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Tim Challies

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3 years 3 weeks ago

This book is going to be big, a near-lock for the bestseller lists. First Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard teamed up to write a book about Killing Lincoln and it sold more than a million copies. They followed it up with Killing Kennedy and it sold briskly as well. And now they turn their attention to their greatest subject: Jesus of Nazareth. Killing Jesus: A History is a short biography of Jesus, focusing on the events leading to his death.

From the outset, the authors make it clear that though they are Roman Catholics, they are not writing a religious book. Rather, they are writing a historical account of a historical figure “and are interested primarily in telling the truth about important people, not converting anyone to a spiritual cause.” They necessarily rely on the four gospels for their source material and often tell their story by directly quoting the Bible.

They begin, though, by setting Jesus firmly in his historical context and skillfully telling about the rise and fall of Julius Caesar and the subsequent ascension of Caesar Augustus. They introduce a cast characters who each make an appearance in the pages of the Bible: King Herod who would hear of a potential challenger to his throne and order the slaughter of innocent children, Herod Antipas who would behead John the Baptist and later refuse to deal fairly with Jesus, and Pontius Pilate, who would cave to pressure and order the execution of an innocent man. Each of these men becomes a living and breathing character in the narrative.

As the authors begin to tell about the life of Jesus, they follow the biblical accounts quite closely. They tell his life skillfully and with all the narrative tension and interest they used to tell their compelling accounts of Lincoln and Kennedy. The reader is left with no doubt that Jesus’ whole life was leading to a cross and that Jesus knew he would end up there. The reader sees that the claims Jesus made about himself put him at odds with both the Jews and the Romans.

As they approach Jesus’ death, the authors slow the pace a little, showing the injustice of the trial, the torment of crucifixion, and the necessary conclusion that Jesus really and truly died.

They take some license along the way, of course. The gospel writers were selective when they wrote about the life of Jesus and any author must at times fill in or at least imagine certain details. But even then, O’Reilly and Dugard have done their homework and refrain from taking large or irrational leaps from their source material. And because they tell the account using the Bible as their source, they are able to tell the story as if it is true and as if they believe it. They do not say, “he supposedly did this” or is “reputed to have done this.” They simply tell it as the Bible tells it.

As a historical account of the life of Jesus, the story, though selective, is well told, well written, and very, very interesting. This is especially true when it comes to the historical and cultural contexts, details the biblical writers were able to assume and, therefore, not describe in great detail. I am no expert on this period of history, but spotted no major missteps and felt the authors were attempting to do justice to the historical facts the Bible presents. Their list of secondary sources is quite strong, leaning more toward conservative than liberal authors.

However, Jesus’ life is not mere history. Yes, he was a real man who lived a real life and died a real death, but that is not all he was and all he did. He also claimed to be God’s Son and his followers claimed that in his life and death he had done something unique and, literally, world-changing. The same Bible that describes Jesus’ life, also interprets and explains it. And this is the story the authors do not tell.

Any author who writes a narrative account of Jesus’ life will find it difficult to do justice to both his humanity and his divinity (and we saw, for example, in Anne Rice’s series on Jesus). These authors err far to the side of his humanity. It becomes quickly apparent they will not focus on Jesus’ miracles. While they mention a few of the wonders he performed, and especially the ones involving healings, they do not commit all the way and tend to present these as events Jesus’ followers believed had happened as much as events that had actually taken place.

The authors primarily portray Jesus as a rebel against Rome who threatened to destabilize the region and who, therefore, suffered the inevitable wrath of the empire. They show that through his life Jesus believed he was the Son of God and even suggest this must mean he was either a liar, a lunatic, or that he really was who he said he was. As the book comes to a close they state that Jesus’ followers soon claimed he had been raised from the dead and that his followers believed this to such an extent that they willingly gave up their own lives to his cause.

But O’Reilly and Dugard do not ever explain what happened there at the cross between Jesus and God the Father. Of all Jesus said on the cross, each word laden with meaning and significance, they mention only two. They do not explain the cross as substitution, where Jesus went to the cross in place of people he loved; they do not explain the cross as justice, where Jesus was punished as a law-breaker; they do not explain the cross as propitiation, where Jesus faced and emptied the Father’s wrath against sin; they do not explain the cross as redemption, where we now need only put our faith in Jesus in order to receive all the benefits of what he accomplished.

Killing Jesus is not a bad book as much as it is an incomplete book. As history it is compelling, but of all historical events, none has greater spiritual significance than the life and death of Jesus Christ. And this is the story they miss.

A brief aside before I wrap up: If you have read Killing Kennedy you may remember that the authors seem have a strange obsession with kinky sexuality. Both Kennedy and the Roman rulers give them a lot to work with in that regard, and in this account they are sure to point to the ugly sexual deviancies that marked the Roman rulers of that day. While they do not go into lurid detail and do not mean to excite lust, neither do they exercise a lot of discretion, making this a book you would probably not want to hand to a child.

As O’Reilly and Dugard begin this book they claim the story of Jesus’ life and death “has never fully been told. Until now.” That’s very dramatic but also ridiculous. This story has been told repeatedly over the past two millennia and it will be told again and again in the millennia to come. Killing Jesus is another account that will be here for a while and then disappear and be forgotten. In the meantime, it will take Jesus out of the realm of fantasy and place him squarely in history, but even as it does that, it will neglect to tell why his life, his crucifixion, his resurrection are of eternal significance, a matter of his life and death and our own.

5 years 4 months ago
I didn’t mean to read A Meal with Jesus. I receive enough books to review that I cannot possibly read them all. Last week I decided I would grab a selection of them and spend half an hour with each—not enough to read them through, but enough to get a bit of a feel for each. It didn’t work too well. A Meal with Jesus was the first book I picked up and once I began reading it I couldn’t stop. It turns out that this is a really good book.

According to its subtitle, A Meal With Jesus is a book about “discovering grace, community and mission around the table.” Tim Chester seeks to show God’s purposes in the sublimely ordinary act of sharing a meal. He shows that this most ordinary of ordinary events offers unique opportunities for grace, community and mission. Can a book about something so ordinary really be compelling and worth the read? Absolutely. And this is particularly true when the book comes from the capable hands of an excellent author.

Chester structures the book around the meals of Jesus as described in the gospel of Luke. It was Luke who quoted Jesus as saying, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus was into eating and drinking and he was into it enough that people accused him of doing it to excess. Meals are a constant theme in this gospel. According to another author, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Chester says that to Jesus meals “represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’ meals are not just symbols; they’re also application. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories.” Without simplistically reducing all of church and mission to meals, Chester manages to show that meals can and should be an integral part of our shared life.

Each of the book’s 6 chapters look at this from a different angle:

  • Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
  • Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
  • Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
  • Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
  • Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
  • Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24

Moving from Jesus dining with Levi the tax collector to the post-resurrection Jesus dining with his disciples, Chester shows that meals were absolutely pivotal to Jesus’ work in the world. And if they were so important to Jesus, shouldn’t they be equally important to us?

One of my concerns as I began reading the book is that it would be difficult to take the subject matter out of the abstract. But as it turns out Chester does that well without resorting to either legalism or just plain silliness. He nicely weaves together theology with practical application. 

Overall, this book shares a compact biblical theology of hospitality, focusing on meals. Chester makes a compelling argument that we would do well to view our meals through a biblical lens and to see each one as an opportunity to discover grace, community and mission. And since most of us eat 3 meals per day, we have endless opportunities to put into practice what we discover. So why don’t you give this one a read?

A random experience: I was reading the book at a local park while watching my wife’s soccer game. A guy walked by and said, “Hey, what book is that?” I showed him the cover and he looked very disappointed. “Oh, I thought it said ‘Metal Jesus.’” And then he walked off.

And here are a couple of extended quotes from the book if you’d like to get more of a flavor: An Expression of Dependence and Families Eating Together.

5 years 7 months ago
Tim Keller’s career as an author has been rather unusual. Ministries of Mercy, his first book, was published in 1997. It was 11 years before he wrote his second book, The Reason for God, a title that rocketed right onto the New York Times list of bestsellers. Since then he has averaged more than a book a year and each of those titles has garnered a lot of acclaim; within just a few years Keller has established himself as one of the most significant Christian authors. New for 2011 is Redeemer, a publishing imprint with Dutton (which in turn is an imprint of Penguin Publishing) and the first book published under that banner: King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.

This is a book about Jesus—Jesus as he is portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. Keller says, “It is an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of the world—and how we fit into it—is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.” Understand Jesus and you will understand the world: that is the central premise of the book.

King’s Cross is based upon a series Keller preached on Mark and the expository tone and structure remains. And yet somehow reading this book does not feel like reading sermons—it feels like meditation upon a text. Its style is pure Keller, probably closest to The Prodigal God, though certainly there are similarities with his other titles as well. This is not an exposition of the entire text of Mark, but rather an exposition of some of the more significant moments. And in that way it reads like a biography of Jesus, an account of his life, his death, his meaning, his purpose. While Keller inevitably turns to the parallel accounts of Jesus in the other gospel, his central focus remains Mark.

As you might expect, the structure of King’s Cross mirrors the structure of the Gospel—the first half is dedicated to Jesus’ life while the second half is dedicated to his death and resurrection. Most of the chapters are similar lengths and the writing style is geared very much for the layperson, and perhaps especially for a person with little theological background. And this is what Keller does so well—speak to unbelievers or to new believers. This is a book you could hand to just about anyone as a means of introducing that person to Jesus—to who he is and to what he has done.

One reviewer has said that this is the book where Tim Keller hits his stride as an author. I don’t see it quite like that; this book is very consistent with Keller’s previous titles and, at least in my assessment, does not represent a great leap forward. And I mean this as a compliment rather than an insult. I think he has already hit his stride. This is a good book offering a broad look at the Gospel of Mark. It draws the reader to the cross, to the great work of atonement accomplished there. Christ is the focus of every chapter, his work the thread that leads the reader from the first chapter to the last. This is a commentary for all of us, an exposition that is a joy to read.

Whether you read it devotionally at a pace of a chapter a day or whether you read it in a couple of sittings, King’s Cross will prove beneficial to you. It’s the Gospel of Mark laid out in plain language, explained in contemporary terms and applied to life. And that’s what good exposition is all about.

6 years 8 months ago
Early in George Orwell’s iconic 1984 is a particularly haunting scene. Winston, the hero of the story, is confessing to his diary a sexual encounter with a prostitute. Though Big Brother rigidly controls even sexual union and though sex is viewed as “a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema,” still Big Brother cannot remove from humanity the desire and the need for intimacy. One evening Winston spots a prostitute near a train station. “She had a young face,” he writes, “painted very thick. It was really the paint that appealed to me, the whiteness of it, like a mask, and the bright red lips. Party women never paint their faces.” In a society where abject fear and loneliness are the norm, Winston craves the intimacy of sex. But as he goes into this woman’s apartment and lies with her, he turns up a lamp, casting a bright light on her face. And immediately he sees that the appearance of beauty was a lie. “What he had suddenly seen in the lamplight was that the woman was old. The paint was plastered so thick on her face that it looked as though it might crack like a cardboard mask. There were streaks of white in her hair; but the truly dreadful detail was that her mouth had fallen a little open, revealing nothing except a cavernous blackness. She had no teeth at all.”

But, despite his horror, his revulsion, Winston continues. In his diary he writes “When I saw her in the light she was quite an old woman, fifty years old at least. But I went ahead and did it just the same.” Though the woman loses all sexual appeal, Winston continues in this act. He continues because, though his desire is quenched, still sex is an act of rebellion. By sleeping with this prostitute he is engaging in an act of heart-felt rebellion against Big Brother.

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about Brian McLaren and got in trouble. Reflecting on seeing him speak at a nearby church, I suggested that he appears to love Jesus but hate God. Based on immediate and furious reaction, I quickly retracted that statement. I should not have done so. I believed it then and I believe it now. And if it was true then, how much more true is it upon the release of his latest tome A New Kind of Christianity. In this book we finally see where McLaren’s journey has taken him; it has taken him into outright, rank, unapologetic apostasy. He hates God. Period.

“It’s time for a new quest,” write McLaren, “launched by new questions, a quest across denominations around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.” McLaren frames the book around “Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.” They cut to the very heart of the faith, foundational in every way. He asks:

The narrative question: What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
The authority question: How should the Bible be understood?
The God question: Is God violent?
The Jesus question: Who is Jesus and why is he important?
The gospel question: What is the gospel?
The church question: What do we do about the church?
The sex question: Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
The future question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
The pluralism question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
The what-do-we-do-now question: How can we translate our quest into action?

His purpose, he insists, is not to answer the questions, but to provide responses to them. Answers indicate finality, responses indicate conversation and openness. “The responses I offer are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.” But that is mere semantics. Whether answering or responding (whether saying tomato or tomahto), what McLaren does through these ten questions is to completely rewrite the Christian faith. His “gentle lobs” rip the very heart out of the faith.

At the center of his remix of the faith is the claim that most Christians look at their faith through a flawed Platonic, Greco-Roman lens instead of through a biblical, Jewish lens. “God’s unfolding drama is not a narrative shaped by the six lines in the Greco-Roman scheme of perfection, fall, condemnation, salvation, and heavenly perfection or eternal perdition. It has a different story line entirely. It’s a story about the downside of ‘progress’—a story of human foolishness and God’s faithfulness, the human turn toward rebellion and God’s turn toward reconciliation, the human intention toward evil and God’s intention to overcome evil with good.” This Greco-Roman God, the one that most Christians believe in, is a “damnable idol … defended by many a well-meaning but misguided scholar and fire-breathing preacher.”

McLaren plays the all-too-typical “everyone else has it wrong” card. It turns out that most of us (all but a handful of enlightened intellectuals, as it happens) have been reading the Bible through the distorted lens of a Greco-Roman narrative. This narrative produced many false dualisms, an air of superiority and a false distinction between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” These three marks of false narrative have so impacted our faith that we can hardly see past them. But Brian is willing and eager to play Moses, leading us out of the Egypt of our own ignorance and into the Promised Land of the new Christianity.

It would take more time than I’d be willing to give it to offer a point-by-point explanation of what responses McLaren proposes for each of the ten questions or to document the ramifications of his new theology. He denies the Fall, he denies original sin, he denies human depravity, he denies hell. And that is just in the first few pages. Needless to say, all of this leads him to a radically unbiblical view of the cross and the purpose and work of Jesus. Though he insists that he considers the Bible “inspired” (though certainly not in a traditional sense) he also says that most Christians have read it wrong, having viewed it as a kind of constitution in which God gives Spirit-breathed, inerrant revelation of himself. “I’m recommending we read the Bible as an inspired library. This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed.” After all, “revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.”

What does the Bible accomplish then? What does it teach us about God? “Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment.” The Bible is an ongoing conversation about God’s character in which humans come to progressively more accurate understandings of who he is. There is no reason to think that any of them actually had it right. His reinterpretations of Job and Romans are a sight to behold, so muddled and so fabricated that they become absolutely nonsensical. There is a deliberate ignorance at work here.

The arrogance of it all is stunning. McLaren is angrier than he has been before and more scornful. Still, though, he presents his ideas coated with the veneer of a false humility. But, handily, he builds into the book the means he will use to answer his critics. He will simply accuse his detractors of having this old Greco-Roman understanding of the faith. We poor fundamentalists cannot be among the new kind of Christian until we have been enlightened to understand the Bible through an entirely new narrative structure. Only then will this all become clear. Until then, more to be pitied are we than any men.

Here, in A New Kind of Christianity it’s as if McLaren is screaming “I hate God!” at the top of his lungs. And swarms of Christians are looking at him with admiration and saying, “See how that guy loves God?” I don’t know what McLaren could do to make the situation more clear. In fact, his book is nearly indistinguishable from many of the de-conversion narratives that are all the rage today. Compare it with Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem and you’ll see many of the same arguments and the same misgivings; you’ll find, though, that Ehrman is at least more honest. He at least has the integrity to walk away from faith altogether rather than reinventing God in his own image.

McLaren says he would prefer atheism over belief in the God so many of us see in Scripture. Well, he is not far off. This new kind of Extreme Makeover: God Edition Christianity is no Christianity at all. It is not a faith made in the image of Jesus Christ, but a faith made in the image of a man who despises God and who is hell-bent on dragging others along with him as he becomes his own god.

As Winston turned up the light, he saw that prostitute for what she really was. Here McLaren turns up the light and we see what his faith, what his Christianity, really is. We see it in all its toothless, caked-on horror. This new kind of Christianity is simply paganism behind a thick coating of false humility and biblical language. It is an expression of rebellion against God far more than it is a pursuit of new intimacy with the Creator.

And like Orwell’s whore, many will go to this book seeking intimacy with God only to content themselves with rebellion against him. For each is satisfying in its own way.

7 years 10 months ago

Michael Wittmer feels trapped in the middle. To one side are conservative Christians demanding lockstep allegiance to narrow doctrinal statements—statements so detailed that they insist on specific theories of the end times or specific understandings of the spiritual gifts. Such people interpret doubts, questions, or appreciation for other viewpoints to be the first signs of an inevitable slide to liberalism. On the other side are postmodern Christians who question many traditional assumptions—or maybe even every traditional assumption—but who go about it in ways that discredit their arguments; they offer new and novel interpretations of key Scripture texts and refuse to state exactly what they believe. To the one side are those who want to believe like Jesus while on the other are those who want to live like Jesus; to the one side are those who love their beliefs while to the other are those who believe in their love. Each position is polarizing and each position seems to offer something less than a robustly biblical faith.

Wittmer’s position on the conflict between conservatism and postmodernism shows itself in the book’s subtitle: “Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough.” A professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, he is clearly not a person who has recklessly jettisoned theology in order to pursue theology-free living like Jesus. This book is his measured reaction against the postmodern tendency to live like Jesus at the expense of sound theology.

“My goal,” he says, “is not to define a certain segment of Christianity but merely to examine the specific questions that many postmodern Christians are asking.” The book, he says, is a friendly warning that rejecting abuses may well lead to a slide into equal and opposite errors. “The history of the church is a series of pendulum swings, and right now the momentum seems headed toward Christian practice and away from Christian belief. This book is an argument for both. …This book seeks to avoid the most extreme forms of both conservative and postmodern Christianity and hit the sweet spot of appropriate tolerance.”

And so Wittmer seeks to craft a third way, a way that avoids the extremes on either side while finding that sweet spot that allows a Christian to hold fast to what is true while retaining a love for others and a desire to serve them. He reminds the Christian that right works can only arise from right beliefs.

He blazes this trail by answering questions that are on the minds and tongues of many Christians today. Must you believe something to be saved? Do right beliefs get in the way of good works? Are people generally good or basically bad? Which is worse: homosexuals or the bigots who persecute them? Is the cross divine child abuse? Can you belong before you believe? Does the kingdom of God include non-Christians? Is hell for real and forever? Is it possible to know anything? Is the Bible God’s true Word? While each question rates its own chapter, each topic, each chapter, bridges seamlessly to the next. There are no harsh pauses and no questions that seem forced or out of place.

It bears mention that this is not a book that specifically counters the Emerging Church, though it does that incidentally. Instead, it is a book that counters the whole postmodern ethos that has found its way into contemporary Christianity. This is broader than just the Emerging Church and in this way the book is far more useful, far more widely applicable, than if Wittmer had gone specifically after only Emerging Christians.

In Don’t Stop Believing, Wittmer has written the kind of book with which every reader is likely to disagree every now and again. But he has written a book that graciously and humbly treats difficult issues that are of critical importance to the church. He brings biblical wisdom to bear on many tough questions and answers them with great care and refreshing simplicity. Having been released with little fanfare in December of this year, Don’t Stop Believing comes as a delightful year-end treat. I highly recommend it.


8 years 8 months ago
Anne Rice has undergone a radical transformation. A bestselling author, whose novels have sold over 100 million copies, she recently returned to the Roman Catholic faith of her youth, and in so doing abandoned her former subject matter (vampires) and turned instead to a series of books dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ. The first book in Rice’s series, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (released in the fall of 2005) was critically acclaimed and sold well. The movie rights for the book and its sequels were recently purchased by L.A.-based Good News Holdings which is run by Christian pollster George Barna. He will attempt to bring them to the big screen. Where the first book covered Jesus’ childhood, the second volume seeks to find a story in the “lost years” that fall between His birth and the beginning of His public ministry. The Bible is almost silent on these years (saying only that Jesus “grew and became strong” and “was filled with wisdom”), so Rice has to rely on her imagination and her studies of Jewish culture to find a likely story.

Before turning to this new novel, it is useful to review just a few of the concerns and inaccuracies from her first effort (as detailed in Derek Thomas’ review found at Discerning Reader):

  • She approaches a life of Jesus through an interpretation of Philippians 2, that Jesus emptied himself “of his Divine awareness in order to suffer as a human being.” Hence Jesus has to grow into an awareness of his Divinity.
  • She adapts the Eastern rather than the Catholic or Protestant view of Jesus “brothers” and “sisters”—they were Joseph’s children by a former marriage, whose mother died before his betrothal to Mary; Catholics have assumed them to be “cousins” and Protestant, who have not held to the doctrine of perpetual virginity, have argued that they were children of Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus. This makes Jesus not the eldest member of the family, but the youngest.
  • She records as fact miracles attributed to Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which recounts that the boy Jesus could strike a child dead, bring another to life, and turn clay birds into living creatures.

Perhaps of greater concern is that the fact that Rice’s young Jesus was continually conflicted and confused. Heavily protected by Joseph, who intervened to ensure Jesus is not told the reason why they left Jerusalem, or the manner of his birth, Jesus is a dutiful son who gradually comes to terms with what he first only senses—that he is the Son of God. Even in the second book He has not fully come to terms with His identity as the God-man. In fact, this tension, in which Jesus seeks to understand His nature and mission, forms the basis for much of the book’s plot. This, however, is a significant deviation from Christian orthodoxy. As Derek Thomas pointed out, “That Jesus was always fully divine and fully human is a fundamental point of Christological orthodoxy, even though the self-consciousness on the part of Jesus as to his divine identity is a matter which Scripture does not elaborate upon with any detail.”

The Road to Cana begins in the winter preceding Jesus’ baptism at the hand of His cousin, John. Jesus is wrestling with His feelings towards a young woman named Avigail. Though He has not yet arrived at a full realization of who He is and what He will be called to do, Jesus knows that He must remain unmarried. His heart aches as He refuses the attempts of His family, His community, and eventually Avigail herself, while they seek to have him marry and settle down. As the story progresses, Jesus proves himself a leader, a sage and a peacemaker. People know He is somehow different, but they, like the reader, can only wonder and wait.

The story begins to come to life once it catches up with the Scriptural narrative of the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Readers familiar with the Bible will recognize the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, His forty days in the wilderness and subsequent temptation at the hand of the devil, the calling of His disciples and His miracle during the wedding feast at Cana. Some aspects of the biblical account are enjoyable and even moving when told through the descriptive ability of Anne Rice. She captures well the excitement that ripples through the Jewish community with the coming of John the Baptist, the first prophet to be seen for four hundred years. The story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan is powerful as is the description of His baptism (though Baptists may object to read of the baptism being performed not by immersion but by water being poured over His head!). Some of these familiar stories sparkle with the addition of detail and description. How often do we pause to imagine what people might have said or felt or what they might have wondered as the Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism? How often do we try to look through the eyes of the apostles as they began to heed the summons to follow Jesus? Other portions of the story, such as the miracle of turning water in wine, suffer from the author’s attempts to expand the story beyond the biblical framework. The terseness of the biblical account seems to suggest an urgency and a wonder that is lost as it is expanded from a few words to a few pages.

Despite some literary successes, there are several concerns with the book’s underlying doctrine. The Bible makes it clear that the miracle at Cana was Jesus’ first miracle and it attaches some significance to this. Yet in Rice’s account, He has already performed several miraculous deeds as both a child and an adult. In this story He publicly invokes and them calms a storm, though He seems surprised at His own ability to do so. Near the story’s end, yet before Cana, Rice introduces Mary Magdalene and describes Jesus casting seven demons out of her. This is a strange liberty. Perhaps Rice felt Mary’s request of Jesus at the wedding can best be explained if He has already shown His ability to do miraculous deeds. Yet this is a liberty that detracts from the wonder of turning water into wine and the challenge of understanding Mary’s simple words, “They have no wine.” Was she asking Jesus to do a miracle? Or was she just asking Him to do anything? It seems, from the biblical account, that she did not yet grasp that He could do the miraculous. It is more plausible that she was merely telling Jesus as the resourceful eldest son, hoping He might think of some way of sparing the bridegroom the embarrassment of not being able to provide for His guests. The story gains nothing by making Jesus a miracle-worker too early in His ministry.

To balance the humanity and divinity of Jesus is a difficult task. It may well be an impossible task. Apart from teaching that Jesus was as fully human as He was fully divine, the Bible gives us little detail on how Jesus’ two natures interacted with each other. We do not know how He could be fully human and divine at the same time. It has always been a challenge to navigate this dangerous and difficult territory. And in The Road to Cana we see how a story like this may be doomed to suffer from such a problem even before it begins. There is too much we do not know; too much we cannot know; too much God did not want us to know. It is far easier to portray Jesus in His humanity than in His divinity and this is what we see in Christ the Lord. We see a Jesus who is fully human, to be sure, but somewhat less than divine. It feels like there is tension, rather than harmony, in the natures of Jesus. This is bound to happen when we attempt to describe what is too wondrous to understand. It is a difficulty inherent in the genre. How is the reader to know which aspects of the Jesus of The Road to Cana are based on the Bible and which are based on Rice’s imagination? The casual reader or the reader unfamiliar with the Bible may assume it is all based on fact, or may as easily assume it is all fiction. There is a troubling blending of fact and fiction, true with could-be-true. Where fact ends, historical deconstruction (and reconstruction) inevitably begins.

There are other concerns. According to interviews with Rice, the faith she now proclaims is a faith far wider than that which the Bible prescribes. “I continue to be a Catholic because I profoundly respect the unbroken 2000 year old tradition of teachings, scholarship, and the ongoing revelations of the saints. But I think what is important in this world is that you go with the religion that brings you closest to God. Howard Storm the mystic said this actually. When he was in Heaven with the angels, he asked them: What is the best religion? And they said, ‘The one that brings you closest to God.’” And again, “Christ is for everyone—gay, straight, Jew, Christian, athiest, (sic) Buddhist, Hindu. We are the children of God.” A nice sentiment, perhaps, but utterly at odds with the testimony of Scripture. The reader may find shades of this universalism in her account of the temptation of Jesus. “Think of the thousands upon thousands who rise each day and go to sleep without ever thinking evil or doing evil,” says Jesus to Satan. “Think of them in every land and every language, think of them as they hunger for the Word of God even where there is no one to give it to them, how they reach for it, and how they turn from pain and misery and injustice, no matter what you would have them do!” Though she conveys much truth in this mostly-fictionalized account, there is much that does not easily accord with the Bible.

Derek Thomas concluded his review of the Out of Egypt with these words: “All in all then, an interesting read that serves, in the end, an agenda of historical deconstruction. Anne Rice’s Jesus is accepting of all, tolerant of everyone—even vampires? There is, thankfully, little scope to elaborate on the inner struggles of a seven year old, but the aleatoric scope for a novelist describing the inner struggles of a pubescent adolescent is troubling. But get ready, it is on its way.” And in this book it is beginning to arrive. While, especially in the book’s second half, Rice does stay quite close to the biblical storyline, there are a handful of significant departures. I do not wish to impugn Rice’s motives; her attempt is noble, but I think it may be flawed from the start. The Jesus of this story may go by the same name as the Jesus of the Bible, but they are beginning to look less and less alike.

9 years 4 weeks ago

Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Emasculated Theology…

Review of Everything Must Change by Brian McLarenThose of us who have been keeping a wary eye on the Emerging Church know that to understand the movement we must understand Brian McLaren. Though it is not quite fair to label him the movement’s leader, he certainly functions as its elder statesman and his writing seems to serve as a guide or compass for the movement. Where he leads, others follow. It is with interest, then, that I turned to his latest book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. It is a book that promises to electrify the Emerging Church and, if history is a reliable guide, to further polarize it from those who hold to more traditional Protestant beliefs. My plan in this review is simple: I’m going to give an outline of what the book teaches and then interact with it just a little bit.

This book is shaped by two preoccupying questions: what are the biggest problems in the world and what does Jesus have to say about these global problems? Said in a way consistent with the book’s subtitle, What are the global crises and how can Jesus provide a revolution of hope? These are good questions, no doubt. They are valid questions and probably questions to which Christians should devote more attention. In this book McLaren address them head-on. Allow me to present a brief outline of just how he goes about this.

To set the context he begins with a short biography of himself and the movement he has been part of. “As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I’ve been involved in a profoundly interesting and enjoyable conversation for the last ten years or so. It’s a conversation about what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’—not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, not a stuffy traditionalist, not a blase nominalist, not a wishy-washy liberal, not a New Agey religious hipster, not a crusading religious imperialist, and not an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic—but something fresh and authentic and challenging and adventurous.” This conversation has been necessary because “the versions of Christianity we inherited are largely flattened, watered down, tamed … offering us a ticket to heaven after death, but not challenging us to address the issues that threaten life on earth. Together we’ve begun to seek a fresh understanding of what Christianity is for, what a church can be and do, and most exciting, we’re finding out that a lot of what we need most is already hidden in a trunk in the attic. Which is good news.”

“Is it possible that at the heart of the life and message of Jesus was an attempt to expose, challenge, confront, transform, and replace the unhealthy framing stories of his day? And could there be a resonance between the unhealthy framing stories of his day and their counterparts in our day?”According to McLaren, we live in a societal system consisting of three subsystems: the prosperity, equity and security systems. These are all guided by a framing narrative. The world was made in such a way that these should function in perfect harmony as they are guided by God’s framing story, but unfortunately they have become misaligned so they no longer function as they should. When the framing narrative is destructive, this system can go suicidal, ultimately self-destructing. This is society as we know it now—a society that is completely suicidal. And this is the problem Jesus came to address. Having thought long and hard about the world’s problems, McLaren says this: “Our plethora of critical global problems can be traced to four deep dysfunctions, the fourth of which is the lynchpin or leverage point through which we can reverse the first three.” These three crises are linked in a very tightly integrated system that functions as this “suicide machine.” The dysfunctions are:

  1. Prosperity Crisis - This is environmental breakdown caused by an unsustainable global economy that does not respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in creating great wealth for about one third of the world’s population.
  2. Equity Crisis - This is the growing gap between the ultra-rich and the very poor, the majority of whom are growing in resentment and envy as they consider the privilege of the rich. The rich, in turn, become fearful and angry as they seek to protect their wealth.
  3. Security Crisis - This is the danger of war arising from resentment between the groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.
  4. Spirituality Crisis - This is the failure of the world’s religions (especially Christianity and Islam, the world’s two largest) to provide a framing story that is capable of healing or at least reducing the previous three crises.

A framing story is “a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives.” It tells people who they are, where they have come from, what they should do, and so on. It frames their lives. The search for a better framing story, he suggests, will allow Christians to discover a fresh vision of Jesus and his message. “Is it possible that at the heart of the life and message of Jesus was an attempt to expose, challenge, confront, transform, and replace the unhealthy framing stories of his day? And could there be a resonance between the unhealthy framing stories of his day and their counterparts in our day?”

“As long as evangelism presents a gospel centered on the need for personal salvation, individuals will acquire a faith that focuses on maximum benefits with minimal obligations, and we will change the costly work of Christ’s atonement into the pragmatic transaction of a salvific contract.” (quoting David Watson and Douglas Meekes)Jesus, says McLaren, stepped into this dysfunctional system and proposed an alternative in both word and deed. Jesus’ solution was to confront society’s suicide machine, to redraw and reshape the framing narratives by proposing a radical alternative. He says Jesus’ message, His good news, is this: “The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! Believe this good news, and defect from all human imperial narratives, counternarratives, dual narratives, and withdrawal narratives. Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living.” Jesus took that message to the cross, an instrument of torture and cruelty that He used “to expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power and instill hope and confidence in the oppressed.”

In the gospels, says McLaren, we see that Jesus confronts the prosperity crisis by telling us that we are all fellow creatures in one grand global ecosystem and by calling us to seek the common good rather than our own selfish interests. He confronts the equity crisis by telling us we are all neighbors in a global community and by calling on us to seek justice for all. He confronts the security crisis by calling us to reconciliation rather than competition and domination. He calls us to respond to our enemies through love and service, not as victors who eliminate others. Jesus does all this through parables, miracles, ethical teachings (“which should not be seen as laws through which one earns hell or heaven, but rather as practices through which people can seek and participate in God’s kingdom.”) and ultimately through his death and resurrection. In this great act Jesus showed that God’s grace will ultimately triumph over human wickedness. And all of this calls us to respond by disbelieving the framing stories we’ve been taught and embracing instead Jesus and His radical new story.

This is only a brief (and no doubt inadequate) summary of what the book contains. It is a long book (362 pages) so I simply cannot adequately address all of it. I have attempted to quote McLaren in such a way that certain concerns with his theology (or lack thereof) are clear. I will continue here by providing some of the questions or overwhelming problems I noted as I read the book.

McLaren is aware that his understanding of Jesus necessarily conflicts with the more traditional Protestant understanding. Yet this traditional Protestant view of Jesus, of His work and His mission must be flawed, McLaren says, because it poses no real challenge to the framing story of Jesus’ day (or of our day) but instead feeds the suicide machine. It is unable to respond to the two great questions he posed at the outset. “Jesus in the conventional view has little or nothing to say regarding the world’s global crises.” In fact, the traditional view has actually placed Jesus within the framework of this machine so that He aids and abets it instead of providing an alternative. “More and more of us agree that for all its value, it does not adequately situate Jesus in his original context, but rather frames him in the context of religious debates within Western Christianity, especially debates in the sixteenth century.” He goes so far as to say that those who hold to this traditional view must regard much of the Bible as useless filler that we deliberately choose to disregard.

McLaren’s utter disdain for Protestant theology is evident throughout, but perhaps nowhere so clearly as in his rendition of Mary’s Magnificat, rewritten in such a way, he says, that it can now be consistent with traditional theology.

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one He is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated.

But the Bible, he says, teaches none of this. Rather, “Mary celebrates that God is going to upset the dominance hierarchies typical of empire so that the nation of Israel can experience the fulfillment of its original promise.” Time would fail me to even begin to address all of the doctrines he mocks and belittles even in this one paragraph. Suffice it to say that no doctrine is safe, with those closest to the heart of the gospel the ones that disgust McLaren the most. Just this one paragraph ought to shock and disgust any Christian.

“Jesus will use a cross to expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power and instill hope and confidence in the oppressed.”After reframing Jesus and His message, McLaren reintroduces Him through a new lens. Needless to say, this Jesus is radically different from the one Protestants have known and honored and radically different from the Jesus of the Bible. McLaren continues to systematically dismantle doctrine after doctrine. “With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:9) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined for perdition, or to those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their ‘personal savior.’ Rather, hell—literally or figurative—is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.” Jesus “calls them to grow their good deeds portfolios for the common good, especially the good of the poor and marginalized.”

McLaren seems particular incensed with the biblical concepts of heaven, hell and atonement. Rather than being eternal realities, heaven and hell become states we create on this earth as we pursue or deny the kingdom of God. Because Jesus’ message is not one of sinful men becoming reconciled to a holy God through an atoning sacrifice, those of any creed can seek and participate in the kingdom. People of other creeds may well be participating in it more fully and more purely than ones who claim to be Christians. Men and women of all creeds can be followers of Jesus living out the kingdom of God even if they have never heard His name. We see this in McLaren’s lists of people in whom we have apparently seen Jesus’ story echoed: Saint Francis, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, Mahatma Gandhi, Saint Claire, Jane Goodall, and so on. Never mind that many of these people had no understanding of the gospel—they are the best and brightest in history because they sought to create “a generous, generative, and human alternative society” in place of the suicide machine around them.

“The core message of Jesus focused on personal, social, and global transformation in this life”As with McLaren’s previous books, no doctrine is safe. And, in fact, almost every critical doctrine is emasculated, destroyed or redrawn. Nothing is sacred. Yet the problems go even deeper than theology because this book deals also with other subjects such as economics. With McLaren’s willingness to play fast and loose with Scripture, interpreting it as he seems fit with utter disregard for the stream of historic orthodox theology and the context of Scripture, how am I to trust his presentation of economics? If he is willing to adapt Scripture to fit his agenda and to do so at the expense of its most clear and obvious meaning, what confidence can I have that he has not done the same in other areas? What credibility remains? The same can be said of his view of politics, socio-economics and every other field he touches on. He has an agenda and it seems that he will not allow even the truth to derail him as he seeks to fulfill it.

The Emerging Church excels at asking good and difficult questions but has been widely critiqued because the answers are too often wildly inconsistent with Scripture. Everything Must Change is no exception. With this book McLaren further draws a line in the sand. He declares, increasingly unequivocally, that this Emerging Church bears little resemblance to the church as we know it from the Bible. The doctrine of the Emerging Church is moving farther and farther away from the doctrine of the Bible, at least as it has been understood from the Scriptures since the days of the early church. It will stop at nothing and will call into question and trample under foot even the most fundamental doctrines. McLaren will bring thousands of sincere people with him in his quest to see how Jesus addresses the world’s most serious problems. I hope these people count the cost. I hope they know what they must reject in order to be a new kind of Christian; they must reject the very heart of the gospel. After reading this book it is my hope and prayer that this marks the time when the Emerging Church realizes that if it is to maintain anything even remotely resembling biblical orthodoxy, it must stop now and it must abandon Brian McLaren. They must say “enough is enough” and turn back.

It seems increasingly clear that the new kind of Christian McLaren seeks is no kind of Christian at all. The church on the other side of his reinvention is a church devoid of the glorious gospel of Christ’s atoning death. It is a church utterly stripped of its power because it is a church stripped of the gospel message. McLaren’s new gospel is a social gospel, a liberal gospel and, in fact, no gospel at all. This Emerging Church has managed to do something remarkable—it has emerged into something the church has already seen, has already wrestled with, and has already defeated. The Emerging Church has gone suicidal.

9 years 2 months ago
Before I started into the text of The Truth of the Cross I read the three endorsements that came with it, one by Thomas Schreiner, one by Scott Clark and one by Bruce Waltke. It was Waltke’s that caught my eye when he said, “The Truth of the Cross is the best book on the cross I have read.” A man of Waltke’s age, Christian maturity and status must have read more than a few books on the cross, making this no little statement. Having read the book, I know it was no exaggeration. The best book on the cross I’ve ever read is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore, a book I’d consider a must-read for any Christian. Could this one be as good, as beautiful as that?

There are few people I’d rather read on this topic than R.C. Sproul. He has an unparalleled gift for explaining difficult theological concepts in a way that makes them accessible and easy to understand. I don’t know of anyone else who does a better job of explaining Reformed theology and the theology of God’s sovereign grace in the contexts of biblical theology and the history of the church. This book does just that. It convincingly unfolds the meaning, significance and power of the cross, showing the necessity of an atonement and providing a biblical defense for substitutionary atonement as understood by the historic stream of Protestant theology.

This message is timely. As Sproul says in the first chapter, “I doubt there has been a period in the two thousand years of Christian history when the significance, the centrality, and even the necessity of the cross have been more controversial than now. … Never before in Christian history has the need for an atonement been as widely challenged as it is today.” Yet it is clear from the Bible that if “you take away the cross as an atoning act, you take away Christianity.” We can only understand the atonement if we know about the character of God. “If we are defective in understanding the character of God or understanding the nature of sin, it is inevitable that we will come to the conclusion that the atonement was not necessary.” And so this book examines the character of God, the state of humanity, and the work that must be done to reconcile sinful men to a holy God.

Though the book is short, it is dense. And yet, because of Sproul’s gift in teaching, it is easy to read and easy to digest. It shares the glorious doctrines that stand at the very heart of the Christian faith. It shares the great and glorious news of the gospel.

Is this the best book on the cross I’ve ever read? Perhaps. I don’t know that I would recommend this in place of The Cross He Bore but it certainly would make a wonderful complement to Leahy’s title. Less reflective and meditative, but with a greater emphasis on teaching theology, The Truth of the Cross will be a great addition to any library. This and The Cross He Bore could be read together every year and would undoubtedly bring great blessing with each reading. It is good to remember the cross and to come to a greater understanding of what it means and why it matters. The Truth of the Cross will center your thoughts upon the cross and upon the One Who went there willingly so that we could have life.

The Truth of the Cross is not sold through Amazon but is (or will soon) be available at Westminster Books. While you’re there, why not also buy The Cross He Bore, currently listed at only $4.03.

9 years 10 months ago
It is a rare occasion that a film is better than the book it is based on. The book is almost always superior. However, a book that precedes a film by the same name is typically far better than a book that is based on the film. Only rarely does a textual adaptation of a film equal it. And so it was with little eagerness or expectation that I began to read The Nativity Story, the official novelization of the forthcoming film by the same name.

The film of The Nativity Story is set to hit theaters on Friday, December 1. It is billed as a faithful retelling of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Of course, as with any film based on the Bible, there must be a good deal of artistic license and exploration. I hope to discuss this further after I have seen the film.

The book novelization of the film was handled by Angela Hunt, author of over one hundred books, most of which are historical or contemporary novels targeted at women. How well this book represents the film I will not be able to say until I have seen it. If it is a true adaptation I believe I will enjoy the film a great deal. I began reading this book with great skepticism but found myself enjoying it all the way until I had turned the final page. It will not win any Pulitzer Prizes, but is still well-written and enjoyable, even though it feels that perhaps it was rushed just a little bit. Hunt clearly dedicated a good deal of time to understanding Jesus’ cultural context and these details add a fascinating dimension to a story we all know so well.

Just how closely the book adheres to the biblical story is a discussion that can wait until I review the movie. Suffice it to say, for now, that many scenes and characters in the book are fictitious, invented to fill in details or to create a suitable setting for the story. Details of the personalities of the real characters are also created or adapted as necessary. The story also bows to old church traditions at times, such as in the names of the wise men Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. These names are traditional but can be traced only to the seventh century and are unlikely to be genuine. And yet all of the biblical details are present, I believe, with the rather disappointing exception of “the angel [and] a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

When considering the story of the nativity and Jesus’ early life, the majority of attention tends to be focused on Jesus and Mary with Joseph serving as only a bit player. I found it interesting that in this book Hunt devotes equal time to exploring both of Jesus’ earthly parents. While the Bible says little about Joseph, Hunt fleshes out his character into what he probably was - a principled man who dearly loved the Lord. And yet this points to a concern about this type of book. The Bible says almost nothing about Joseph and it may not be expedient for us to remember him in a way that differs from Scripture. The same may be true of Mary, Elizabeth or any of the other characters. But the beauty of a book like this is that it can easily transport us to the time and culture of the characters, allowing us to understand more about the world they lived in than we are told in the Bible.

Regardless of these misgivings, I did enjoy this book a great deal and am awaiting the movie with eager anticipation. I am more than willing to admit that my love of the subject matter may bias me, but I would have little hesitation in recommending this book and even in passing it to unsaved friends or family. It is, after all, little more than the story of Jesus’ birth with attention given to the historical setting and cultural context. The story takes no major missteps, but accurately and faithfully represents the biblical account. I hope the movie does the same.

10 years 6 months ago
The Da Vinci Code, having already sold some 40 million copies in book format, will soon be hitting the silver screen. Starring none other than Tom Hanks, the film promises to introduce the book’s claims to countless millions who have not already read the book. As we might expect, evangelicals are gearing up to defend the truth against many of the film’s spurious claims. It seems that every Christian publisher has released at least one or two books dealing with The Da Vinci Code suggesting how we, as Christians, can defend Scripture’s claims. I am convinced that, on the whole, this is a good thing.

Among those who have chosen to write about The Da Vinci Code is Josh McDowell, long respected as a prominent Christian apologist. His book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict is regarded by many as a modern classic apologetic work. McDowell has done much to defend Christianity against those who seek to discredit it. The Da Vinci Code: A Quest For Answers takes an interesting approach. Rather than responding to The Da Vinci Code with a book similar to The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, he chose to respond to the novel with a novel of his own.

While The Da Vinci Code: A Quest For Answers will not be nominated for a Pulitzer prize, it is quite well written and does more than a adequate job of covering the topic. McDowell tells the story of three friends who, having seen the film, decide to seperate truth from error, fact from fiction. They ask, “Was Mary Magdalene really Jesus’ wife and the mother of his child?; Did the church suppress the truth and fabricate Jesus’ claim to divinity?; Is the Bible as we have it really accurate and authentic?; Did Jesus really come back from the dead?. The reader will follow the three young people as they sip coffee and look into the past. They will find, as will anyone who cares to do the research, that Dan Brown’s claims are ridiculous. They will find that his book, which he attempts to disguise as fact, is merely fictitious nonsense. Though Brown claims that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate,” McDowell will quickly show that this is far from the truth.

The book closes with McDowell’s trademark “liar, lunatic, or Lord” challenge and concludes with a short presentation of the gospel message. He encourages the reader to “turn from self and to turn to God.”

The Da Vinci Code: A Quest For Answers is not available through retail outlets, but exclusively (I believe) through Beyond Belief. It has been discounted to only a couple of dollars per copy when purchased in bulk. If your church is hoping to prepare and equip its members for The Da Vinci Code, this may be a worthwhile, cost effective solution. While McDowell’s choice of genre assures that this book will not prove satisfying to every reader, it effectively deals with the claims of Dan Brown and the counterclaims of Scripture. Having said that, it is likely that, three weeks after the movie is released, these books will be available for a fraction of that cost and, Lord willing, we will never have to hear the words “Da Vinci Code” again.