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Showing posts from 2018

Letters to an American Christian

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In Letters to an American Christian, Bruce Ashford writes a collection of letters to a hypothetical college student, Christian, attending a progressive university. Ashford writes on a broad array of hot-button issues in this current political climate, ranging from the foundational: why should Christians soil their shoes in the muck of politics at all? To the more practical: what should a Christian's view of socialism be? What about global warming? Racial reconciliation? Immigration?
This struck me as a daunting task.
Interestingly enough, what most surprised me about this book is how non-controversial it is. In a political moment like ours with such an overwhelming divide between right and left, I was expecting this book to retain at least a portion of the spirit of the times we live in. Ashford writes this, however, with a most measured tone. He writes with levity, injecting humor throughout his correspondence. Even in areas where I initially disagreed with his position, I found my…

Christless Christianity: Necessary Assessment but the Pendulum Swings

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As a born and raised evangelical, and someone who remains "evangelical" despite the loaded connotations of the term, Horton's Christless Christianity was a punchy read, necessary for me to grapple with. Even while there were certain areas I disagreed with the author, this book forced me to give an honest look at my own church tradition, and ways that it can perhaps be re-aligned to a more Biblical, Gospel focused model.
Christless Christianity begins with a critical assessment of the modern Americanized Gospel.Horton laments the "Pelagian" heresy that is the de facto religion of the human heart, which Horton argues, exists even in our most conservative houses of worship. This heresy limits Jesus to an example to follow or a means to a better life. The gospel is good advice, not any more "good news" of a reality outside of us by which we are shaken and confronted. We emphasize "deeds not creeds" as we climb the ladder to "your best life n…

Book in Review: Mere Hope

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Mere Hope is a brief book about the growing cynicism of our time, which has most definitely seeped into our churches. Jason Duesing calls us to a renewed gospel hope rooted in its Savior who reigns inside of us.
A few years ago I detected in myself a malignant escapism growing in my spirit. I had then watched several friends of mine stray from the faith, and all around things seemed to be growing darker and darker. What my natural response was then, and at times is now, was to withdraw into the inner chambers, to lock the door with the handle and the bolt. With “no trespassing” signs on my lawn and a shotgun in my closet I would make it through. Even with gritted teeth, I would make it through.
Duesing’s book is a needed reminder to me that we have great cause for hope, and it is not in ourselves or in our determined mental makeup. He reminds us that we need to look down at our gospel hope, look at Christ’s reign within, look out at the hope for the nations, and look above to our future…

Chancellorsville – Stephen Sears

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Chancellorsville is my first book by Stephen Sears. It is thick in content and thorough in the extreme. I can tell you right now that it will not be my last of this author.
Sears begins by providing the context of the fateful battle. He discusses the previous failure of the Army of the Potomac under Ambrose Burnside five months earlier at Fredericksburg: the unimaginative hurling of men before superior Confederate positions and the slaughter that ensued.
In comes Joseph Hooker, a general I had previously thought of as brash and foolhardy—just another name to add to the pantheon of incompetent Union generals. Sears, however, makes the case that Hooker’s failures in the Chancellorsville campaign were less due to him directly (as was the case with his predecessors)—and more due to the failures of those immediately beneath his command, as well as some plain bad luck.
It is difficult to imagine a more difficult job than Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac at the start of 1863. Figh…

Ponderings on "The Abolition of Man"

Last week I read through a short book entitled The Abolition of Man. Upon completion, my head was spinning from the exercise of attempting to track with its author's (C. S. Lewis) logic. The following week I listened to the audio version (as well as some lectures from Hillsdale College) which helped considerably. I am currently reading through it again because this book is that important. There is no question: we are observing the fulfillment of Lewis's prophecies day by day.
Lewis starts off The Abolition of Man by addressing a small quotation from an educational work for "the upper forms of schools" (what he calls the Green book) which states in summary that our feelings having no real relation with things outside of us. Lewis takes this small statement and shows how, when it follows its logical path, will inevitably lead to the abolition of man.
Lewis argues that If we teach the young that our emotions do not correlate with anything outside of us we will create a ne…

Book in Review: Preaching By The Book

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Good Primer; Lacking in Examples
Preaching by the Book provides a formulaic step by step approach to producing "text-driven" sermons. Pace is a big proponent of the expositional model in which each sermon point branches off of the one textual big idea. In this short book he provides an excellent summary of sound Biblical interpretation methodology, as well as a very helpful sermon drafting process. There are many streams of wisdom throughout!
I appreciated Pace's understanding of the centrality of the Holy Spirit and His involvement in the entire preaching process. The Spirit wrote the Scriptures, helps us understand and communicate the Scriptures, and He convicts the hearts of the listeners with the Scriptures. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it--and as preachers we need to ensure we are doing none of this in our efforts alone.
I will say that Pace's preaching model seems a little too rigid. He presents a good exegetical point by point m…

Two Kinds of Prophets

There are two kinds of truth speakers. Two kinds of prophets.
1) Detached Proclaimers:
There are men today like Jonah, who have the message of the coming wrath from the Lord; and like Jonah they proclaim the message in outward obedience. This is great, and something to celebrate! But these men are detached from their message, and their hearts do not break for their hearers. They care little whether or not fire and brimstone rains from heaven in the end. These Jonahs do what they have been called to do, sometimes effectively--but they do so out of obligation.
There are many who are like Job's good friend Eliphaz, a man who seemed to have a high view of the transcendent God and a developed doctrine of the depravity of man. When I read what Eliphaz says throughout Job, I nod in agreement: "this guy is pretty close to right!" Indeed, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?" And yet his harsh speech heaps greater wei…

Stop Saying: "That's Just my Opinion"

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One of the reasons G. K. Chesterton is entertaining to read is because he was so opinionated. He had definite positions on virtually every topic, ranging from: religion to politics to literature to cheese. His essay on cheese is a personal favorite. He wrote entire books calling out prominent figures in his day who had opinions that differed from his, bludgeoning them with pointed verbal diatribes, all in good fun of course. Mostly.
But aside from this being very entertaining to read, Chesterton reminds us that opinions are important things. Maybe the most important. If it is true that we live in a world that relates to Truth, a world in which there is Right and Wrong, a world in which souls result in the eternal outcomes of salvation and damnation--it is important that we have fixed beliefs on these things. Beliefs which relate correctly with the truth.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where truth, doctrine, viewpoints, opinions are downplayed as secondary, and where relationships and …

Book in Review: Antietam

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James McPherson is as close to authoritative as Civil War historians get. Having a few years ago read his excellent Battle Cry of Freedom, I enjoyed picking up this much slenderer volume on the turning point of the war: Antietam.
Like the best historians, McPherson loads his narrative with swaths of direct quotations from an array of sources: newspapers, soldier's journals, officers, foreign dignitaries...etc. With this information he spends over half of the book setting the stage for Antietam. We learn about the extreme sway of morale as the conflict evolved, the Union success on the Western Front, and the Confederate success of Second Manassas. These events provide needed context for the clash to come.
There is little question that the Battle of Antietam is the turning point of the Civil War. So much hinged on the outcome of one day. A Confederate victory would have likely pushed voters in the North to support the Democrats--a party looking for peace. On top of that, a crucial vic…

How to Get Desire in Religion

A good friend of mine recently shared with me that he is having a hard time "wanting" to grow deeper in his Christian walk. This friend is by all accounts a very earnest individual, someone who has walked with God for some time; someone who has seen God at work in his life. The question is a question of desire. How do we get ourselves to actually want more of God? When does this whole thing stop becoming a drudgery and actually start becoming a delight?

Any Christian reading this will likely sympathize and relate with this frustration. My introverted self frequently finds itself in hollow lulls where my emotions and desires are just not cooperating with what I am called to think and to do. How do we bring them up to speed? Can we actually expect the privilege of having our desires working in tandem with our duty?

Two Extremes:

There is the Pragmatist: grit your teeth and "do it, just do it" in blunt force fashion, irrespective of where year heart may be in the moment…

Book in Review: Heretics

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I am becoming quite the G. K. Chesterton fanboy of late. Heretics is another well known work of his that I have put under my belt. Short review below:

Energetic and Fun

Heretics is a scattered assortment of short verbal critiques of writers, philosophers, politicians of Chesterton’s day. Throughout, Chesterton is as paradoxical as ever, reversing every commonly accepted position and creed with the sardonic wit characteristic of him. Those who are familiar with his other works will likely enjoy the energetic pugnacity, while I could equally see how others newer to him could see it as overkill.

Heretics is not as timeless as his seminal work Orthodoxy because, though philosophies never fully vanish, we are over 100 years removed from the characters Chesterton is calling out in Heretics. Because of this, many of the chapters are just not as engaging because we lack the background information regarding each of the heretics described. Chesterton does try to get the reader up to speed on what …

Is the Law a Positive Good?

I checked out a book from my Uncle’s library a few months ago. He has a little study in his laundry room with books stacked to the ceiling, and every time I am over there I will return what I borrowed last and check out something new. 
One thing I have been looking to get a better understanding of is “law and gospel”; primarily what is the role of the law for the Christian today? This is an important question to ask. With antinomianism on the rise, and at least one prominent evanglelical recently calling to entirely ignore the teachings and commandments of the Old Testament (in light of the vibrancy of the New Covenant, in his words), I wanted to better formulate what the law’s proper place is.
The book I looked at was by C.F.W. Walther entitled The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, written in 1885, and it actually led me down a different direction than I was looking.
Is the law a good thing?
Walther is a gifted theologian from the Lutheran school. He classifies the law as everyt…

Being a Created Thing

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Here is a brief excerpt from That Hideous Strength depicting one of the main characters as she is about to experience what is the equivalent of a “conversions experience”. I think it is quite good.
“Jane had gone into the garden to think. She accepted what the Director had said, yet it seemed to her nonsensical. His comparison between Mark’s love and God’s (since apparently there was a God) had struck her nascent Spirituality as indecent and irreverent. “Religion” ought to mean a realm in which the haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest and what she called her true self would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. “Religion” was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls toward a receptive heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about religion; nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked ab…

Book in Review: "That Hideous Strength"

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As many of you know, I love C. S. Lewis. My dad read me The Chronicles of Narnia in my formative years, and they will always have a special place in my heart. I enjoyed Mere Christianity. I loved The Screwtape Letters. I am amazed at the analysis of the human psyche in ‘Till We have Faces and The Great Divorce. Even compilations of various essays such as The Weight of Glory and The Problem of Pain I found simply riveting—even in the areas I disagree with Lewis.

Then there is this Space Trilogy. I read Out of Silent Planet several years ago and found it, well, interesting. I enjoy Lewis’s prose and style of writing, but it was unlike the others. I read Perelandra soon after, and I enjoyed it a bit more than the first, but it seemed to drag in the endless back and forth dialogue. The series seemed just so different from everything I had previously read from Lewis. Upon finishing That Hideous Strength (the third in the series) and, after thinking about it, and after some added internal di…

Book in Review: Eschatological Discipleship

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What time is it? Where are we going? What is the vision of the future that gives us purpose to live in our present time and place? These questions are some of the few Trevin Wax addresses in his recent book entitled Eschatological Discipleship.

Eschatology is a theological term often associated with the topic of the end times among Christians. Wax chooses to use this word in a “broader sense” as “encompassing the Christian vision of time and the destiny of the world.” Wax is correct in his concern that many Christians are living with a “shrunken view of eschatology” which “fails to impact discipleship” and leaves Christians without the necessary tools to read the signs of the times and navigate its darkness. Unfortunately it is not uncommon to see Christianity viewed as a truncated list of rules or doctrines detached from any future vision of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this book, Wax gives a call for Christians today to live in the present as people of the future.

After defining his term…