The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture

9781629950877

Nature abhors a vacuum. A bit cliché, perhaps, but true nonetheless, especially as we consider the cultural landscape of the West. As Christianity’s influence in wanes, something else is rising to take its place. But what? According to Peter Jones, it’s paganism, or Oneism. In The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture, the latest in P&R and Westminster Theological Seminary’s Christian Answers to Hard Questions series, Jones introduces readers to this belief, grounding his study by showing the connections between three other isms—polytheism, Gnosticism, and postmodernism.

“These three ways of thinking have become strangely connected,” he writes. “Together they help explain the nature of today’s pagan worldview and its opposition to the truth of the gospel” (5).

Three isms and Oneism

Each of the isms described in this booklet represent pieces of a larger puzzle that, when seen together, describe a worldview ultimately about one thing: the end of distinctions. No longer will there be need for the distinction between male and female (sound familiar?), right or wrong, good or evil… “a rejection of the opposites is in fact…a fundamental aspect of religious paganism, so that postmodern philosophy fits surprisingly well with the religious yearnings for the morality and spirituality of inclusion—pantheistic ‘all is one’ wholeness” (9).

This is seen not only in postmodernism, but gnosticism and polytheism as well. Ultimately, these ideas all coalesce in the end of the distinction between Creator and creation. And this is the great lie we see in Romans 1:25—that people exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served creatures instead of the Creator. That, in essence, is what Jones calls Oneism, and it is a deadly snare.

Twoism: the Achilles’ heel of the “all-is-one” fantasy

Contrast this with Twoism, or, rather, biblical Christianity, a view that embraces distinction—male-female, right-wrong, Creator-creation. This, Jones says, is the only significant challenge to the rising tide of paganism, which is why there is such a strong effort to snuff it out in our day:

Twoism is the Achilles’ heel of their “all-is-one” fantasy. Twoism must therefore be spoken of and lived out with love, courage, and coherent clarity before a hostile world progressively enveloped by the delusion of the unifying Oneist lie. And as Paul implied so long ago, the future confrontation will be between not simply thinkers but spiritual worshipers, the worshipers of creation and the worshipers of the Creator. (35)

Jones’ challenge isn’t to engage in more culture wars in the sense some may fear. He’s not telling us to run around calling people pagans for doing yoga, for example. Instead, he’s challenging us to live out our faith as we’ve been called to—to be people who celebrate the differences between male and female, as well as between humans and the rest of creation, and who rejoice in the difference between God as our Creator and ourselves as created beings.

This is something we so easily forget, isn’t it? That while we should be informed in our thinking, the call is not to be the best apologists out there and present the clearest argument: Our call is to be people who obey our transcendent Lord, the One through whom and for whom all things were created.

A solid and accessible introduction

The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture does not represent the end of a journey, but the beginning of one. If you’re intrigued by the concepts of Oneism and Twoism, or if you’re confused by them, Jones unpacks these concepts in greater detail, particularly in One or Two and Gospel Truths, Pagan Lies, both of which I would highly encourage reading. However, if you’re looking for an accessible and solid starting point, this is the book to get.


Title: The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture
Author: Peter Jones
Publisher: P&R Publishing/Westminster Theological Seminary Press (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster | Amazon

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Conversations with Small Creatures

Mary Eady:

So often when I think about how to talk to my children about theology, I imagine these high-minded, lengthy and mature conversations that are free of the every day distractions of real life.  In my fantasy theology lessons my children mysteriously know what “eschatology” and “hermeneutic” mean, I never mispronounce words like “antithesis” or Iraneus’ name, and my son never, ever responds to one of my profound statements with, “Uh .  Mom, can I play video games today?” (I’ll have to tell you about the imaginary perfectly balanced and nutritious lunches I pack them in another article…But trust me.  They’re delicious!)

I hope you know, however, that reality is FAR different from fantasy in my house.  I have to grab the chances I’m given, as brief as they may be, and make the best of them.  And, though I often envy my coworkers their amazing vocabularies, I find that the simpler I am with my kids, the more they understand and the longer they’re willing to listen.

Give a gift and do good

We just launched our Christmas campaign at work; this video was a ton of fun to write and film:

Houston, We Have a Constitution

Russell Moore:

Reports coming out of Houston today indicate that city attorneys have issued subpoenas to pastors who have been vocal in opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a measure which deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. The subpoenas, issued to several pastors, seek “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

I am simply stunned by the sheer audacity of this.

When A Pastor Gets Depressed

Jeff Medders:

Last Monday, an untraceable sadness came over me. It wasn’t because we had a “bad Sunday.” We didn’t (whatever that means.) A young man, someone who I had been praying would come to Christ, pulled me aside before the second service and wanted to become a Christian. Hallelujah! I live for these moments.

I preached on Proverb 4:23 and watching our hearts, having joy in God, and keeping our lives in alignment with the King of kings. After church, we went on to have a great lunch with friends; I even got in my nap.

And then Monday morning, right before lunch, I began to cry for no reason. I sat in my living room, while my ten-month old son was napping, and tears slid down my cheeks.

How Much of a Servant Are You?

Aaron Earls:

But most of us aren’t dying to take a quiz to discover “Just How Much of a Servant Are You?” But, as Christians, is that not more important than which Frozen, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games or Harry Potter character we are?

Is Glorification Conditional?

Kevin DeYoung:

As often happens in theological discussion, we have to start by saying that in one sense glorification is not conditional, if by condition we mean we must earn our place in heaven or that the final salvation of those regenerated and justified hangs in the balance. The golden chain of Romans 8:30 cannot be broken: those whom God predestined will be called and those called will be justified and those justified will be glorified.

But the word “conditional” does not have to carry the sense of merit or uncertainty. A condition is simply a requirement that must be met or a state of affairs that must come to pass if a certain event or outcome is to be realized. To say something is “conditional” is to say nothing about how the condition is met or whether there is any doubt the condition will be fulfilled. I can see how the word “conditional” throws people off, but we must affirm from Scripture that without certain evidences made manifest in our lives, we will not be glorified.

Cancel your Halloween plans if…

Halloween

My latest article at Christianity.com:

“Do you let your kids do Halloween?” My coworkers and I discussed this recently as we decompressed from our Monday morning meeting. It’s an interesting discussion to have with fellow believers because we’re so split on the issue.

Although rarely does anyone declare you a gospel-compromising heretic if you allow your kids to go trick-or-treating, it’s not uncommon to get a sideways glance. So how are we to navigate Halloween? Should we avoid it entirely or embrace it unquestioningly? Or is there a way for us to engage it appropriately, in a way that honors Christ?

I believe this final option is possible, provided we take the following things into consideration.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – Cancel Halloween (Unless You Can Do These 5 Things)


Photo credit: minipixel via photopin cc. Designed with Canva.

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

As part of Pastor’s Appreciation Month, Impact members can save 60 per cent off six of their best pastoral resources this week (in print and eBook editions). These titles include The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, One with Christ by Marcus Peter Johnson (which is also on sale for the Kindle this week) and Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

On the Kindle deal front, here are a few new ones:

Completing not Competing

David Murray:

When we look at the nut and bolt, we don’t think one is superior or inferior to the other, we just see different designs for different but complementary purposes. We don’t try to make the nut into a bolt or vice versa; that’s just a waste of time and effort. And when we see them working well together, we may want to compliment the inventor of this complement. 

There is Glory in the Details.

Erik Raymond:

Consider a newly engaged couple, do you have much trouble getting them to tell you the story about how they met and fell in love? Not likely. Or, how about new parents? Many will gladly recount the details of their birth story for you. How about a little kid who just saw something surprising? I think of my little 5-year-old daughter who recently told me the whole story of how she got a princess dress at Goodwill and how it really is an Elsa dress because of these 5 things… We love details when we love the topic we are describing.

God is no different. He loves details, especially when describing who he loves. He is very thorough, precise and passionate to communicate the intricate beauty and diverse glories of his Son.

Why I Don’t Typically Argue About the Rapture

Mike Leake:

Rarely will I challenge a persons belief in a pre-tribulational rapture. But there are at least four times when I will speak up:

  1. When their belief makes them swallow other silly things.
  2. When their belief is giving them a dangerously wrong view of suffering.
  3. When their belief is negatively impacting the way they follow Jesus.
  4. When they are obsessed/distracted to the detriment of themselves or others. Usually in the form of being divisive and argumentative.

I’ve found only a handful of instances in which one of these is present that would necessitate my speaking up. For the most part there isn’t much benefit in arguing about the timing of certain eschatological events—this includes the rapture.

Should Giving Always Be Kept Secret?

Randy Alcorn:

We need to stop putting giving in a class by itself. If I give a message on evangelism, biblical interpretation or parenting, I run the risk of pride. But it may still be God’s will for me to share with the church what God’s taught me in these areas. Paul spoke of himself as a model—”Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). I could write books for the wrong reasons, even though I seek God’s face and ask that this wouldn’t be the case. I could send every email with the wrong motive, to seek man’s approval, not God’s. But I write books and send emails anyway, partly because if we refrain from doing everything we could do with a wrong motive, we’ll never do anything at all. (If your pastor only preaches when there’s no temptation to pride, he’ll never preach.)

Practical Principles of Biblical Interpretation

R.C. Sproul:

It has often been charged that the Bible can’t be trusted because people can make it say anything they want it to say. This charge would be true if the Bible were not the objective Word of God, if it were simply a wax nose, able to be shaped, twisted, and distorted to teach one’s own precepts. The charge would be true if it were not an offense to God the Holy Spirit to read into sacred Scripture what is not there. However, the idea that the Bible can teach anything we want it to is not true if we approach the Scriptures humbly, trying to hear what the Bible says for itself.

Five things I’m thankful for

origin_6643935221

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. Like in America, Thanksgiving weekend is accompanied by (arguably) excessive amounts of food, lots of family get-togethers, and a post-turkey coma. The major difference, aside from our Thanksgiving being on a Monday, is that the biggest shopping day of the year doesn’t immediately follow.

This past Sunday, we drove to Orangeville, Ontario, and enjoyed the day with our extended family on my wife’s side (specifically, my in-laws and my sister-in-law’s in-laws), with lots of great food and conversation. Thinking about the festivities on the way home and into the evening after putting the kids to bed made me consider what I’m thankful for this year. Here are five things:

1. My church: yesterday was the first time I’d actually sat in our weekend services in about a month. Prior to that, I’ve been preaching at another church, teaching in our children’s ministry, and (last week) teaching our baptism class in preparation for October 24th’s event. It was nice to just be there, for a change (even if the sleepy-time lighting makes it challenging to stay awake). Every time I hear them preach, I am grateful for our pastors’ commitment to the Word and desire to see people grow in their affection for Jesus. This is such a great gift.

2. My wife: She’s been working extra hard over the last few weeks, particularly as we’ve transitioned into homeschooling. What I’m really excited about for her is seeing how she’s taking to the task (which is to say, well). She especially gets little thrills when the kids randomly bring up things she’s taught them. For example, a couple of weeks ago, while doing a geography lesson, Abigail saw the word peninsula, and said, “Hey, I know what that means—’pen,’ is ‘almost,’ and ‘insula’ is ‘island.’ So, peninsula means ‘almost an island.'” You can understand why this was encouraging for her, I’m sure.

3. My kids: So far, my kids are thriving in homeschooling (as noted above). But school aside, these kids are just plain fun. I love being able to come home and have Hudson try to beat me up (he loves rough-housing so much). Making my girls squeal at a pitch only dogs can hear is also pretty amazing. And really, how can you not enjoy this:

My little Red Lantern

4. My work: I don’t talk about my day job very much here, mostly because I don’t have much to say about it that would be relevant for you to know. But lately, we’ve been having a pretty good season in our team. One of the things I’m most grateful for is a newfound willingness to take risks. Not foolish ones, but calculated risks where we can fail and learn or succeed and celebrate. One of the risks we took recently paid off, at the very least from a creative perspective, which to me is worth celebrating. I’ll share a bit more about that once the campaign it’s tied to officially launches.

5. My news: Friday, I learned something very cool—I got into school. Look for more details to come in the near future.

These are a few of the things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving. What about you?


Photo credit: rustiqueart via photopin cc

Links I like

Who or What Were the Nephilim?

This is an interesting discussion.

The Magic of Music

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Music, I believe, has many of the same qualities. I suppose it can trend toward the thinking side. You see this in those songs designed to help us memorize information, the sing-song collections of data bits favored during the grammar stage of a classical education. And certainly there is music that leans more toward emotion with little thinking. Speed metal would be a fine example. I suspect if the “singer” in the speed metal band were to screech through the phone book it would make precious little difference to the experience of the average listener. The music itself says, “Be mad” even when the lyrics might be an ode to a daisy.

Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World

Josh Blount:

If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don’t have to be perfect!

Bible museum sponsored by evangelical to have evangelical perspective

In other news, water is wet. (HT: Dan Darling)

Three Lessons on Loving One Another

Jonathan Parnell:

The scene could not have been more inauspicious: a low-lit room, full stomachs, and the dirty feet of a dozen grown men. This is not where you’d expect to find one of the world’s greatest lessons in loving one another.

But it was here, nonetheless, in the upper room of a common house in first-century Palestine, the night before Jesus died, that we learn how to live together as the church in this world. The apostle John tells us the story, showing us three unforgettable parts.

What Compels Compliance?

Tullian Tchividjian, from his upcoming devotional, It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News:

Preachers who think that simply telling bad people to be good—applying the boot to the tires of our spiritual lives—will actually produce compliance misunderstand the law’s purpose. The law tells us that compliance is required but the law is incapable of producing a compliant heart. We would all agree that compliance is a laudable goal. We want people parking legally and we want people loving their neighbors as themselves. But how might compliance actually happen?

What I have learned, and am learning, from my experience at Mars Hill Church

Dave Kraft:

The observations and lessons learned came mostly from my experience at Mars Hill; but as I read about what’s going on in Christian leadership as well as what I’m learning in my coaching high- level leaders at other churches, I’ve come to understand that my experiences at Mars Hill are not unique.

What I saw first-hand while on staff at Mars Hill is happening in other churches and Christian ministries around the country/world. I deeply regret that I didn’t speak up more often sooner than I did.

The shield is cast away

large_7579116198

A trembling life destroys the spiritual comforts that flow from God’s promises. It also destroys our experience of the promises—the sweetest pleasures we have in this world. As no creature-comfort is pleasant, so no promise is sweet to the person living in bondage to fear. When the terrors of death are great, the comforts of the Almighty are small. In the written Word, there are all sorts of refreshing, strengthening, and heart-reviving promises. By His care and wisdom, God prepared these for our relief in days of darkness and trouble. There are promises of support under the heaviest burdens and pressures: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yeah, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). This promise is made to make the trembling soul shout with the joy of men in harvest, or men who divide the spoil. There are also promises of protection (Isa. 27:2–3; 33:2). In times of danger, these lead to God’s almighty power, placing us under the wings of His care. There are promises of moderation. They enable us to bear the day of sharp affliction ( Isa. 27:8; 1 Cor. 10:3). There are promises of deliverance. If our enemies’ malice brings us into trouble, God’s mercy will assuredly bring us out (Pss. 91:14–15; 125:3). There are promises to bless and sanctify our troubles for our good; our troubles not only cease to be hurtful, but they become exceedingly beneficial (Isa. 27:9; Rom. 8:28). These are the most comforting promises of all.

Our tender Father provides all these promises for the day of fear and trouble. Because He knows our weakness and how our fear makes us doubt our security, He engages His wisdom, power, care, faithfulness, and unchangeableness for the performance of His promises (Isa. 27:2–3; 43:1–2; 1 Cor. 10:13; 16:9; 2 Peter 2:9). In the midst of such sealed promises, how cheerful should we be in the worst of times! We should say as David, “Wherefore should I fear in the day in of evil?” (Ps. 49:5a). Let those who have no God to whom they can turn, no promise upon which they can rely, fear int eh day of evil. I have no cause to do so. Yet our fear beats us away from the most comfortable refuge in the promises. We are so scared that we ignore them and fail to draw encouragement, resolution, and courage from them. In this way, the shields of the mighty are cast away.

John Flavel, Triumphing over Sinful Fear, 59-60


Photo credit: Maicon Rodrigo via photopin cc

The weird and the witty: The world’s greatest ukulele players

large_4933046630

A few weeks ago I was in Orillia, Ontario, to preach. While I was travelling, my wife and children spent the weekend with my in-laws and Emily decided to take up… the ukulele. So, our home of late has been filled with the chipper sounds of the underdog of guitar-like instruments.

But did you know you can do some pretty amazing stuff with one of these? It’s true. Check out three pretty fantastic takes on pop songs, as performed by some of the world’s greatest ukulele players.


The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (yes, that’s a thing) offers what may be the most unique rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I’ve heard (aside from Paul Anka’s version):


James Hill performs “Billie Jean”:


And finally, Jake Shimabukuro performs Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the ukulele. Seriously, this is really impressive:

(You should also check out his cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Wow!)


Photo credit: Luis Hernandez – D2k6.es via photopin cc

New and noteworthy books

new-noteworthy-october

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:


After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption by Brian Borgman

The latest from Cruciform Press looks like a powerful read:

After They Are Yours talks transparently and redemptively about the often unspoken problems adoptive parents face. Combining personal experience, biblical wisdom and a heart for people, Borgman recalls the humbling and difficult lessons God has taught him and his wife. This is not a success story, rather it’s a story of struggles and failures set in the broader context of a God who is gracious and continually teaches us the meaning of adoption.

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press


Hope Reborn: How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus by Tope Koleoso and Adrian Warnock

Everyone is looking for hope and meaning in life. Are you sure that you really are a Christian and will live forever with Jesus? If you have drifted away, this book encourages you to come back and find certain hope.

Buy it at: Amazon


Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith by Chelsen Vicari

The provocative title certainly caught my attention. It’ll be interesting to see how balanced its content is. Could be really great or made of crazy. I suspect there is no middle ground:

Peek behind the curtain of some “hip” or “progressive” evangelical churches, past the savvy trends and contemporary music, and what you find may surprise you. Liberal evangelicals—despite how apolitical they claim to be—are gaining ground, promoting a repackaged version of Christianity that distorts the authority of Scripture and is causing a mass exodus of young people from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Buy it at: Amazon


Heaven by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (editors)

The latest in Crossway’s Theology in Community series offers much-needed perspective for Christians confused about the doctrine of heaven:

Our culture has a lot to say about heaven. But too much of it is based more on imaginative speculation or “supernatural” experiences than on the Bible itself.

In the latest addition to the Theology in Community series, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have assembled an interdisciplinary team of evangelical scholars to explore the doctrine of heaven from a variety of angles. Among other contributors, Ray Ortlund examines the concept of heaven in the Old Testament, Gerald Bray explores the history of theological reflection about heaven, and Ajith Fernando looks at persecuted saints’ special relationship to heaven in the New Testament. This team of first-rate scholars offers modern readers a comprehensive overview of this often misunderstood topic—shedding biblical light on the eternal hope of all Christians.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity by Dave Ramsey

It’ll be interesting to see where Ramsey ultimately lands on this topic. Much like Vicari’s book, it could either be really great or utterly not great. The only way I’ll know for sure? By reading it.

There’s a lot of bad information in our culture today about wealth—and the wealthy. Worse, there’s a growing backlash in America against our most successful neighbors, but why? To many, wealth is seen as the natural result of hard work and wise money management. To others, wealth is viewed as the ultimate, inexcusable sin. This has left a lot of godly men and women honestly confused about what to do with the resources God’s put in their hands. God’s ways of handling money caused them to build wealth, but then they’re left feeling guilty about it. Is this what God had in mind?

Buy it at: Amazon


Beat God to the Punch by Eric Mason

I actually finished reading this about a week ago. A review is forthcoming:

Author Eric Mason succinctly articulates God’s call of discipleship on every person. In a winsome, persuasive tone, Mason calls people into a posture of submission to the gospel.

Eric Mason masterfully roots out the areas of life where we try to tell God, “Do not enter.” In light of Jesus’ free offer of the good news, Pastor Mason challenges readers to turn our affections away from those things that hold hostage our hearts and consider what it means to be an authentic follower of the Messiah.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis by John Piper and David Mathis (editors)

C. S. Lewis stands as one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. His commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the heart is evident in classics like the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity—books that illustrate the unbreakable connection between rigorous thought and deep affection.

With contributions from Randy Alcorn, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Kevin Vanhoozer, David Mathis, and Douglas Wilson, this volume explores the man, his work, and his legacy—reveling in the truth at the heart of Lewis’s spiritual genius: God alone is the answer to our deepest longings and the source of our unending joy.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Rising Above a Toxic Workplace by Gary D Chapman, Paul E. White and Harold Myra

This is another one that I finished pretty recently. Look for a review soon:

Many employees experience the reality of bulling bosses, poisonous people, and soul-crushing cultures on a daily basis. Rising Above a Toxic Workplace tells authentic stories from today’s workers who share how they cope, change-or quit. Candidly they open up about what they learned, what they wish they had done, and how to gain resilience. Insightfully illustrating from these accounts, authors Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra blend their combined experiences in ministry and business to deliver hope and practical guidance to those who find themselves in an unhealthy work environment. Includes a Survival Guide and Toolkit full of strategies and realistic insights.

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few deals on titles by R.C. Sproul:

Also on sale:

5 good words of pastoral advice that stuck

Jared Wilson:

I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.

Get 1-2 Peter in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of 1-2 Peter, from the St. Andrew’s commentary series by R.C. Sproul, for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Loved by God teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Are Faith and Science Compatible?

Amy Julia Becker on her recent experience at a conference hosted by the Biologos Foundation:

At the conference, we didn’t talk much about human uniqueness, or the doctrine of the imago dei (image of God), as it turns out. We did hear some compelling presentations regarding evolution, the very very old age of the earth and the surrounding cosmos, and the puzzling (from a Scriptural perspective) scientific conclusion that we are descended from thousands of humans rather than a solitary Adam and Eve. (This final point does not preclude the possibility of an Adam and an Eve existing and being singled out by God for a purpose, but it does lead to lots of speculation without any conclusive proof.)

For me, the experience resulted not so much in affirming my views on science, but rather in reminding me of the ways in which, as the Psalmist writes, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).

The Problem with Evangelistic Programs

Mack Stiles:

God can use programs. I know people who have come to faith at evangelistic events. For the record, I often promote and speak at evangelistic programs. But I don’t think programs are the most effective, or even the primary, way we should do evangelism.

Marry or Burn?

Hannah Anderson:

Since writing “Getting Married Is Not Enough to Fight Sexual Temptation,” I’ve realized that I made certain assumptions that I did not articulate well, assumptions that are essential to explaining why I both embrace Paul’s advice to marry to avoid sexual temptation as well as why I’m uncomfortable with evangelicals offering the very same advice. Truthfully, it has little to do with the timing of marriage so much as the presuppositions we have about marriage, singleness, and sexuality.

Christians not Welcome

Brian Hutchinson offers a look at what is likely to be an all-too-common occurrence in the near future in Canada.

Why is it so tempting to toss the Bible?

large_3935059442

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out where to start with a review of God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Like I seriously don’t even know where to start. It’s the same problem I have with trying to read and thoughtfully critique anything by Rachel Held Evans or the folks involved with Christianity21… all of whom claim to take the Bible seriously, yet routinely reimagine what it says.

(This is not the beginning of a book review, by the way.)

Believe it or not, I actually get where they’re coming from. I remember some early conversations I had as a new believer where I would say some pretty stupid and arrogant things—more than once the phrase, “Well, that was just Paul’s opinion” came out of my mouth. This wasn’t because I didn’t believe the Bible, I just didn’t understand it.

Over time, I got a better sense of what was going on in the Bible, but challenging passages still present themselves. How do we deal with the Bible’s contention that Christians should not intentionally become romantically involved with non-believers? Or that marriage is strictly to be kept between one man and one woman? Or that we’re to forsake all—even our families—in order to follow Jesus?

Honestly, there are times when I can see why it’s tempting to adopt a more novel reading of some of these passages (or abandon them altogether). I mean, who really wants to tell the Christian woman with a non-believing boyfriend that they shouldn’t be dating? Who really enjoys the scorn that comes from being against every “reasonable” person in the West (in the eyes of the media, at least) on the issue of same-sex marriage? Who looks forward to the awkward moments at get-togethers when family members’ eyes glaze over when you talk about what’s going on in your life?

And so the temptation comes to light. And far too many of us—whether willingly or out of sheer exhaustion—give in. We reinvent ourselves as “doubt-filled believers,” which too often seems like choosing to be blown about aimlessly by the wind. We try to maintain our identity as evangelicals, even as we saw off the branch upon which we sit. We try to do what we can to get along with everyone, but in the end please no one.

We’re too Christian for some, but not enough for others. You can’t win playing that game.

Which takes us back to the question: why is it so tempting to toss the Bible? Because it’s easier. The Bible is dangerous and obeying is it costly.

When “fighting the good fight,” it’s often us who take a beating. When running to “finish the race,” we hit a wall that’s almost impossible to push through as every muscle in our bodies screams for us to stop.

But even then, we don’t give up. Tossing the Bible might seems like the easy solution in our moments of weakness, but it’s a losing proposition. We may not want to be on the wrong side of anything, but if I had to choose, I’d rather not be on the wrong side of Jesus. I’d rather, in as much as the Lord strengthens me, to say with Paul:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

What about you?

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why I’m thankful for Christian music

Dan Darling offers a thoughtful corrective to those of us who tend to look at Christian music as junk.

What We Won’t Regret

Kevin DeYoung shares a whole lot of things we won’t regret doing when we get to the end of our days.

Jennifer Lawrence and the Uniformity of Nudity

Chris Martin handles this subject very well: “The guy ogling Jennifer Lawrence in Vanity Fair isn’t ogling her because she chose to reveal herself, saying, ‘I love how tastefully and beautifully she expresses herself here.'”

Christians can be terrible

Derek Rishmawy:

…every time some news report comes out about a pastoral failure, or a fiasco in Evangelical culture, or abuse in the Church, it’s common to see Christians of various stripes updating and bewailing said fiasco. While that’s fine, and probably necessary to some degree, the one attitude I find myself chafing at rather regularly is the “I don’t know if I can call myself a Christian” anymore impulse.

It’s as if this person were introduced to Christianity by having them read bits of Acts, without reading Paul, the Gospels, or heck, even the rest of Acts. As if they were promised a Christianity with nice, cleaned up people, with perfectly cleaned up story arcs where all the sin is “back there” in the past, never to rear its ugly head, so that you don’t have the bear the ignominy of being associated with such foul stupidity and wickedness. Then when they meet real Christians–you know, the sinning kind–they suffer a sort of whiplash on contact.

The Fatal Tensions of the Fight Churches

Matthew Lee Anderson:

I’m an MMA skeptic, then, and this film doesn’t help persuade me not to be from a theological standpoint.  But then, I came into it having written a book on a closely related subject, and so am in danger of confirmation bias.  Take that as you will.  But the kinds of justifications offered by pastors were most frequently just the sort of pragmatic, anti-theological ‘reasons’ that come up in related discussions like tattoos, which leave no room for any kind of limits on our “Christian witness” besides those which are unquestionably explicit in Scripture itself.  Yes, tough guys need Jesus: but surely starting a fight club in the church basement is not the only way (or even the best) to reach them, is it?  Perhaps we should think about that for a while sometime.  After all, in my experience the pragmatic justification for these kinds of programs is always the least creative and least innovative. Such justifications somehow manage to presuppose the worst of the very people they’re trying to reach—namely, that they are interested in and would only be fully satisfied by a church which can slake their thirst for just this kind of practice. And they infantilize the churches that undertake them, for they cheapen the very mysteries and sanctity of holiness which they have been entrusted to bear witness to.

Five fiction books you should read

medium_3306684806

One of the things I’ve really come to love as I’ve re-embraced fiction has been its power: good fiction is disarming. It allows you to enter into a world either very similar to our own or completely unlike it, and experience the mundane and the marvellous in ways you may not have imagined previously. It allows us to explore the nature of humanity in ways that you can’t as effectively through non-fiction. Often, by the time you’re done reading a really good fiction book, you’re surprised by how much you have to consider.

And yet it seems like so few Christians (at least in the circles I run in) read really good fiction.[Worse, it seems like even fewer Christian authors write really good fiction (as evidenced by the plethora of Amish romance novels available at your local Christian bookstore). But that's an issue for another time.] I’d like to see that change (as would Justin Taylor, clearly). So, here’s a look at five fiction books Christians should consider reading. I do not promise profound picks—in fact, there’s a high degree of moral ambiguity represented in each—but I trust you’ll find them intriguing.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But what got me in this book in particular (aside from it being so ridiculously quotable), is how much I identified with its characters, especially as an angsty 20-something music snob. I knew the guys at Rob’s record store. Actually, I was one of them—socially awkward and pretentious in my musical taste. (How is it that I ever got married?) Hornby’s greatest skill—giving us characters who read as real people, as opposed to ideas presented as people, if you follow—is on full display in this book, and why he is among my favorite modern authors.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Having read a few of his books, this remains my favorites (Wonder Boys is a close second). I grew up adoring comic books. I actually desperately wanted to work in the comic industry in my teens (and even in my 20s; don’t judge). Kavalier and Clay follows Jewish cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Klayman who find fame with their creation The Escapist in the golden age of comics (the late 1930s to early 1950s). This book deals with some pretty powerful themes—among them , the cost of fame, racism, sexual identity, and family—but refuses to sacrifice good storytelling for the sake of making a statement.


The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Is this a “safe” pick? Absolutely. Anything by C.S. Lewis tends to be in Christian circles since he’s one of us. But this one is different than the other books in the Narnia series (all of which I enjoyed). While it is not unceasingly grim, and, indeed, ends on the highest of notes, there is a weight to it that is lacking in some of the earlier volumes. One of my favorite elements? The ape who insists he’s a man (see why at the link).


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I picked up this book randomly during my last year of high school. I can’t remember why exactly, though it may have been for an independent study project. After reading it (and then reading it again. And again. And…), I think I finally wore out my copy. It’s the richness of the characters that makes Great Expectations so compelling. As Dickens tells the tale of a lower-class boy who desires to become a gentleman, he gives us far more complicated and conflicted men and women than you find in any of his other works.


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

The bathroom was not large.

The walls were panelled in old oak linenfold which, given the age and nature of the building, was quite probably priceless, but otherwise the fittings were stark and institutional.

There was old, scuffed, black-and-white checked linoleum on the floor, a small basic bath, well cleaned but with very elderly stains and chips in the enamel, and also a small basic basin with a toothbrush and toothpaste next to the taps. Screwed into the probably priceless panelling above the basin was a tin mirror-fronted bathroom cabinet. It looked as if it had been repainted many times, and the mirror was stained round the edges with condensation. The lavatory had an old-fashioned cast-iron chain-pull cistern. There was an old cream-painted wooden cupboard standing in the corner, with an old brown bentwood chair next to it, on which lay some neatly folded but threadbare small towels. There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it. (69)

You could really choose any of his books and you’d do well; but I’ve long had a fondness for Dirk Gently (which I also happen to be re-reading at the time of this writing).


Those are a few fiction books I’d recommend checking out. What are some of your favorites?


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Links I like

Gay marriage and racial segregation

Adam Ford hits the nail on the head.

A Christian Film that Looks Inward

Wade Bearden:

As a whole, Believe Me is a combination of both satire and drama with a hint of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like thrown in for good measure. To strip it down, the story is less a strict documentary of the Church than a satirical caricature of individuals you’ve probably met in Sunday school or at youth camp. If you’ve ever questioned the forces behind the machine of Christian culture, you’ll likely find Believe Me deftly funny. I caught a screening with a group of pastors and had trouble counting how many times I heard “That’s so true” coming from the seats.

Tear away the mask

Jen Thorn:

There is a lot of talk about transparency these days. The need to “be real” and “do life together.” So we sit around and share about how we don’t clean our house the way we should, and are always behind on the laundry. We get coffee and chat about how we have been unkind with our kids and impatient with our spouse, or dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe we share that we spend too much money or fail at reading our Bibles on a regular basis. We laugh and hug and say it’s ok. We may share a few Bible verses and some helpful practical tips, but this is not real transparency. It’s a spiritual opaqueness that lets only a little light through. This is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. It can be deceptive because we are pretending to be open and honest when really we are sharing what is easy while leaving out the very things we are suppose to lay before each other.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

Leon Brown:

As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone’s hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, “What’s this?”

The Importance of Being a Pastor/Theologian

Nick Batzig:

I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.

The Gospel Isn’t Meant To Be Strawberry Pie

Mike Leake:

Strawberry pie is the perfect cap to an awesome meal. It’s sugary sweet goodness on top of graham cracker crust never fails to make me smile. I’m always hungry for strawberry pie.

Gospel hunger isn’t strawberry pie hunger, though.