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December 30, 2009

If you’ve read this blog for a while, I guess you know that I’m a fan of The Lord of the Rings. I’m not one of those Tolkien fanboys who is going to react with offense when you get a fact wrong. Rather, I’m a fan of a good story and it’s beyond dispute, I think, that in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien has crafted an epic story. I mentioned recently that I’ve been reading the book with my family and that as I’ve been doing so, certain components of the story have been jumping out at me. Today I want to point to one more of these.

One thing that sets The Lord of the Rings apart from just about every other fantasy series I’ve ever tried reading is that it does not confuse good with evil. It never glamorizes evil. Tolkien carefully separates the good from the evil and avoids blurring distinctions between the two. It is always fascinating to keep an eye on Tolkien’s portrayal of these the two opposing forces.

One aspect of this that has stood out to me recently is the inability of evil to understand good and, conversely, good’s ability to understand evil. Here Tolkien has tapped into a crucial reality about good and evil.

As I’m sure you know, the whole book is based on a long and dangerous quest to destroy the Ring of Power. Many years before the commencement of the story, Sauron had created a ring and into this ring he had invested much of his strength and will. This ring was his greatest strength and potentially his greatest weakness. With it he was nearly unapproachable in his power; without it he was weakened; if it were to be destroyed, he too would be destroyed. Through a series of unlikely events the ring has ended up in the hands of Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, who has now been given the task of venturing to Mount Doom to destroy this ring. All the forces of evil are arrayed against him as he does this. And yet, somehow, he succeeds (sorry to give away the ending, but I’m sure you already know all of this). How then does Frodo succeed in so unlikely a quest?

He succeeds because Sauron, powerful though he may be, never understands what Frodo plans to do. Sauron sees good through the lens of evil. He cannot conceive of anyone actually destroying something as powerful as his ring. He assumes that everyone would do what he would do—use the ring to rule over others. Had he understood good, he would have known that the forces of good would destroy the ring and, in so doing, destroy him. He could simply then have surrounded Mount Doom with his armies and intercepted anyone who approached. But instead he projected his evil thoughts onto the forces of good and determined that they must be doing what he would do—using the ring as a means of power. And thus his actions, his attempts to find and retrieve the ring, were all wrong. In his evil he completely misunderstood good. And really, this is the way it had to be. How can evil understand good?

Here Tolkien has displayed in fictional form an important reality. Evil cannot understand good. When I communicate with an unbeliever, as I’ve been doing in my letters to Luke (another of which is coming soon) I can have confidence that I understand him better than he understands me. Why? Because I have been brought from darkness into light, from evil into good. I’ve known evil and now know good. Through the Bible I am given God’s eyes to see evil as he sees it and to understand it as he understands it. This gives me a whole new clarity. But one who has never turned to Christ has known only evil. He can see what is good but can understand it only through that lens of evil. I know what it is to be lost in a way that he cannot know what it is to be saved. Tolkien got this one right.

December 28, 2009

Today, the second to last day of my vacation, I offer this little reflection on Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology. It is a massive book and more than a little intimidating, but still very much worth the read.

After six introductory chapters, Waltke turns to Old Testament theology proper in a chapter entitled “The Gift of the Cosmos” and here, as we might expect, he discusses God’s work as creator. He argues here that it is critically important that we read the opening chapters of Genesis properly, acknowledging the author’s intended literary genre. Though he eventually argues that this section is meant to be read as “ancient near eastern cosmogony,” which in turns leads to supporting his views on theistic evolution (a view I do not support) I found something very useful in this section. He explains how a wrong reading of the creation account leads to further and deeper problems. He shows how culture’s refusal to acknowledge the creator necessarily leads to the anti-God worldview so apparent in society around us. “Christians now live on a mission field with worldviews that besiege the message of ethical monotheism.” He says that this new paganism has six faces, each of which proceeds from the one before it.

1. The common worldview of the Western world since the time of the enlightenment has been materialism. This philosophy says that matter and its motions constitute the entire universe. Everything in the universe has to be regarded as due to material causes.

2. There is an implication to materialism. Since everything is material, ideally and theoretically, everything is subject to empiricism. Here he quotes Alan Reynolds who says, “empiricism, which insists that all knowledge is based on observation, experimentation, and verification, has led to belief in a self-sufficient universe that can be understood on its own terms, without any need of the transcendent or of God.”

3. Together materialism and empiricism entail a belief in an inherent coherence within nature between cause and effect. This, in turn, has led to belief in determinism, which understands reality as mechanical and without inherent value. Life’s origins and the nature of humanity have natural rather than divine causation.

4. Secularism is a political or social philosophy that embraces each of these “-isms”—materialism, empiricism and determinism. It embraces natural causation and and rejects religious faith and worship in the public square. Nature, society, and government become instruments dedicating only to fulfilling our material desires which masquerade as “rights.” This is fast becoming the dominant worldview among Western intellectual elites.

5. Secular humanism is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values and dignity are predominant. This leads to a kind of intense pragmatism that calculates everything in terms of its benefit to humanity. There is no acknowledgment of God and his rule of the created order.

6. Post-modernism or New Ageism marks what is really a return to old-fashioned paganism, though with a distinctly modern twist to it. New Ageism takes distinctives of Eastern religion and distorts them with Western concepts. Post-modernism replaces the objective reality of God as revealed in special revelation with subjective deifications of individual expressions of spirituality. Waltke says, “it rejects the notion of a revealed moral code and instead tests truth by its therapeutic value.” In this worldviews there are no better or worse cultures but merely differences between them.

When you see these six faces of the new paganism you see how important it is that we get Genesis right! The irony, I suppose, is that I am not at all convinced that Waltke is correct in his views on creation. Still, he acknowledges the Creator, of course, and acknowledging God as He reveals Himself in the Bible is a safeguard against the post-modern, secular humanistic viewpoint that pervades society. Those in our society who refuse to admit the existence of this God are soon left with materialism and from there empiricism and all that these -isms entail.

December 23, 2009

In The Marketing of Evil, author David Kupelian disusses how so many of the social ills we see in our society have not merely happened, but have been actively marketed and promoted by men and women with specific, unbiblical agendas. One pearl of wisdom which Kupelian repeats throughout his book is that the person who frames the terms of a debate almost always wins that debate. In other words, the person who is allowed to set the language in a debate over a particular social issue, will almost always be able to prevail in winning that debate. While we could choose any number of examples to support this, perhaps the most obvious is in the debate over abortion.

The right to abortion was not fought over the right of a mother to kill her child. No lawyer marched into court and demanded that a mother have the right to allow a doctor to probe her womb for a helpless baby and dismember the fetus. And later, as debate raged over partial birth abortion, no one demanded that a woman be able to give birth to a premature baby and have the doctor crush that child’s skull. The child has been left out of the equation altogether. Instead, the debate always has been and seemingly always will be over a woman’s right to choose. It was never presented an issue of life or death, but an issue of choice. And who, in a free and democratic culture, could deny a person the right of free choice? The debate was over and won before it began. It was over when the abortionists framed the terms of the debate. Kupelian says, “In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the “abortion rights” movement—with all of its emotionally compelling catchphrases and powerful political slogans—has succeeded in turning what once was a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right.”

This battle was won with catchphrases such as:

  • Women must have control over their own bodies.”
  • Safe and legal abortion is every woman’s right.”
  • Who decides? You decide!”
  • Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her doctor.”
  • Freedom of choice—a basic American right.”

Interestingly, feminists are now turning against choice. Choice, it seems, has come to haunt feminists. Why? Quite simply, far too many women, in the opinion of these feminists, are choosing to forsake their careers in favor of full-time motherhood. Choice has spilled over the from the abortion debate and has impacted all of feminism. Some women, it seems, are not using their right to choose in a way that pleases the more radical feminists.

In the final days of 2005, Linda Hirshman wrote a harsh critique of such women in a much-discussed article entitled “Homeward Bound.” “‘Choice feminism’ claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same ‘choice.’ Exactly what kind of choice is that?” She documents the failure of “choice feminism” and proposes that the word “choice” be removed as the hallmark of the feminist agenda. She proposes that, rather than offering women choice, society must offer women solutions they can enact on their own. She further proposes three rules that women must follow: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry. Appended to the three rules is just one more: a woman should never have more than one child. “A second kid pressures the mother’s organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs. But cities, with their Chinese carryouts and all, are better for working mothers.” In short, a second child requires a greater committment and increases the likelihood that a mother will enact her right to choose and elect to stay home with the children.

Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com, discusses some of the impact of this move away from choice in the future of feminism:

On abortion. The words choice and pro-choice will be de-emphasized. Instead, stress will be placed on weighing the rights and health of the woman against those of the unborn with the clear message that the woman takes precedence.

On sexual harassment. The argument will not change because it has proven successful but the approach will be broadened to include male victims, especially boys. For example, the latest survey from the American Association of University Women on school and campus harassment reports on male victims.

On domestic violence. The argument will not change and the approach will not be broadened significantly. In gender feminist theory, domestic violence is key to establishing that traditional marriage is a dangerous place for women.

McElroy, in disagreement with Hirshman, tell her readers what she feels is the best “feminist line” for our new century. “Your peaceful choices are yours alone and no one else’s business. Be a housewife, love your children without a time schedule…or dive into a 24/7 job that you get on merit. Live your own dream. Be your own woman.”

It is clear that a shift is occuring within feminism. Whether a rift grows along the “choice” fault line or along another, change is afoot. If there is a lesson that Christians ought to have learned from the first few decades of feminism, it is exactly what Kupelian sought to make clear in The Marketing of Evil: the person who frames the debate will win the debate. We, as Christians, need to keep abreast of these changes and, if and when possible, seek to have a voice in the framing of this debate and so many others. Once the terms have been set in stone, the debate may well have already been lost.

December 22, 2009

I don’t often watch the extra features included on DVDs these days, but a while back I must have been bored, because I sat and watched a couple of hours of extras for a series I enjoy. I was interested to learn that the creators of this show, before they began creating episodes, spent a long time crafting the backstories of the main characters. For each of these characters they created a whole history including such details as their family situations, the schools they had attended as children, past relationships, past jobs, and on and on. All of this information is kept in giant binders, ready for reference purposes. They created all of this backstory to ensure that, as they show goes on, they do not provide contradictory details for any of the characters. Though it would be a small thing, it would still be an annoyance if in one episode the character mentioned going to one high school and then, three years later, she mentioned going to a different one. And so the writers go through this process of creating background information for all of their characters. As the show progresses they continue to update this backstory binder, adding to it as they invent new details. Though you and I might never be privy to such information, it is still important that they do this as it creates a more complete, more realistic atmosphere within the show.

In a similar vein, over the past couple of months I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to my children (we’ve just passed “The Taming of Smeagol” if you must know). J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of the backstory. He did not create just a story about a hobbit and a ring, but he created a whole world. And in that world were languages and mythologies and expansive histories. This is part of what makes reading The Lord of the Rings such an immersive experience. There are no loose ends in Tolkien’s world. Neither are there many elements that seem disconnected to some part of the wider world. I’m sure people laughed at Tolkien when he went on and on about the Elvish tongue, and yet without this language and others like it the book would not be what it is today. All of these elements work together to justly gain the book the complimentary adjective “epic.” The story truly is epic in every sense.

I was thinking about such things the other day when pondering God’s creation. I wonder sometimes why God needed to create a whole universe. Let’s assume that earth is the only planet that contains life forms. And let’s assume that even spiritual realities, the kind that concern spiritual creatures, are also centered around earth (safe assumptions, both, I think). Yet for some reason the universe is expansive beyond imagining. No one can conceive of an end to it and yet no one can conceive of what it means that it has no end. We cannot gaze to its furthest extents and cannot imagine what lies beyond what our eyes can see. The best of us are baffled by it. We are all in awe of it.

A little while ago I saw an incredible photograph taken by the Hubble telescope. Hubble snapped a shot of distant space and in that single photo captured thousands of galaxies. And yet the whole portion of space captured in that photograph could be blocked out by holding a grain of sand at arm’s length. Recent estimates say that the observable universe has around 100 billion galaxies. And beyond that, who knows. The mind cannot conceive of such things.

I don’t know why God saw fit to create 100 billion galaxies and then center his redemptive work on just this one. To think that God created 100 billion galaxies and then allowed himself to be born as a tiny child on a tiny planet in a tiny galaxy is beyond the imagining of this tiny mind. All I can conclude is that all of these galaxies, this vast expanse of space, is a part of God’s backstory. That somehow it is crucial to the story he is telling here and now, the story that began long before Creation and that will never, ever end.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

December 21, 2009

Not too long ago I received an email from Luke Muehlhauser who blogs at Common Sense Atheism. He introduced himself as “a former Christian who now writes one of the most popular atheism blogs on the ‘net,” and asked if I would be interested in a brief exchange of letters. This is not the first time I’ve been asked if I would be interested in such a thing and always I’ve said, “no.” But this time I was somewhat intrigued, and especially so after Luke sent through his first missive. We have agreed to write three letters each, simply interacting about what we believe, what we don’t believe, and how we got here. I hope you will find the results interesting.

You can read Luke’s first letter to me, here.

And now, here is my response.

*****

Dear Luke,

I thank you for your letter of December 15, 2009. It was interesting to read of your early days as a believer and your gradual conversion to atheism. The civility you’ve shown in this communication and ones before it have given me confidence that we can enjoy some effective back-and-forth, not always a given when a Christian and an atheist write to one another. Thank you for offering me the opportunity to respond to you.

I feel that if this series of communications is to be at all effective, we are going to have to be both careful and charitable with our premises. In your opening letter you provide a long series of statements that together effectively say, “All thinking people acknowledge that the foundations of the Christian faith are complete nonsense.” You state each of these as accepted fact of the kind that no intelligent person could possibly deny. You offer no proof for any of them, but simply list them as a long series of unfounded statements. You say:

  • that what the church had taught you about Jesus was untrue or gravely misleading.
  • that even the most conservative scholars agree that many of the New Testament letters are forgeries.
  • that the books of the New Testament are written by very different authors (a point no Christian would dispute) who have very different theologies (a point that, at the very least, requires great nuance).
  • that the gospels contradict each other all over the place.
  • that if there is any consensus about Jesus it is that he is a failed apocalyptic prophet who was convinced that the world would end in his generation.
  • that the religion of Jesus is completely different than the religion of Paul. The unmistakable conclusion is that the religion of anyone who has had their theology formed by the writings of Paul (and, presumably, the other New Testament writers) is not Christ’s Christianity at all.

Thus, only half way through your first letter, we have (presented as accepted and indisputable fact) gospels that are nonsense because they constantly and fatally contradict one another and letters that are nonsense because they are nothing more than the inventions of later religious zealots. In other words, we have no Christian faith, at least for anyone who has any ability to think for himself. So where does this leave me?

In one short paragraph you have gone from personal narrative describing your own “deconversion,” to providing a long string of statements that must immediately put me on the defensive. If all of the statements you made were true, or, at least, if I believed they were true, I would have deconverted long ago. If all of the premises you’ve listed are true and accepted as fact by any thinking person, I would have to be either hopelessly naive or terribly stupid to be a Christian. Surely you see how such statements are fallacious. You and I both know that we can appeal to scholars and experts and consensus as a means of offering proof for any statement we care to make. If these communications are to be useful, we will need to refrain from such sweeping and antagonistic statements. Otherwise we will have one side cheering, the other side jeering, and neither side learning very much about the other. If these letters are to contain civil discourse, we’ll both need to be willing to affirm that the other is intelligent and rational and has chosen his path based on the thoughtful weighing of evidence. This is true for me and, from what I’ve read on your blog, it is true of you.

Another brief point before I continue. I do not wish to cede to you the term “deconversion.” After all, if you deconverted from Christianity, I could as easily say that I deconverted from atheism (or functional agnosticism, perhaps) when I became a Christian. In either case there is the assumption of certain beliefs and premises and the letting go of others. I propose one of two things: either we both stick only to “conversion” or we each use both terms however we see fit.

My Story
You asked for the story of my faith journey, so here goes. It begins much like your own, with being raised in a Christian home. I was raised by parents who had recently deconverted and become Christians. I was raised to know the Bible, to know Christian theology and to understand that theology is more than beliefs; it is beliefs that call for action. When I was fifteen or sixteen I had something of a crisis of faith (as do so many other young people who are raised within a religious tradition). As I began to foresee my life apart from my parents, I realized that I had to think about my Christian faith to determine if it was something that I truly believed or whether it was merely something foisted upon me by my parents—something akin to family traditions or genetic traits. Was my faith like my nose, an unfortunate byproduct of being born a Challies? Or was it a gift, something that I could truly embrace? It was in this time of searching that I came to accept the Christian faith as more than tradition but as truth. I’ve often since described this as “making the faith of my parents my own.” I was no longer simply an obedient child honoring his parents by going to church and going through the motions of religion, but a committed follower of Jesus Christ who would follow him even if my parents turned away. I cannot point you to an exact moment in time when I became a Christian, but I do know that I am one today and that I have been one for almost twenty years now. For this growing desire to determine whether I was truly following Christ and for this undeniable need to follow him, I give thanks to God.

I have never seriously doubted the claims of the Bible—that God is the creator of the world, that we humans are a sinful bunch who have committed an act of cosmic treason against this Creator by rejecting him, that Christ came into this world to offer hope to sinners, that he died and rose again, and that simply by placing our faith in him we can be forgiven for our sin and can be granted the gift of eternal life. The more I come to understand the Bible and the more I come to understand life, the more I see that the Bible is startlingly accurate in its description of the way the world works, the way life works. God has given us the Bible as an amazing and a unique resource. Some people see the Bible as a collection of tales or as a book of moral fables. I understand it as a lens like the lenses in a pair of glasses. It is a means God gives us by which we can see the world through his eyes. We see him as he wishes for us to see him; we see ourselves much more clearly than we otherwise could; we see the past, the present and the future in ways we could otherwise never understand. We see the broad picture of who God is and what he is accomplishing through the world. And when I look at the world through that lens, through the lens of the Bible, I do not see pointless suffering; I do not see contradictions (though I’ll grant you a few apparent absurdities); I do not see malicious design; I am horrified by hell but when looking at my sin and God’s holiness cannot deny its necessity. In all things I see a God who has a purpose and who is carefully and sovereignly carrying it out. I know atheists are prone to portray Christians as unthinking (trust me, I’ve read Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris and others), people who have made up their minds and have subjugated intellect to emotion, but I would like to believe this is not true of me. I have studied the world, I’ve studied my own heart, and I’ve seen that the Bible truly does get it right. At the very least I can’t deny that it gets right its description of me.

Who I Am
Many Christians have come to realize that if we are to understand anything of the Christian faith we need to begin in one of two places, with what we know to be true of God or with what we know to be true of humans. In my life I’ve known myself better than I’ve known God and so I’ve started with what is true of myself. And one thing that is most basically true of me is that I am not a good person—not all the time, anyway, and certainly not nearly often enough. No matter how we wish to define morality, I am not a moral person. Not consistently, anyway. Some of my earliest memories in life are memories of deliberately and joyfully hurting other people. I’m 33 years old now and, as much as I hate to admit it, I still have plenty of moral failings. I still hurt people, and often I hurt the people I love most and who love me most. I often place myself first when I should be thinking foremost of others. And those are just the things I do. Were we to catalog the things I think and desire, those crimes of the mind and heart, we would need a lot of time and a lot of paper to even begin to quantify and catalog them. Always I have known of this lack of morality within me, this desire to harm instead of help, to take instead of give. It is the Bible that has given me the words to describe it. The Bible calls it sin. It is no small thing to say, “I am a sinner.” But it is the start of a great journey, for an admission of sin is an admission of moral culpability.

Foolishness
Before I sign off from this first letter, I would like to give you something to chew on—a description of yourself from the Bible. Do allow me to be candid here. I say these things not to be arrogant or insensitive, but merely to frame things in biblical language (a habit I try to emphasize in my own life). I am not ashamed of how the Bible describes you and feel it would be a useful piece of background information. You have mentioned your dissatisfaction with philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God. And, indeed, you and I could undoubtedly argue such things from now until Christ returns (or the world ends) and such arguments become moot. As far as the Bible is concerned, though, God’s existence is self-evident. The Bible expends little effort in defending the existence of God because God takes the view that his existence needs no proof beyond the very fact that we are, that the world exists. Other evidences exist, to be certain, but they are less important and less obvious than the evidence we already have available to us. We call this “common grace”—grace common to each of us that ought to be sufficient to convince us of God’e existence.

The Bible often uses the word “fool” to describe a person who either denies God’s existence or admits it but refuses to submit his life to him. “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God,” wrote a poet several thousand years ago (see Psalm 14). That is the Bible’s position. God, through the Bible, calls you a fool, Luke. This is not a judgment on your intelligence (you may be a very intelligent fool); rather, it is a moral judgment. In the book of Romans it says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them [those who deny the God of the Bible], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” The biblical position is that you are without excuse before God for your denial of him. You have no right to plead ignorance. From the world around you, you are able to know that God exists and that he is powerful. And so in most cases all those long, philosophical proofs for God’s existence are not all that important. And that, I suppose, is why the Bible does not expend time making most of them. In denying that God exists you are willfully, deliberately closing your eyes and your mind to the greatest evidence he has given you. You have chosen to be a fool. That is what the Bible says.

Gratitude
You asked me to ask you some questions. So here is one I’ve got. I began thinking about this after reading Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem, a book in which he describes his conversion from Christianity to agnosticism. In the book he shares a few of the things he misses most about being a professed Christian. Most notably, he misses being able to give thanks. He realizes what a great life he leads, what a “blessed” life he leads, and feels like he owes gratitude to something. And yet there is no one to whom he can give thanks. This leaves a void in his life and one he regrets. “I have such a fantastic life,” he says, “that I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for it; I am fortunate beyond words. But I don’t have anyone to express my gratitude to. This is a void deep inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank, and I don’t see any plausible way of filling it.” I admire Ehrman for this admission because I am sure there is always the temptation to deny that he has lost anything with all he feels he has gained by leaving faith behind. After reading those words—poignant and honest words—I began to wonder how other atheists who have turned from the Christian faith have dealt with the loss of God. What have you lost? Who do you thank?

Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss such things.

Tim

December 12, 2009

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is that a blog is, in a sense, a living media. It is a reflection of my life, of what I am thinking of at a certain time or in a certain place. Occasionally I go back and read something I wrote years ago and post it again, offering new reflections on it or even just leaving it as-is. Such is the case today as I began thinking about an amazing (and seasonal) word. This one was first posted about 18 months ago.

*****

For the past few weeks I’ve been transfixed by a word. That may sound a little bit strange but it is exactly what’s happened. It keeps coming to mind and I keep pondering it, trying to gain a sense of its meaning. Though the word appears just three times in Scripture, twice in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Christ and once in Matthew in the fulfillment of that prophecy, it’s a word we have all used and a word whose meaning most of us know. Our children read about it every Christmas and our pastors mention it in their Christmas sermons. That word is Immanuel. God with us. God is with us.

I sense there is a lot to this word and to the truth behind it that I’ve never thought about before and I know that there must be great application to my own life. I hope to spend more time studying it and discerning how God wants me to live based on the awesome fact that “God is with us.” But even now as I’ve meditated upon this word I’ve been profoundly moved. How can we ever exhaust the wonder of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, taking on human flesh? And even then, how can we but marvel that He did not come in the form of a great and mighty warrior, but in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. God in flesh; God in human flesh. Like every baby before and since He entered this world through pain and agony, sweat and blood. Though He was the power that had created the world, He depended upon His mother’s breast for physical sustenance. Though He upheld the creation by the Word of His power, He needed His parents to protect and nurture Him as a helpless infant.

What mind could conceive of a God who would walk this world and be so misunderstood? Why would God come to earth only to have almost everyone He encountered ignore His divinity? How could people see God and not understand?

Yesterday my pastor preached on John 8, one of two chapters dealing with Jesus’ time at the Feast of Booths. Here, as in so many passages of the gospels, we see people trying to figure out who this person is. They accuse Him of being a Samaritan and of being possessed by Satan: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They wonder how He could claim to know Abraham: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” They ask if He is going to commit suicide: “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” They are utterly bewildered, blinded by their own ignorance and their own hatred of all that is good and true. Before them stood “God is with us” and all they saw was a wicked and perverse man who blasphemed their faith.

As Jesus’ ministry continued, people continued to seek but not find His identity. Even as He stood trial the questions continued. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate, and then “So you are a king?” Pilate was incredulous, unable to understand who this man was. Even His beloved disciples wondered and wavered.

As I sat in church yesterday and pondered the mystery of so many who were unable to see that God was with them, standing before them, I was struck by the fact that this will not always be so. Jesus came to earth incognito, announced only to a group of shepherds as they tended their flocks in the night. Suddenly the dark night was disturbed and God’s glory shone all around. An angel announced the birth of Jesus and immediately a host of angels poured forth their praise at the wonder of it all. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” To so many others, though, Jesus appeared just as a man, walking the dusty roads of Israel. No angels foretold His coming; no trumpets blew as He approached. Even today, Jesus is present with us through the Word of God. He is quietly but powerfully present there, though just as when most people looked at Jesus and saw only man and not God, today most people look at the Bible and see words but not Word.

But this will not always be. God gives us today, He gives us now, to understand who Jesus is and to humble ourselves before Him. He tells us that today is the day we need to put our faith in this God who came as man. When Jesus returns to earth, He will not come incognito. He will come with all of the power and the glory and the honor that are rightly His. When He returns to earth, there will be no mistaking who He is. When He comes again, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And God will be glorified in every one of us. There will be no mistaking who He is.

December 09, 2009

Today I want to share the long-awaited news about my next book. I write what I do here because I really want this process to be as transparent as possible. I would not be writing books if it were not for you—the visitor to this web site. I feel that I owe it to you to share with you what I’m up to.

It has been almost two years since the release of my first book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. Writing the book was an unforgettable experience and it was very encouraging and gratifying to see that it was generally well-received. I’m often asked how well it has sold. To be honest, I don’t know. Twice a year I receive statements that include sales figures. The trouble is that I’m not so good with numbers and I really don’t know how to read the reports. I do know that the book has gone through several printings. Beyond that, I’m pretty much clueless. But I have received a great deal of encouraging feedback and am pleased with both the book and the way it was received. I am thankful for Crossway’s partnership as its publisher.

Since I wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I’ve often been asked the obvious question: what next? That’s a good question, of course. I have deliberately been biding my time. I’ve been in no real hurry to jump into my next project. A few ideas have come and gone, but none have been intriguing or original enough that I’ve wanted to dedicate a year of my life to them. The commitment to a certain topic is really a commitment to spend at least six months reading and writing about it and then a further six months (at minimum) doing interviews about it, speaking about it, preaching about it, and so on. The last thing I wanted to do was find a topic that would bore me and leave me dreading it.

Earlier last year I got myself an agent. I did so primarily because it makes me feel cool (you can command instant respect in any situation by having your phone ring and declaring to the room, “Sorry, I need to take this. It’s my agent.”). But also I knew that a good agent would be invaluable in helping me discover new ideas and in crafting those ideas into worthwhile books. I had several agents who had expressed interest in representing me but eventually settled on Andrew Wolgemuth (who from this point forward will be known as Agent Andrew). Andrew and I first connected during spring training and as long-suffering fans of bad teams (he’s a Royals fan and I’m a Jays fan) we shared an instant bond (which has since been strained by Zach Greinke winning the Cy Young). A few months ago Agent Andrew and I began crafting book proposals and, when we were happy with the results, he sent them off to a list of several publishers.

That led to five publishers sending offers to me. With Agent Andrew I drew up a list of criteria for evaluating them. There were many factors we could have considered: financial (what were they willing to pay and what royalty were they offering?), marketing (how much effort would they put into marketing the book? Did they have a plan for the marketing?), audience (who reads the books from this publisher?) and even physical (hardcover or paperback?). It was remarkably difficult to choose. It was a case of an abundance of riches—each of the proposals had real strengths and very few had glaring weaknesses. But in the end I had to make a decision. And I did. More on that in just one moment.

First, let me tell you about the book. The book’s working title is The Next Story. I’m really pleased with the title, but it does have a downside in that it is remarkably difficult to pronounce (try saying it out loud). It is a book about technology in general and digital technology in particular. Even the least technical among us are being pressed from all sides by technology. Like it or not, we rely upon it in unprecedented ways. Many people feel that they are analog creatures in a digital world. Christians are beginning to awaken to this reality and are trying to think critically and biblically about many new realities brought about by technological developments. Yet, there are few helpful and sympathetic voices for those who wish to do so but have no idea how. I’m hoping to fill this gap, creating a book that will help Christians think well about technology. I do not intend to discuss Facebook and Twitter and whatever will be big and popular next month. I want to discuss technology in the bigger picture so that the book will be applicable today, tomorrow and ten years from now.

If all goes well, the book will be published in hardcover in the spring of 2011. And it will be published by Zondervan. I’m guessing that this will be a surprise to a few people. Frankly, it is a bit of a surprise to me. But in the end it was clear that Zondervan had the best all-around offer, from the financial, to the marketing, to the audience. Zondervan will take the book to a whole new audience, I’m convinced, and will work hard to help me find interesting speaking opportunities. They put together a fantastic proposal and I had no hesitations in signing on with them.

I intend to begin the writing process very early in the new year. While I won’t quite be able to do so on a full-time basis, I do hope that I can spend most of my time on it for at least a couple of months. That should give me a very good start, at the very least. I hope to have the book completed within six months or so. It typically takes 9 months or so from a book to go from manuscript to print and that brings us to early 2011—the earliest date I’m likely to actually have a copy of the book in my hands.

I expect that I will be talking about the book a lot more in the months to come. I will occasionally ask you for help (mostly in your prayer support, I’m sure) and will let you know how things are progressing. I know there is a great deal of collective wisdom represented by the readers of this site and I hope to take full advantage. I also hope to do a few family and technology seminars next year—so let me know if your church or conference would be interested in hosting one. I have found the previous seminars I’ve led amazing opportunities to both teach and learn. Beginning next month I’ll be turning my attention to technology and theology and the convergence of the two. I can’t wait.

December 07, 2009

Every year, sometime in December, I begin to think about all the books I read that year, trying to determine which ones I liked the best and always wondering just how many I actually read. Every year I’m disappointed to find that I haven’t kept very good records so I really do not know how many books passed through my hands (my estimate this year would be between 100 and 150). Fortunately, because I review many of the books I read, I can at least generate a list of favorites.

Note that these are my favorite books. That is an admission that this is a subjective list of the books that I most enjoyed this year, not the books that were necessarily objectively best or most important (though hopefully there is some degree of correlation). Also, I’ve only included Christian books here. Except for the final book, the one I’ve determined is my absolute favorite, these come in no particular order.