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A La Carte

February 18, 2010
I will cede to the wishes of my readership (at least for the time being) and return to the traditional A La Carte format.
Christianity and McLarenism
Kevin DeYoung provides a lengthy smack-down of Brian McLaren and his latest book.
The Lordship of the Five Love Languages
Justin Taylor provides a summary of David Powlison’s powerful critique of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages franchise of books.
Did I Get Married Too Young
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal discusses marrying young and dispels some of the more insidious statistical lies about marrying early. “Did I get married too young? I may not have the freedom to globetrot at my own leisure or to carouse at a bar late into the night. But when I step into our 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment, warmly lighted and smelling of fresh flowers and baked bread, I do have the freedom to kiss my beautiful wife and best friend—the woman I pledged to always love and cherish, and to raise a family with. I have no regrets. ”
Robert Morrison Project
This looks like a very interesting project. “The Robert Morrison Project is a non-profit, non-denominational organization dedicated to legally translating and publishing reformed literature in China and other South East Asian countries. Our aim is to focus on areas of the world where the church faces great hardship and often has no access to quality Christian literature.”
Chris Coghlan
I love reading articles like this one at MLB.com. Joe Frisaro writes about the faith of Marlins player Chris Coghlan, a committed Christian.
February 16, 2010
Talking to Your Kids About Sex & Marriage
Recently my pal Jay Younts, who holds down the fort at the Shepherd Press blog, wrote a series about talking to your children about sex. He did this at my request, actually, since I had gone looking for information and did not find a lot that was useful. The series is well worth reading. Here are the six parts: Talking with Your Children about Marriage & Sex
When to Talk about Sex & Marriage
What to Talk About (Part 1)
What to Talk About - (Part 2)
Talking about Sexual Attraction
Celebrate Sexual Purity
February 11, 2010
Mystery Worshipers
An article at the Seattle Times deals with mystery worshipers and online church ratings. Jim Henderson, a Seattle evangelical Christian, came up with the idea to launch ChurchRater, a site that allows people to rate the churches they have visited. In some instances they pay people to rate churches and in other instances they allow anyone to rate a church as they see fit, much like you or I might post a review of a book on Amazon. What’s the problem with this? It is part of the ongoing commercialization of the church where churches are evaluated in the same way, and often by the same criteria, as businesses. The spiritual realities of a church dictate that it is not the same thing as a business. But this kind of enterprise blurs the two. I think there is great value in having an outside person provide some feedback about his experience at your church (something I did quite recently for a friend, at his request, after attending the church he pastors) just as there is value in having a brother or sister in Christ tell you things about your life that you may be unable to see on your own. But to do it in the way ChurchRater does invites abstract, anonymous and mean-spirited critique. Drive-by anonymity, transient anonymity, is not a valid basis for critique of this sort.
Bonus - RYM Offer
Renewing Your Mind is offering a set of five short R.C. Sproul books in return for a donation of any amount.
February 10, 2010
Stop the World
In this article in the New Yorker George Packer (presumably no relation to J.I.) writes about Twitter and, in so doing, writes about other social media. He says “The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days. Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop. The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell. I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. But that supposes we’re all kneeling on the banks. In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils. Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.” I think this is well worth thinking about. Have you paused to consider recently how much information you access in a given day? How much information flies past your eyes every twenty four hours? Social media treats us like we are all kneeling at the bank of the river, wanting and even needing more. It assumes that we need and want instant access to all the information our friends and contacts can crank out. But in reality a lot of us, like Packer, already feel like we’re standing in the middle of the river, fighting to keep our heads above water. What are you doing to manage the flow of information into and around your life?
Bonus: Join the Grace to You mailing list (click here) and they will “automatically mail you an offer in March for a FREE copy of the new edition of Ashamed of the Gospel. No pressure, no obligation—we simply want to minister to you.” Ashamed of the Gospel was, to my recollection, the first Christian book I read as an adult and it pretty much rocked my world.
February 09, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about my desire to be a doer when it comes to the convergence of technology and theology, media and Christian living. I do not want to write a book full of prescriptions that I choose to ignore. And so, as I’ve dedicated increasing amounts of time to research, I’ve begun to examine my own life, my own use of technology and ultimately, its use of me.

Today I’d like to give three quick examples of the ways I’ve had to change my own life as I’ve thought about what it means for me to live in a distinctly Christian way in this media-saturated world. Maybe in the book I’ll write about some of these in greater detail. For now, I will be brief. Each of these is simply a way I’ve found that I can step just a little bit outside the torrent of media and information that always seems so close to overwhelming me.

I recently came to the realization that email owns me. A good technology that should be at my disposal has instead taken over and put me at its disposal. And if you’ve read Postman you’ll know that technology is very good at this. No sooner do we put a technology in our service than we find that it has so changed our lives that suddenly we have become enslaved to it.

When I find myself compulsively glancing at my screen every time I walk by, hoping to see an icon telling me I’ve got a new message, when I unthinkingly pull out my iPhone to check to see if I’ve got any new email, I realize I’ve got a problem. When I sit in meetings with email open, glancing as often to the screen as to the person speaking, I understand that something has gone wrong. Somehow I’ve given email more than it deserves. In my mind I’ve made it into something it is not and something it should never be. Email was never meant to be the first thing I look at in the morning or the last thing I look at before bed.

Hear me when I say that email is not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing either, really; it’s just a thing. I wouldn’t want to say that email is somehow innately destructive. It is an excellent medium for communication and one that serves many purposes very well. It is exceptionally efficient, at least when at its best, and gives us amazing levels of instantaneous access to one another. I wouldn’t want to cut it out of my life and certainly do not intend to.

But email is demanding, especially when given the reins. Recent scientific studies show that there may well be some kind of a correlation between the psychology of email and the psychology of slot machines. A variable interval schedule, as psychologists might know it, draws us back time and again, hoping for the occasional payout. Though most of the time there is no payout when checking email, just like there is usually all cost and no payout when playing slots, there is always the promise of something great. Occasionally we may win a jackpot and occasionally we may get a bit of very good news by email. But most of the time there is no payout at all. Yet our brains seem hard-wired to keep searching, to keep driving us back to the inbox, hoping against hope.

So what have I done? I’ve made email something that I’ve scheduled into my life. Let me back up just a little bit. Thinking about the nature of email and the kind of messages I receive via email, I realized that my mind had been tricking me. Really there was only very, very rarely any exceptional good that could come to me via email—the news that my book proposal had been accepted, the news that a friend had safely delivered her child. Far more often than not my email varies between junk and normal—spam and interesting yet ultimately non-urgent and non-life-changing communiques from friends and family. Such emails are easy to schedule into certain times of day; there is no reason to monitor them on a constant basis. And so I now check email only occasionally—two or three times a day seems to be sufficient. So far I don’t see that it’s had even the smallest amount of negative impact. I do not access email at all in the evenings and have cut far back on the weekends (by way of example, I checked once this past Saturday and not at all on Sunday).

It has shocked me to see that the world keeps turning even when I don’t constantly monitor email. Who would have thought it could be possible? Life goes on.

So much for email. I’ve also stopped gratifying my urge to instantly search for anything that interests me. Very often I find my mind wandering to a person or a topic and before I know it, I’m sitting at a computer and typing the search into Google. Just this evening I had the urge to search for information on Elizabeth Edwards, a book titled How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read and feedback on the new Facebook upgrade. I would then have blown fifteen minutes satisfying these impulses. I have seen that in this wired world knowledge about has become far more important than knowledge of, that the great virtue is in instant access to information. I’m going to try to stop catering to that desire. Instead, I’ll scratch things down in a notebook and look them up later. Or, more often than not, I’ll forget to look them up at all and be no worse off for it. I want to spend far less time searching out new information and more time reflecting on the information I’ve already got.

And this feeds into the third change I am making. Yesterday I went looking for books dealing with distraction. As I did so, I had a video clip playing in a different window and found that I was constantly flipping back and forth between them. The irony was not lost on me. For a long time I’ve been conflicted about A La Carte. It is a feature of this blog that has become quite popular—when people talk to me about what they like about the blog, it is probably second from the top of the list (immediately after book reviews). When I began it, some 1050 posts ago (the first one was in the summer of 2005 and I’ve been quite regularly updating it five times a week since then) I saw it as an opportunity to share a few of the things that had caught my attention the day before. To be honest, it did not evolve much beyond that. It continues to be a bit of a brain dump, or a link dump, if you prefer.

Two things have come to bother me about it. The first is the regular juxtaposition of information. Here I’ll have a story about a terrible natural tragedy that brought about massive loss of life, and right below it I’ll have a link to a silly video parody of something completely unrelated. Somehow that doesn’t seem right to me. The second thing that bothers me is the way it has become a force for distraction. I don’t think any of us really need most of the information we can find through A La Carte. It’s mostly just mindless entertainment, even the best of it. The messages implicit in A La Carte are that we can skim lots of things, but really read nothing; that all news is really just a form of entertainment. It downplays thought and reflection at the expense of immediacy and variety. The messages get lost in the medium.

So here is the plan for A La Carte. It is not going away; it is just changing. What I want to try is to post a single link every day through A La Carte. Rather than posting a list of links that caught my eye, I’ll post a link to a single story along with an assessment of why it is important. If I haven’t found anything particularly important, I won’t post at all. I do not want to be another force of distraction. I want you to know that if I link to something, it is worth your time and attention. Stay tuned tomorrow for the first iteration of the new A La Carte. We’ll see how it goes.

So those are the three changes I’ve already made. They are small things, I’m sure, but they are not without significance. Like so many people, I feel as if technology owns me as much as I own technology. More so, even. I’ve got amazing gadgets and gizmos available to me and each of them plays its own role in my life. I just need to make sure that they are in my control, rather than handing them the reins and following blindly behind them. I think I’ve done far too much of that already.

February 05, 2010
Beneath the Sun
You might cry, but this is definitely worth the read.
Most Influential Living Preachers
“In telephone interviews conducted in November 2009, Protestant pastors were asked to ‘name the top three living Christian preachers that most influence you.’ Twenty-one percent of pastors surveyed said Graham - that’s nearly three times the number who named Charles R. Swindoll, prominent pastor, author and host of the radio Bible-teaching ministry Insight for Living.”
Street Preachers Murdered
This story in the Palm Beach Post tells of three men who were murdered while street preaching. (HT:Phil Johnson)
Becoming an Adoption-Friendly Church
An article at WORLD encourages churches to become adoption-friendly. ” While Christians commonly praise adoption, most American churches do not have a single family that adopted a child during the past year. Churches can and should play a crucial role in encouraging members to “look after orphans in their distress” (James 1:27). Here are some specific ideas on how to become an adoption-friendly church: ”
The Gospel Coalition in Ontario
D.A. Carson and Mike Bullmore will be speaking in Hamilton, Ontario on Saturday April 24 as part of a Gospel Coalition regional conference.
Church Works Media
Church Works Media seems to be doing some good work. They say, “Our ‘bread and butter’ is providing doctrinally-rich, Christ-centered hymns and psalms for corporate worship—all free and reproducible.”
February 04, 2010
Social Networks
The Economist has a special report dealing with social networking sites like Facebook. While generally positive in tone, the article does raise a few concerns.
It’s Not Just a “Guy Problem”
“My life changed forever when I was 21. I’d been curious for years to see what the big deal was about pornography. One afternoon in my empty apartment, I decided to just look around the Internet. After all, I told myself, this is something guys struggle with, so it’s not like I’ll get hooked or anything. The instant that first image popped up, I knew I was addicted. And I was a Christian.” Stories like this are becoming more and more prevalent today.
Christianity Explored
Kevin DeYoung: “If you are looking for an evangelism program to use in your church, I strongly urge you to consider Christianity Explored. Although there are several good programs out there, we decided to go with CE several years ago. We appreciate that the CE videos go through a book of the Bible (Mark) and does not skip over the doctrine of sin. To give you a feel for CE, I thought I would interview Bruce Jeffries, the elder who has spearheaded the program at our church.”
February 03, 2010
Haiti Three Weeks Later
“Tomorrow [note: this is from February 1] will mark three weeks since the massive January 12th earthquake in Haiti, and tent cities remain full, even as some businesses and factories are beginning to reopen in Port-au-Prince. Now that massive amounts of aid have arrived, distribution problems have cropped up and are being addressed.” Boston.com shares a photo gallery from the devastated nation.
Haiti Food Convoy
While on the subject of Haiti, this article conveys just a bit of the trouble faced doing even the most basic humanitarian work there.
Antidepressants Are Worse Than Placebos
This is an interesting article about antidepressants and their problems. “The placebo effect—that is, a medical benefit you get from an inert pill or other sham treatment—rests on the holy trinity of belief, expectation, and hope. But telling someone with depression who is being helped by antidepressants, or who (like my friend) hopes to be helped, threatens to topple the whole house of cards.”
Piper’s Writing Leave
I’m always interested to hear what John Piper will be doing on his annual writing sabbatical. Here he explains.
Churches Promoting Martial Arts
From the New York Times: “ ‘Father, we thank you for tonight,” he said. “We pray that we will be a representation of you.’ An hour later, a member of his flock who had bowed his head was now unleashing a torrent of blows on an opponent, and Mr. Renken was offering guidance that was not exactly prayerful.”
February 02, 2010
Amazing, Extraordinary, Amazing
This is brilliant. Some fun-loving soul took Steve Job’s recent iPad announcement and essentially stripped it down to its adjectives, editing the whole speech down to 3 minutes. The result is oddly hilarious.
Is There a Jihadist in Your Church Nursery?
Russell Moore: “This past Sunday’s New York Times magazine features a story about Omar Hammami, a leader of an Al Qaeda-linked African terrorist group. Like many jihadists, he has a Muslim father, and deep resentment against the United States. Unlike most radical Islamic jihadists, he grew up in an Alabama Baptist church.” (OK, it’s a good article, but I’m mostly honoring the fact that he came up with a great title)
Give Me A Book
James Emery White writes of his love for and dependence upon books. “I tell my own graduate students the same thing - to invest in books. They are our tools. A mechanic has his set of wrenches; a doctor has his stethoscope; a chef has his cookware. Those of us in ministry, or scholarship (and ideally they are joined at the hip), have our books.”
Hijacking the Brain
Dr. Mohler looks at a book I’ve been meaning to read. “But, even as technology has brought new avenues for the transmission of pornography, modern knowledge also brings a new understanding of how pornography works in the male brain. While this research does nothing to reduce the moral culpability of males who consume pornography, it does help to explain how the habit becomes so addictive. As William M. Struthers of Wheaton College explains, ‘Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.’”
Tebow and Tolerance
This article from today’s Washington Post is worth the read. “I’ll spit this out quick, before the armies of feminism try to gag me and strap electrodes to my forehead: Tim Tebow is one of the better things to happen to young women in some time. I realize this stance won’t endear me to the ‘Dwindling Organizations of Ladies in Lockstep,’ otherwise known as DOLL, but I’ll try to pick up the shards of my shattered feminist credentials and go on.”
Deal of the Day Month
“Welcome to a full month of ridiculously low prices on Sovereign Grace music and books. We call it our February sale. For the past two years during the month of February, we reduced the prices of all the resources we produce. The response has been overwhelming. So we decided to repeat the lunacy. ”
February 01, 2010
Chandler on Suffering Well
Associated Press wrote an article about Matt Chandler and his battle with a brain tumor: “Chandler’s lanky 6-foot-5-inch frame rests on a table at Baylor University Medical Center. He wears the same kind of jeans he wears preaching to 6,000 people at The Village Church in suburban Flower Mound, where the 35-year-old pastor is a rising star of evangelical Christianity.”
Four Costs of Becoming a Christian
From the J.C. Ryle Quotes blog: “J.C. Ryle writes in his classic work Holiness that there are four things a person must be ready to give up if they wish to become a Christian. Beginning Monday February 1st, we will ponder Ryle’s short quotes regarding each particular cost.”
Al Mohler’s Study
Al Mohler has provided a video tour of his expansive personal library.
Keeping Faith in the White House
ABC writes about President Obama’s poor track record in going to church since becoming President. While it is easy to criticize him for that, it is interesting to read of the challenges he faces in just heading to church on a Sunday morning. “Security concerns mean costly and complicated measures to ensure the president’s safety on church outings, including screening every member of the congregation for weapons and sweeping the church building and areas around it for threats.”
Fight the Good Fight
I enjoyed this video which tells the story of Peter Kuzmic.
Deal of the Day: Religion Saves (Free!)
This month’s free book at ChristianAudio is Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves. It is yours for the download.