Facing Leviathan

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Influence. Leverage relationships. Eschew formal authority. Develop compelling values… this is pretty much what you see in all the best-selling leadership books. And while it’s not all bad (although not all good, either), it begs the question: if influence is the silver bullet, why isn’t it working? 

Mark Sayers, senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia, may have stumbled onto the answer, and, as he writes in Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, it’s less of an issue of technique or style than one of worldview.

A clash of worldviews

 

We are in the midst of a battle between what he describes as “mechanical” and “organic” values—a move away from traditional values surrounding leadership, which includes authority and power toward fluid, creative and (sometimes) leaderless leadership styles. And while some argue that this is our “evolving beyond” the modernist approach to life and leadership, Sayers argues it’s actually a reversion. It’s the reassertion of the values of Romanticism.

“Romanticism arose in reaction to the Enlightenment,” he writes, “attempt[ing] to create an alternative to the mechanical worldview. It would base its ideology on the suspicion of power and structure… They preferred emotion and experience to reason and the empirical.” And while the Englightment (or modernist) vision imagines the leader as hero, “the Romantic vision imagines the creative genius as a heretic, always pushing the boundaries and breaking taboos” (26-27).

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Go take a look at any of the leadership books littering your shelves and you’ll see this conflict front and center. But Sayers goes deeper than the Romanticism vs Enlightenment ideology clash—those two are merely alternatives to the Christian worldview, options that fail to stand up against the true battle:

The real battle in which our culture is engage is not between the mechanical and the organic but rather between the pagan and Christian worldviews. A Christianity that attempts to model itself on the hero or the genius will be a faith that has little potential to speak the good news to the West. Instead, we must rediscover the truly radical vision of leadership found within the Bible. A model of leadership… that dared to proclaim in pagan streets and squares that God had lowered Himself to come and live in the mess and muck of human life, within history, in time, in human flesh. (29)

Christlike leadership

The first and last chapters—and the passage above in particular—makes Facing Leviathan worth reading. Sayers succinctly and precisely identifies the battle within our world, and the struggle within leadership circles. We’re essentially fighting the right battle with the wrong weapons. We’re combating “leader as hero” with “leader as heretic,” preferring to be hip over being heard. And both approaches leave us—both leaders and followers—wanting.

The leader as hero types quickly tend to veer into becoming overbearing and authoritarian. I once knew a man who seemed more like a supervillain than a human being in this regard, laughing maniacally whenever he learned an employee had purchased a car or a house. It meant, from his perspective, he owned them—they needed their jobs, and he delighted in that fact. Followers of this type often feel beaten down and abused. But I’ve also seen the leader as heretic, too, and it also quickly falls apart as they’re too busy deconstructing what already exists to figure out how to move forward. Followers of this type are typically frustrated by the lack of forward direction, which feeds into their distrust of authority, which then makes them even more frustrated, which then…

We don’t need more heroes, and we definitely don’t need more heretics. We need something better. “We must become leaders who are deep in a society of the spectacle that produces shallowness” (115). In other words, we need leaders modelled after Christ. We need people who are, as Sayers calls them, rebuilders, those who are quietly “getting on with the job.”

“Our culture of deconstruction no longer makes sense to them,” he writes. “The culture of deconstruction that has come to dominate the church no longer helps them. It hinders them. They are the rebuilders, partners with God in the rebuilding of His creational order” (217). These are the kinds of people we need to become, he argues, people less concerned with worrying about “moving from the mechanical values to the organic values,” and instead “living wholeheartedly for the God we find in the storm” (218). And out of that comes something compelling and beautiful, something deep in a sea of shallow. Maybe even leaders worth following.

Weaknesses punctuated by the author’s strengths

There is so much strength to Facing Leviathan, particularly when Sayers is exercising his considerable skills as a cultural commentator, that it’s hard to find much fault with the book. But what weaknesses do exist come from its author’s strengths.

Sayers is clearly gifted as a cultural commentator, but is not nearly as gifted a biblical one, as demonstrated by his novel (but not entirely unorthodox) approach to Jonah throughout the book. Jonah isn’t the first book I’d go to tease out lessons on leadership, but maybe that’s just me. I’ve seen it done occasionally, but the results have always left me wanting. Jonah is a powerful illustration of the gospel, to be sure, but I’m not sure he really fits the mould of either the “heroic” or “heretic” leader. Instead, he, like the rest of us, is a deeply confused, broken, sinful, selfish, individual—one who desperately needs the saving work of the One whom he foreshadows.

As borderline blasphemous as it might seem to say “I wish he hadn’t included discussion of this or that biblical passage,” I’d almost rather he’d have not bothered with it since it lessens the impact of the rest of his writing. His theologically informed reading of culture, the arts, and literature stands on its own.

Nevertheless, I would not let this prevent me from recommending this book to most any reader, especially those in a position of influence (or leadership). By recasting our leadership principles as a conflict between worldviews, Sayers will surely cause its readers to rethink what they’ve read in the latest leadership bestseller—and perhaps reconsider their approach to Christlike leadership.


Title: Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm
Author: Mark Sayers
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

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The Sin in Our Cynicism

Jonathan Parnell:

Cynicism is a problem.

Maybe it’s not explicitly on your radar, but you’re sure to have felt its force. Cynicism is that sneering bitterness toward all things true and deep. It’s the subtle contempt trying to contaminate the cheeriest of moments — that slow, thick smoke of pessimism toxifying the oxygen in the lungs of our hope, suffocating any glad-hearted embrace that God did something meaningful in our lives and strangling our childlike faith to opt for “another angle” on why things happen the way they do.

Dethroning Celebrity Pastors

Joe Thorn:

Celebrity Pastors do not simply build themselves. They are built with the help of fans. It’s not wrong or idolatrous to get a photo with a person you admire. Nor is it dangerous to love the preaching or teaching of a particular leader. But at some point admiration turns into allegiance, and allegiance gives birth to adoration, and adoration, when it is full grown, produces idolatry. I am not sure exactly when the line is crossed–maybe when we start asking well-known pastors to sign our Bibles. Maybe. But the line is well behind us when a leader’s word is more valuable to us than God’s word and when they become our authority.

The Importance of Persuasive Preaching

Eric McKiddie:

It would be nice if persuading our congregations of these things was as simple as constructing a sound argument. Unfortunately, even bulletproof logic can fail to change people’s hearts. In the midst of our sermons, we often think that we are articulating a biblical position with impeccable precision, all while the young professional struggles to see himself as a part of the story we are telling, the stay at home mom can’t see how this applies to dirty diapers, and the high school student is just plain bored. This happens every week to every preacher.

My Thoughts on “Boyhood”

Russell Moore offers his take on Richard Linklater’s 12 years in the making new film.

Let’s do some catalytic visioneering… and stuff! Because we’re leaders!

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I have to be honest: I really, really miss the days when leaders were cool with just being called managers or leaders. You know, when people weren’t adding qualifiers to boost their self-importance self-esteem?

Today, instead of being managers, we’re leaders. But not just leaders, catalytic leaders. Visionary leaders with fireworks shooting out our rear-ends with every decision we make. (And not just because of the Taco Bell we ate at lunch.)

We get it, okay? You’re a big deal. You’ve got people skills, dag-nabbit!

But could you maybe shut up about it?

There’s a problem in leadership circles when you have to declare yourself a catalytic, visionary such-and-such with mad woo skills (which is just as creepy as it sounds). The problem is simple: you’re clearly not one.

Your vision is seen in what you’ve accomplished, not by what you say you’re doing.

Your ability to move people to action is less important than what action you’re calling them to.

Your charisma is less important than your character.

Who are we trying to kid, honestly? The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s ourselves.

We want to be seen as important. We want to be seen as big deals. We have a brand to uphold and promote, after all. We want to matter… because, well, we are deeply insecure. We are unsure of our ability to lead faithfully, so we mask it in bravado. We are insecure in our relationship with Christ, so we look to our performance for comfort.

But it’s a little bit like a foodie blog operated by someone who only knows how to make Kraft Dinner. The disconnect is often obvious to everyone but us.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth,” says Proverbs 27:2, “a stranger, and not your own lips.” There’s a reason the Lord inspired these wise words. When we praise ourselves, we reveal our insecurity.

But, brothers (and sisters, too!), we do not need to be insecure. The fruits of our labors will be apparent to all in time, if they are not already. And in time, if the fruit is good, the lips of another will praise our efforts. So we don’t need to!

Leader, let another praise you. Worry less about calling yourself a catalyst or a visionary. Vision and charisma is fleeting, and your security is not in those things anyway.


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The Evangelical Persecution Complex

Alan Noble offers a thought-provoking piece:

The Christian church itself has a long history of telling stories of martyrdom and persecution. The stories of saints’ lives often center on their sufferings for Christ. For example, Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a popular and classic text recounting notable martyrdoms throughout church history. The purpose of these stories is to inspire and strengthen Christians, particularly those who will later face persecution. But they were not designed to function as aspirational fantasy. And that is the real problem with many persecution narratives in Christian culture: They fetishize suffering.

I will be a unifying Christian

This is a lovely piece from Thom Rainer.

The Unbelonging

Lore Ferguson:

I’ve always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you’ve followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They’re so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Finally, the Christian Encounters series is on sale for 99¢ each:

Look! A Distraction!

Tim Challies:

Distraction is one of the costs of life in a digital world. Paul Graham says it well: “Distraction is not a static obstacle that you avoid like you might avoid a rock in the road. Distraction seeks you out.” We surround ourselves with devices that bring us so many good gifts, but even these good gifts exact a cost—the cost of distraction. The iPad that allows me to read the Bible anytime and anywhere also barges into my devotional life with notifications and alerts. The phone that allows me to stay in touch with my family while they are far away also wakes me at night with its buzzes and flashes. It giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

We are learning. We are learning the costs so that we might also learn the solutions. Here are three of the costs of all of this distraction.

Stealth Calvinist Ninjas

Derek Rishmawy offers some constructive criticism to Roger Olson’s subtly titled “Beware of Stealth Calvinism!”:

What I want to point out in the middle of this is the bald-faced cynicism of the post. Here we don’t simply have a theological correction, dispute, or caution about inadvertent theological drift. No, here we have a warning about Calvinist tactics in general, about their alleged strategic maneuvering to crowd out and stamp out divergent thought by “stealthily” taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

I know I’m a lot younger, but if we’re dealing in anecdotes, I suppose part of the reason I find the whole thing silly is that three out of the four Christian colleges nearby me, including my own seminary, are explicitly non-Reformed, and the fourth is definitely blended. Fuller has, maybe a few Reformed theologians, certainly not of the militant sort. They’re not cranking out Calvinists ready to take over churches there. But maybe that’s just a Southern California thing.

The Folly and Hubris of Richard Dawkins

Eleanor Robertson at The Guardian:

Dawkins’ narrowmindedness, his unshakeable belief that the entire history of human intellectual achievement was just a prelude to the codification of scientific inquiry, leads him to dismiss the insights offered not only by theology, but philosophy, history and art as well.

To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts. His orientation toward the world is the product of a classic category mistake, but because he’s nestled inside it so snugly he perceives complex concepts outside of his understanding as meaningless dribble. If he can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, and anyone trying to describe it to him is delusional and possibly dangerous.

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Bad Reasons to Switch to Expository Preaching

Eric McKiddie:

It’s never good to do the right thing for the wrong reason. This is because your heart is with the wrong reason, not the right thing to do. And as soon as the right thing to do no longer gets you the results you wrongly desire, you’ll ditch doing that right thing and either do a different right thing or a wrong thing.

This rule applies to expositional preaching: you must not take it up for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say that there has been a revival of preaching in our country (I hear of too many people looking for churches without an expository preacher within 45 minutes), it is gaining momentum. But in order for that momentum to be sustainable, pastors need to commit to it for the right reasons.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four volumes from Crossway’s A Student’s Guide series are 99¢:

Also on sale:

Misconceptions about adoption

This is a really good two-part series on some of the misconceptions people have about the adoption process (here’s part two).

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block

Good satire is hard to come by, but when I find it, I’m always glad to share it:

There has been a lot of talking, debating, and hand-wringing among Christian bloggers lately about modesty; particularly yoga pants, making men uncomfortable by being attractive, and in general, ways in which to combat everyone’s favorite “evil”: lust.

Well, I’d like to hop on the modesty bandwagon and discuss something that I have personally struggled with for many, many years.

[deep breath]

Specifically, men in suits.

Want to get an education? Work at Starbucks.

This is a great example of a company investing in its employees.

Called to be uncool

ND Wilson nails it:

The power of the zeitgeist helped propel the agonies of race-based slavery, and the zeitgeist threw it away in a bloodbath. The zeitgeist gave us institutional racism, and when enough shame had been applied, the zeitgeist (at least officially) struck it down. The zeitgeist set the Medes and the Persians praying to Darius, and threw Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6). The zeitgeist can kick up the fervor of ungodly war, and it can hang its head in cowardice when a true challenge comes.

The zeitgeist is a fickle master, because the zeitgeist is us.

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“The Slender Man Made Me Do It”: Compelled to Violence by an Internet Myth

SD Kelly:

As is becoming clearer over time, the internet only provides new outlets for our own pre-existing inclinations and biases. If we look for mayhem, we will find it. And then it will find us without further help.In trying to understand these girls’ unthinkable behavior, public attention turned to this figure. Who is Slender Man? Why were these girls apparently so convinced of his existence and, more alarmingly, willing to commit violence in his name? Out of this confusion, a simple narrative takes shape: young girls led horribly astray by violent, evil stories circulating freely on the web. What the public has learned about Slender Man in the last few weeks has enhanced our fears about the digital age. An age which involves hours spent immersed in an online world that trades in horror and gore, making games of both. And, in the greatest indictment of all, these games and stories appeal to kids, the demographic least capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Star Wars: Guardians of the Galaxy style

Yep.

In Justin Trudeau’s world, Christians need not apply

Rex Murphy offers an interesting bit of commentary on some of the latest goofiness in Canadian politics.

A New (and Old) Worldview Divides China’s Christians As Communism Fades

Katherine Burgess:

The hometown of ancient philosopher Confucius was a surprising place to build a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Yet local leaders hoped Qufu’s first official church would integrate Christianity into Chinese culture.

Instead, Confucian scholars condemned the 136-foot-tall project, planned two miles from the long-standing Confucius Temple. They saw it as a concrete symbol of a foreign faith’s threatening rise.

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After Teaching Churches How To Store Up Treasures on Earth, Speaker Faces Fraud Indictment

Ruth Moon:

A self-styled “socially conscious investor” who took his “Building Wealth Tour” to churches across America has been indicted on charges of defrauding investors of more than $5 million.

Fundamentalists, Liberals, and Evangelicals Charted

Michael Patton:

Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.

The danger of embracing ignorance

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Today’s a big day in Ontario, the province where I live: Election Day. June 12th is the day when Ontarians have the opportunity to make their voices heard and… vote for the member of provincial parliament in their riding who will represent them in the legislative assembly and the leader of the party with the most seats becomes Premier. Yes, it is as convoluted as it sounds.

While no one’s entirely certain who will come out on top this time around, there’s one thing that’s almost a sure bet: there’s a good chance this year we’ll see a record low voter turnout. Just like last time. After all, even the best of the parties we have to choose from is pretty unsavory, and it’s unpleasant to have to choose the best of the worst at the ballot box, y’know?

But I’m not sure that’s the reason most people decide not to vote. Actually, I’m concerned far too many choose to remain ignorant about things that really matter. (And like it or not, politics really does matter.)

But this kind of embrace of ignorance goes by another name: foolishness.

Years ago, during another election season, my wife asked one of her coworkers—one who was extremely well educated—if he was going to be voting that evening. His response? “Nah, it doesn’t really matter. They’re all bad anyway.” Incidentally, he also once argued with me that nothing really existed, including himself.

Foolishness.

Slightly beyond politics, there’s the ongoing myth of overpopulation, one which continues to hold sway in popular culture, even as we see nations sink into economic disaster due to under-population.

“I can’t believe you have three children—don’t you know we have a population problem?”

“Actually, the entire population of the world could fit in Texas with about 1000 sq. ft. between each person.”

Foolishness.

And then there’s the recent rise of the “trigger warning”—the idea that you might need to label blogs, articles, and, shockingly, classic books because they have content that might be offensive to modern sensibilities.

“I had no idea this book had this word in it! How can they put it on the curriculum?!?”

“It’s Huckleberry Finn.”

Foolishness.

There’s a kind of ignorance that comes with a lack of knowledge. When we simply don’t know something, that doesn’t make us fools. It just makes us ignorant. It’s a situation we can change and should want to gladly. But when we embrace ignorance, when we latch on to nonsensical ideas and perpetuate them, when we fail to engage with literature and the arts, when we neglect rights and privileges because politicians are “bad…” I can’t help but wonder how much the words of Ecclesiastes apply to us:

“Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool” (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

 

When our culture helps and hinders our witness

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Though I was born and raised in a small agricultural community in northwest Mississippi, some may doubt my southern roots when they learn that I’ve never been to a county fair. I’ve never risked my life on a thrill ride that fits onto an 18-wheeler, never entered a farm animal into a competition, and never ridden a mechanical bull. I can’t see myself doing any of those things, ever.

But if I did go to a county fair, one thing I know I would do is enjoy the many deep fried delicacies. I’m not referring to potatoes or even pickles, but to things like fried Hershey bars, Oreo cookies, and blocks of butter. These treats are sweet to the tongue but sour on the stomach. They are so delicious that you can’t help but finish them and seek more, but they soon turn into lead balls in your belly and wreak intestinal havoc. Only time and liters of water can help the trials pass.

Neither of my grade school boys share my affection for deep fried delights, not even the savory varieties. Recently I attempted to surprise them with an unhealthy treat for dinner: fried chicken. As I ripped into a chicken leg that dripped with greasy goodness, my boys removed all of the skin and breading and pulled the meat from the bone. “I don’t like all that crunchy stuff, Dad. It’s too drippy with grease.” I was simultaneously proud and disappointed. That they prefer healthier foods is great, but I hate for them to lose a crucial part of their southern heritage. If they give up fried chicken now, they may give up sweet tea and watching college football tomorrow.

I confess my high level of ignorance when it comes to any Canadian cultural distinctives y’all have (that is, those of you who are Canadian1). Most of what I know about Canada I learned from Martin Short in that quirky tourism film y’all put on at Epcot in Walt Disney World. I’ll bet you a toonie there is more to Canadian culture than ice hockey, a two-four of Molson, Celine Dion, money that looks like it belongs in a board game, maple leaves, and Justin Bieber.2

I also imagine that in the same way I am grateful for my southern heritage, Canadians are grateful for theirs. When my wife and I got married 14 years ago, we were willing to live anywhere, but we preferred to root, bloom, and produce fruit in the South. We desired to go to restaurants that served sweet tea. We wanted Yankees to be the ones with funny accents. We hoped to use phrases like “I used ta could” or “I am fixin’ to do it” and not be questioned about our command of the English language. We sought the surroundings of hospitable, hard-working, kind and patriotic people who usually did the right thing just because you’re supposed to.

But the American south, not unlike the frozen tundra that is Canada, has more than its fair share of cultural qualities that I, as a follower of Jesus, am not thrilled about. Take southern hospitality. When I talk with Yankees who are on vacation or have just moved down here, they almost always say, “Everyone is so nice.” Of course we are. But they don’t know what we may really be thinking. We may simply be keeping the peace, telling ourselves how much better we are than them so that we’ll be nice to them and they will think highly of us. If we’ve ever said, “Bless your heart” to you, we’re glad you felt better about whatever stupid thing you did, but that was really our way of saying, “We’re so much better than you! Aren’t you thankful for how kindly we have expressed our superiority?”

Isn’t it fascinating that a culturally ingrained commitment to kindness can also produce a sense of moral superiority over the person you are being kind towards? It’s moments like these that led me to explore the relationship between the cultural behaviors and habits I have and my faith in Jesus. What I’m discovering is that distinguishing between the seed of the gospel and the soil of the culture in which the gospel seed is planted can be a difficult task in cultures that are, by and large, moral.

Kind of like the American south.

Kind of like parts of Canada, eh?

So the trick in living as a Christian, then, is to separate our faith from those parts of our culture that taint it without a harsh disregard for the gift of the culture God put us in. There will always be things associated with our culture to peel away because they distract us from the gospel or distort our message to a lost world. There are also things about our culture that make us who we are and are God’s gifts to us to use for the expansion of His kingdom. The more we grow in our love for Jesus, the more we will see where to be more like our culture because it helps and less like it because it hinders.


Today’s post is by Rob Tims. Rob is the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt. He blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com. You can follow him there and on twitter @robertltjr.


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Concerning gender issues…

Peter Jones:

In general we are losing our way in defining a common agreement on “general biblical principles” that is, a general hermeneutic that does justice to the whole of inspired Scripture, and, in so doing, preserves “the vitals of religion,” especially concerning sexuality. Various “general principles” have and are being used to understand the question of sexuality—evolutionary progress, issues of freedom, a wideness in God’s mercy, questions of power and rights, the insignificance of gender. Such approaches have often succeeded in promoting conclusions in the present that in years past were shocking and unthinkable, and we ask: “How does this happen?” A local congregation of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) is seeking membership in the PCA precisely over the RCA’s theological drift, moving from issues of women’s ordination a generation ago to now the acceptance of homosexual practice. Such hermeneutic principles, that have facilitated such a drift, must be identified and understood, if a similar drift is to be avoided in the PCA.

Thank God for evolution

This is very clever (and not what you might think based on the title):

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon is also offering some deals on their Kindle tablets as we get closer to Father’s Day.

I am not Antinomian

Elyse Fitzpatrick:

Recently I received what was simply the latest in a string of inquiries/accusations about my views on the place of God’s law in the life of the Christian. I am thankful for this on a couple of levels: First of all, I’m thankful that people actually do care about theology. This is a great good. I am also thankful that there are people who, for the sake of the church and out of love for me, have taken time and ginned up the courage to actually ask me about my beliefs, rather than just simply writing me off or accepting an accusation as truth. So…if you’re interested in this at all, thank you.

10 words The Simpsons invented

Fun fact.

Iain Murray on T4G

What is happening in the United States? Too often opinion is offered by those dependent on second-hand information. It is further regrettable that, due to the publisher’s subtitle, A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinism, the idea was launched that what is happening can be called ‘The New Calvinist movement’. The umbrella label is a misnomer. A ‘movement’ suggests organization, staff, office, and usually, its own magazine and conference. The phenomenon being described has none of these things. It is far more indefinite and diverse.

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It multiplied

Ray Ortlund:

I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world? His answer: They didn’t have one.

What then did they have? Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking About Q Nashville

Hunter Baker:

When I look at Q, its hosts, and the young people participating in it, I suspect I am seeing the cultural stance of those who have grown up in pervasively Christian subcultures. For them, rebelling means rebelling against Massive Baptist Church or Church Related University or Clearly Wealthy Famous Preacherman. Those are the holders of power in their world. It is little wonder to them that the dominant culture dislikes us. We are hypocrites. We don’t measure up to our own standards. And we are judgmental while the secular world is more understanding. Or so it seems to them.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway has a number of wonderful books by J.I. Packer on sale this week:

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Finally, a few books by Stephen Altrogge are on for 99¢ each:

Celebrities Are Not Commodities

Richard Clark:

Between movies, television shows, pop music, websites, and podcasts, our lives are full of background noise created by and in service to celebrities. Even if you’re not obsessed with Hollywood and tabloid culture, you’ve no doubt been a little too excited about being in the same room with your favorite pastor, writer, or theologian.

The reality of celebrity throws a wrench into our well-oiled mastery of relationships. We may have learned to restrain our judgment of those closest to us, to give those around us the benefit of the doubt, and to show grace to those who sin against us. We might have learned not to keep a record of wrongs. We might have learned to forgive our friends 777 times. We allow ourselves to continue in friendships that inconvenience and disturb us, because that’s what Jesus would have done. But all of this is exhausting. We need a break.

10 Ingredients Of A Happy Home

David Murray:

One of the greatest blessings we can give our children is the cultivation of a happy home. I say “cultivation” because it doesn’t happen automatically; it requires conscious, determined, deliberate effort. From my own experience and from observing others, here are ten ways to cultivate a happy home.

The Church Needs More Tattoos

Russell Moore:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) often tells audiences, “Republican Party events need more people with tattoos.” It struck me, as I heard him say this, that this is kind of what evangelical Christians ought to be saying about our churches. It struck me further when I read this tribute my former student Spencer Harmon wrote about his new wife and her past that this is precisely the issue facing the next generation of the Bride of Christ, the church.

What Paul (the senator, not the Apostle) means, it seems, is that his party, if it is to have a future, shouldn’t count on just doing the same thing it’s always done, and it can’t rely on people who look like what people think Republicans ought to look like. The party must expand out to people whose pictures don’t currently show up in a Google image search for “Republican.” There are people, Paul says, who agree with the Republican message, in theory, but who pay no attention to it because they assume they aren’t the kind of people the party wants to talk to.

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Can We Trade Sexual Morality for Church Growth?

Russell Moore:

Sexual morality didn’t become difficult with the onset of the sexual revolution. It always has been. Walking away from our own lordship, or from the tyranny of our desires, has always been a narrow way. The rich young ruler wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh. He came to give us something else, to join us to his own life.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts free

Reformation Trust’s free book of the month is The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. Get it for free for the Kindle at Amazon, the ePub edition at Ligonier.org or for iBooks at iTunes.

Constitutional Wisdom and Common Sense on Ceremonial Prayer

Albert Mohler:

The Court’s ruling yesterday is important at every level — even as the controversy over the ruling is very illuminating. Some people argue that the problem is prayer in any form, and would simply prohibit public prayers at any governmental occasion. Others, like the women who brought this case against Greece, New York, would argue that prayers may be allowed, but only if they are sufficiently nonsectarian prayers offered to a generic deity. Others, including Justice Kennedy and a majority of the Court, argue that the nation has clearly allowed explicitly “sectarian” prayers to be offered at government occasions, and that the nation’s commitment to pluralism then depends on the invitation to pray being extended to all, regardless of creed.

How the Lego Movie should have ended

HT: Zach

Church Is For Messy People

Stephen Altrogge:

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.” Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

10 Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids

David Murray summarizes ten lessons he’s learned from Dave Ramsey’s new book, Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money.

Get The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes for $5

Westminster Books has a killer sale on Zack Eswine’s new book, The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. This week only, you can get this book for $5 per copy. Here’s the description:

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that life under the sun does not play out according to neat and tidy rules. He asks us to see the world around us in all its messiness and explores what that messiness reveals about us, our world, and God. The Preacher is plainspoken, because people live in the midst of this mess and we have to talk about it. Zack Eswine gives us a meditation that engages people where they are and invites them to draw near to God who enters their world to redeem it and them.

Links I like

But What About Gluttony!?!

Kevin DeYoung interacting with a common argument:

Why do conservative Christians make such a fuss about homosexuality and give everyone a free pass—most notably themselves—when it comes to gluttony?

That’s a question you hear a lot of us these days and one you should expect to hear again and again, posed in a hundred different ways, in the years ahead.

Why are we asking about gays in heaven when we should be asking if there will be fat people in heaven? How can we say “their” sin of homosexuality is terrible while “our” sin of gluttony is no big deal? Everyone’s a biblical literalist until you bring up gluttony. Besides, the Bible contains three times as many exhortations against gluttony than against homosexuality.

How should Christians think about these claims? Well, the operative word in that question is “think.” We can’t settle for gotcha headlines and arguments that are more slogan than substance. We have to be open to reason, open our Bibles, and think this through.

The Surprising and Sickening Outrage over Josie Cunningham’s Abortion

Trevin Wax:

A woman in the United Kingdom faces an unplanned pregnancy that prevents her from taking the next step in her career. She makes the choice to abort.

And Great Britain erupts in judgment and anger toward the woman.

What gives?

Why the outrage toward a woman exercising her “reproductive rights?”

Always Apologize First

Barnabas Piper:

On occasion a particularly young and/or naïve person asks me for advice about being a husband or a dad. (No one seasoned or wise bothers.) Since I got married young and had kids young I have “experience”, I guess. By “experience”, of course, I mean scars and bruises from stumbling into obstacles created by my own idiocy and arrogance.

When the question is put to me “what piece of advice would you give to a new husband/dad” I want to leave minds blown and mouths agape. I want to utter a witticism that would make Solomon jealous and Confucius plagiarize. Instead, all I have ever been able to come up with is this: “Always apologize first.”

Sinner, Come Home

Albert Mohler:

I was honestly unprepared for where John would take us at the conclusion of his message. He took us into a crowded tent where he, as a young boy, saw his own father, an evangelist, plead with sinners to come to Jesus — “Won’t you come? . . . Won’t you come?”

Time and space seemed to collapse for me as I remembered being in the same kind of meeting, hearing the same gospel pleading, many, many times as a boy. I remember one time in particular, when as a nine-year-old boy I heard a part-time preacher who was a full-time phosphate miner preach the gospel and then plead with us to come to Christ. And I did.

God’s Word is most powerful in context

Sandy Grant:

Yesterday, I shared how words from an old youth fellowship song came back and comforted me when the birth of our twins turned into something of an emergency, and I was unable to articulate any prayer of my own.

Later I realised the words came from Psalm 61:1-3. And they give beautiful pictures of what God is like; the concern of a mother hen, the strength of a strong tower, the security of the higher rock. He is a refuge to all who turn to him.

And God’s Spirit brought these realities home so very powerfully to me that day so many years ago. However I make a confession to you. When the words of that song came into my mind, I didn’t know they were from Scripture. I knew the general ideas were Scriptural. But even though I was a Moore College graduate, I didn’t know those song lines were direct quotes from Psalm 61.

It was only several years later, while I was reading the Psalms one day, that the penny dropped. And so I had another surprise

Because the song only uses the first few verses from the Psalm. But there are several more verses. And those extra verses add a context. And to my mind, they made the psalm even more powerful.

Links I like

Holy Relics: The Church Pew

Martyn Wendell Jones:

Unlike the Lord, they are hard and unforgiving. Wherever two or three hundred are gathered, there they will be also. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, but his followers will have somewhere to rest their behinds, even unto the end of the age.

Evangelical church pews are a sign of our identification with the Christian Church universal because they are not unique to our houses of worship. Austere, they stand in sanctuaries all over the world, colors changing with those of the available materials for building them in different countries and climates. I’ve seen them bolted to stone floors, hardwood floors, and floors covered in carpet to mask the material underneath; I’ve dozed on them in balmy Mediterranean weather and shivered on them through a bitter midwestern winter’s worth of Sundays, helplessly caught in the draft of God’s house and praying for the Lord to seal the door, as he sometimes does.

Tribes and the lost art of discernment

Yancey Arrington:

Unfortunately for some, looking to leaders who don’t share your theological distinctives or church philosophy is anathema. I’ve been places where if you quote [a non-tribe leader's name] or say you like [said leader's] approach to dealing with a specific issue you run the risk of being regarded as some kind of sellout, pragmatist who’s a heartbeat away from purchasing a laser light show and circus clowns for your Sunday morning “event.” You definitely are in need of a strong rebuke…or better yet, a gossip session: “Did you hear who [leader in your tribe] has been influenced by? What’s he thinking? We started our tribe because we don’t want to be like those guys!” The sad result is that isolationism and insularity become shibboleths for who the real faithful are. Do they quote our guys, go to our conferences, read our books? Another unfortunate product is the fostering of an either/ormentality which tragically pits good things against each other, forcing a tribe’s faithful to embrace one at the loss of the other. For example, one person’s tribe is either into theology or leadership but it can’t be into both. Embrace theology and you’re regarded as too doctrinaire for your own good. Embrace leadership and risk being branded as guy who puts ends over means. It’s crazy, pick any tribe and often you’ll get subjected to all kinds of false dichotomies (attractional church vs. incarnational church, Sunday school vs. missional communities, etc.) forcing you to pick the “right” side.

Whenever I see this either/or mentality I want to scream, “Whatever happened to discernment?”

Youth-Driven Culture

Stephen Nichols:

The subtle and not-so-subtle pulls of the idolization of youth manifest themselves in three areas. The first is an elevation of youth over the aged. This reverses the biblical paradigm. The second is a view of being human that values prettiness (not to be confused with beauty and aesthetics), strength, and human achievement. Think of the captain of the cheerleading squad and the star quarterback. The third is the dominance of the market by the youth demographic. That is to say, in order to be relevant and successful, one must appeal to the youth or to youthful tastes. These manifestations of our youth-driven culture deserve a closer look.

How I Almost Became a False Teacher

John Knight:

[Disability] touched every area of my life, including my understanding of who God is. I looked for this issue in the Bible and thought hard about it. But I didn’t just read the Bible, I scoured memoirs, scholarly journals, testimonials, history, academic textbooks.

I responded to the strong temptation to look for somebody else — somebody with experience with disability — to provide the theological answers to the questions I had about the Bible and disability. Some of those voices made sense to me.

One such voice was a well-known blind theologian dealing directly at some of the hardest passages in the New Testament. His writing was clear and organized. He was seriously engaging the Bible. He knew and understood the history of the church on this topic. His argumentation was tight, and his experience with the subject was relevant. His emotional appeals gelled with his rationale. He was no prosperity charlatan trying to get rich off his followers. It was a serious look at God’s word and its impact on his life as a man living with blindness.

And he was wrong

The real problem with female masturbation

Jordan Monge:

When men talk about masturbation (or at least what I have heard and read), everyone pretty much settles on the basics: It’s hard to practice self-control. It’s hard to resist indulging in lust. Really hard. Few men try to psychoanalyze the process, explaining masturbation away by realizing that they secretly have underlying issues relating to real women. (Though, it’s true that many men do struggle to relate to real women in the flesh, if the movie Her is any indication.) Men realize that even if they do resolve those relational issues with women or somehow meet their “unmet needs,” that won’t solve their real problem. Their real problem is lust.

The glamor of God-honoring grammar

keyboard

One of my favorite books you’ve never read is The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley Green (which I reviewed a looong time ago). This book didn’t exactly light any fires on the sales charts, but man, did it ever pack a wallop. Why? Because it makes a connection that once seen, you can’t unsee:

The farther we get from the gospel, the more impaired our thinking becomes.

Green demonstrates this by appealing to history, theology and philosophy, showing that the Christian faith encourages a rigorous intellectual life. But when the gospel is set aside and eventually abandoned, our ability to reason inevitably goes with it.

Our culture is certainly proof of this. We routinely see very intelligent people come to incredibly stupid conclusions. We see it at play in our peculiar understanding of tolerance, and in our frequent appeals to our feelings as the final arbiter of truth. And we even see it in-house among professing Christians, as many who call for grace and charity routinely (and intentionally) misrepresent their opponents’ views in order to stir up controversy.

This is hardly the fruit of right thinking. 

But impaired thinking goes beyond these big issues and flows into the little things of everyday life—including our ability to write coherently.

“In an era of skepticism about the possibility of meaning, we should therefore expect to see poor sentences,” Green writes. “We should expect, in a post-Christian culture, to see poor grammar, poor composition. And this is, of course, exactly what we see” (The Gospel and the Mind, 123).

In other words, when meaning is lost, coherent language follows. 

Again, look at the plethora of examples out there. Read a status update from a teenager on Facebook. Read a tweet (almost any will do). Read any number of Christian books… (Yeah, I went there. Sorry guys.)

Christians must—must—be people who communicate clearly and communicate well. This means we should be people who pursue excellence in our use of the written word. We shouldn’t be satisfied with a crass perfunctory approach to writing, treating it purely as a function and not as a skill or an art. We should revel in clever wordplay. We should delight in coherent sentences. We should rejoice in God-honoring grammar.

We should pursue and celebrate excellent writing, with restored hearts and renewed minds, for this pleases the Lord.