thomas Jefferson did, I replied, “The Jefferson Bible had many sections where the former president had removed content with scissors. But you are correct, we all do this in various ways and to greater or lesser degrees. A pastor who mentored me said, “every denomination is an overstatement.” We emphasize one thing at the expense of something else. Check out The Jefferson Bible at Wikipedia.”

And I guess we’ve left it there…

…Yesterday a friend also posted something to Facebook. A gallery of “Faithful Gospel Preachers.” Maybe you’ve seen it. I wrote him back.

Anyone can go to seminary and in 3-4 years emerge as a “faithful gospel preacher.” Especially in a tribe that places so much attention on saying the right words, and words in general.

But there’s more to it than that. What is the fruit of having all the correct doctrine if you’re a spiteful, hateful person? They end up sounding like a clanging cymbal.

Especially toward those with whom they disagree.

There are a couple of names there who I would never allow to speak into my life.

It’s like there’s a cost of correctness, and that cost is the jettisoning of the fruit of the Spirit.

And there was one person listed whose social media comments indicate a severely messed up view on marriage and family; some have argued even psychological issues.

Those three or four people taint the entire list for me.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if men like this — and they’re all male, by the way because goodness you can’t have…well, you know — are what drives so many into the arms of the so-called progressive tribe.

I know that’s how it works with me. When it is offered in compassion, I’ll take the messy doctrine — warts and all — any day over the certified and approved doctrine presented without love.  


This I will link to: The image above is from the Church Times UK, an article entitled, “Evangelism Isn’t Just for Evangelicals.” I especially liked the subtitle: “Progressive Christians have good news to impart, not prepackaged solutions.” And this quote, “The heart of liberal Christianity, for me, is, fundamentally, very orthodox.” Click the image or here to read.

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