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Quotes

April 24, 2008

Lydia Brownback, author and editor extraordinaire, has recently released a couple of books in a new “On-the-Go Devotional” series. Written for women, “On-the-Go Devotionals easily tuck into a purse or gym bag and make great gifts. Each lesson is self-contained, with Scripture and a paragraph or two of teaching that will steer women away from worldly coping techniques, away from themselves and their circumstances, and onto God and their security in Christ.” The first in series is Trust: A Godly Woman’s Adornment and the second Contentment: A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Aileen has been reading them, enjoying them and benefiting from them. Husbands: these are two books well worth buying as a treat for your wife.

Here is a brief excerpt from a chapter in Contentment that deals with “My Share.” Though the topic in view is family squabbles over “stuff” (and really, how many families do not have shameful stories of fighting over dividing an inheritance) the application is far wider.


We can pray, “Lord, work in my sister’s heart so that she sees how unfair this is,” but the answer we will get is the same answer that Jesus game to this man: “Man, who made me an judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). And he turned to all who were listening and said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v. 15).

The first thing Jesus did was to clear up misconceptions about who he is (v.14). He did that then, and he does it today. We will never know contentment in Christ if we seek him as a divine referee, however unfairly we may have been treated. His work in our lives is not about making sure we get the maximum benefits in the here and now, even when we are entitled to those benefits. In fact, real contentment often comes when we willingly embrace the loss of them.

The second thing Jesus does is reveal the spirit of covetousness that underlies most of our prayers about obtaining our share. Fighting over things is something we are to guard against because all such fighting is sin. But Jesus does more than simply place his finger on the sin problem; he provides a remedy for it by redirecting our thinking to the place of peace. We will never find contentment—freedom from that angry feeling of unfairness—by getting the things that are rightfully ours. We will find it by letting go of our entitlement to them.

April 23, 2008

Here is another excerpt from James Spiegel’s Gum, Geckos and God. This brief passage deals with how and why we trust God (or fail to trust God).


The other day I was sitting in a faculty meeting, trying not to doze off during some committee reports. As I looked around, I mused over how much each of my colleagues understands about his or her discipline. It occurred to me that if there was a single mind that possessed all of the knowledge in that room, its intelligence would be surpassed in human history. I also considered how easy it would be to trust such a person if he or she were to counsel me on some matter. From there I extrapolated: What if that person had all of the combined knowledge of everyone in Indiana? In the United States? Of the entire world population? Even if God had merely the sum of all human understanding, he should be easy to trust. Yet his wisdom and knowledge infinitely exceed the best human comprehension. Still we struggle to trust him. How twisted is that?

Faith is essentially the practice of trust. And our routine failure to properly trust an infinitely wise God reveals something of our own perversity. We all desire to control our circumstances, and faith is a surrendering of that control. So we naturally tend to rebel against faith. But God graciously counteracts this tendency by nurturing us. Like a good parent, he consistently demonstrates his love. And we, like kids, must trust him on this basis.

April 22, 2008

BiblemanI recently read Rapture Ready, a new book by Daniel Radosh. The book is subtitled “Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture” which probably tells you most of what you need to know about it. The author, a secular liberal, immerses himself in Christian pop culture and uses this book to write about his experiences. It is at times exasperating, cringe-inducing and just plain embarrassing. Here is a brief excerpt to give you a taste of both the subject matter and the author’s perspective on it. Radosh decided to take in a live performance of the Christian kids’ superhero Bibleman, a production which I have never seen and am quite certain I never will see willingly.


The show opens with the backstory of our hero, Miles Peterson, “a man who had it all: wealth, status, success. Still, something was missing.” I don’t know about you, but when I feel that something is missing I usually mope around the house or browse YouTube for videos of cats falling off stuff. Miles, however, goes tearing out into a rainstorm and collapses in a sobbing heap. “Then, in his darkest hour,” Miles finds something half buried in the mud: a Bible. Not Just any Bible—a radioactive Bible. No, actually, it is just any Bible. But apparently that’s enough to turn him into Bibleman.

In this episode, Bibleman and his sidekicks, Cypher (the black guy) and Biblegirl (the girl), go up against a villain called Primordius Drool, a mincing green-skinned fop with a lisp and a fondness for show tunes. Subtlety is not Bibleman’s strong suit. The same actor also plays a talk show host named Sammy Davey, who is a classic stereotype of a New York Jew, complete with nerdy glasses and a giant Jew-fro. Slouching and cringing, Sammy Davey needles and browbeats poor Bibleman in an accept so thick that he pronounces Bibleman with the same inflection as names like Silverman or Lieberman.

The heart of the show is the fight sequences, typically involving a darkened warehouse (all the better to obscure the lackluster choreography) and Bibleman swatting away CGI fireballs with his lightsaber while announcing, “Isaiah 54:17 says ‘no weapon forged against me will prosper!’” Every now and then, Bibleman shares a lesson with his sidekicks, as when he laments that people “allow their minds to cover up what God has placed on their hearts”—a near perfect pitch for the common evangelical notion that feelings are to be trusted above rational discernment, a belief that many nonevangelicals would be distressed to hear is being passed on to eight year-olds.

April 03, 2008

The correlation between this post and the interview I posted earlier is entirely coincidental. This is another brief excerpt from Why We’re Not Emergent and one that I’m posting primarily because it made me laugh. My father, a hard-working landscaper, has often wondered aloud why Christians are so apologetic when it comes to artists. Why do Christians give latitude to artists that they wouldn’t give to anyone who works a simple trade? Well, it seems that Ted Kluck has wondered the same.


Almost everyone here looks like Sufjan Stevens—which is to say skinny, hip, and misunderstood. This is something that almost everyone here would probably also consider a huge compliment. Here is Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city that invented conservative, on the campus of Calvin College, the Christian college that is trying very hard to shed the conservative label.

If you don’t know who Sufjan Stevens is, you must, like, live under a rock or something. All kidding aside, he’s the pomo guy that pomo Christian kids have latched on to, much like my college classmates latched on to U2 for being interesting without being too naughty back in the day. Christian music for people who wouldn’t admit to liking Christian music. And he’s also, by the way, a truly great and creative musician.

Sufjan is here to perform this weekend, as well as “engage in an ongoing discussion of Christianity and the arts”—a discussion that has been going for at least ten years now, since I left a Christian college a lot like this one, filled with well-to-do artsy Christian kids trying to “out-dishevel” one another at gatherings like this one. The conference is called FFM, or the Festival of Faith and Music. Its official purpose, I’m told, is to “explore what is worthwhile in today’s popular music scene.”

The event’s emcee is a faculty member at Calvin, who explains that the conference, in essence, is “a profound apology from the Christian community for doing such a poor job of engaging art and culture in the public square.” He adds, “We don’t have a lot of answers.”

This is an apology I’ve heard made several times before, and I’m still a little unclear as to the reason. Is it because churches aren’t displaying art on their walls? Neither are insurance companies, but nobody is up in arms about that. My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough. It’s tough on families and marriages. That’s simply the nature of the game.

March 31, 2008

Have you ever wondered if you are emergent? I know I have! Here is Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) on how you might know if you are emergent…


After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found; if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian.

September 28, 2007

In his new book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes about the important discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. Realizing that many people have heard of this discipline but do not know how to practice it, he provides an overview of how he does so. I found it helpful and trust you will too. What could be more important than beginning each day with a fresh understanding of the great work of the gospel and its application to your life?


Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

September 09, 2007

Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the atonement and John Calvin.

I just finished reading Christopher Hitchens’ atheistic screed God is not Great. Demanding the end of all religion and proclaiming that belief in God is harmful to individuals and to society, Hitchens attempts, at least in portions of the book, to mock and even to deconstruct Christian theology. I found his remarks on the atonement to be of particular interest, primarily because the atonement is a hot topic even within the church these days. I wondered, would an atheist make some of the same criticisms as supposed Christians do? If a person who proclaims Christ looks at the atonement and declares it cosmic child abuse, how much more repulsive must it appear from beyond even the semblance of faith?

So here is what Hitchens says about the atonement:

The idea of a vicarious atonement, of the sort that so much troubled even C.S. Lewis, is a further refinement of the ancient superstition [of atoning sacrifice]. Once again we have a father demonstrating love by subjecting a son to death by torture, but this time the father is not trying to impress god. He is god, and he is trying to impress humans. Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.

Let us just for now overlook all the contradictions between the tellers of the original story and assume that it is basically true. What are the further implications? They are not as reassuring as they look at first sight. For a start, and in order to gain the benefit of this wondrous offer, I have to accept that I am responsible for the flogging and mocking and crucifixion, in which I had no say and no part, and agree that every time I decline this responsibility, or that I sin in word or deed, I am intensifying the agony of it. Furthermore, I am required to believe that the agony was necessary in order to compensate for an earlier crime in which I had no part, the sin of Adam. It is useless to object that Adam seems to have been created with insatiable discontent and curiosity and then forbidden to slake it: all this was settled long before even Jesus himself was born. Thus my own guilt in the matter is deemed “original” and inescapable. However, I am granted free will with which to reject the offer of vicarious redemption. Should I exercise this choice, however, I face an eternity of torture much more awful than anything endured at Calvary, or anything threatened to those who first heard the Ten Commandments.

The tale is made no easier to follow by the necessary realization that Jesus both wished and needed to die and came to Jerusalem at Passover in order to do so, and that all who took part in his murder were unknowingly doing god’s will, and fulfilling ancient prophecies. (Absent the gnostic version, this makes it hopelessly odd that Judas, who allegedly performed the strangely redundant act of identifying a very well-known preacher to those who had been hunting for him, should suffer such opprobrium. Without him, there could have been no “Good Friday,” as the Christians naively call it when they are not in a vengeful mood.)

Myriad questions spring to mind. But it makes little sense to answer Hitchens’ charges one-by-one. It would, I think, accomplish little. Still, it’s interesting to see how they compare to charges made by those who hate the doctrine of the atonement and yet claim to love the One who gave His life as an atoning sacrifice.

Before I sign off, I thought my fellow Calvinists would enjoy this excerpt. “Calvin’s Geneva was a prototypical totalitarian state, and Calvin himself a sadist and torturer and killer, who burned Servetus (one of the great thinkers and questioners of the day) while the man was still alive. … Calvin may seem like a far-off figure to us, but those who used to grab and use power in his name are still among us and go by the softer names of [cue scary organ music] Presbyterians and Baptists.” (You can read my take on the Servetus issue here: The Servetus Problem).

You’ve got to watch for those Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. We’re a scary, totalitarian bunch.

July 11, 2007

I am currently reading Dave Harvey’s new book, When Sinners Say “I Do”. The book is just excellent. I’ll provide a review of it shortly, but for now wanted to post a humorous little excerpt I enjoyed:

I’m way too masculine to enjoy Jane Austen. Now, I realize that women usually read that as, “I’m not smart enough to get Jane Austen,” and I suppose there may be some truth to that. But even if guys like me don’t get the point, I’ve got to respect any author who can actually capture the imagination of an audience without mentioning a grenade-launcher. Even once. And I’m still way too masculine to enjoy Jane Austen.

In a touch of divine humor, God has given me a wife and two daughters who love everything Austen-esque. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that the plot is always the same. The only difference I can see is the name of the mansion.

If you’ve never read a Jane Austen or seen a movie adaptation, let me save you some time. Here’s the plot. Start with an anxious, unmarried woman in late eighteenth-century England whose mom is wound up even tighter than she is. Bring in a clueless guy, also usually rich and unexplainably single, who doesn’t know he needs to temperamental unmarried woman to make him normal. Throw in some eccentric characters, frilly clothes, a formal ball, and lots of soggy English countryside. End with a deliriously happy wedding, leaving the distinct impression that this could will never know anything but harmonious marital bliss. Cut to the credits, cue the violins, go buy the soundtrack. That about sums it up.

Why doesn’t anything happen in Jane Austen after the wedding? What about sequels? Here are a few post-wedding Austen stories I’d like to see:

Sense and Sensibility, Episode II - I Miss My Mom
Pride and Prejudice - The Sequel: Darcy’s Hunting Buddies Move In
Emma Returns: The Matchmaker Strikes Again

I know…not likely. That’s why I prefer guy flicks. They end at the right spot—usually when somebody dies. A Western never ends before the two main characters face off in the street, guns blazing. War movies don’t end just as the bombing raid is taking off. And sports movies don’t end until you see how the big game turned out. But in the world of Jane Austen, stories end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. I don’t get it.

June 10, 2007

Some time ago I was doing some research on the Bible and came across some interesting quotes. I jotted these down and added a few others as I came across them. Each of these really is worth thinking about:

“One of the many divine qualities of the Bible is that it does not yield its secrets to the irreverent and the censorious.”
J.I. Packer

“The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
AW. Tozer

“I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense, and adhere rigidly to it—To say the words do mean a thing merely because they can be tortured into meaning it is a most dishonorable and dangerous way of handling Scripture.”
J.C. Ryle

“Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind.”
—The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

“We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world.It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us.”
-J.I. Packer

“God sometimes blesses a poor exegesis of a bad translation of a doubtful reading of an obscure verse of a minor prophet.” —Alan Cole

I especially enjoyed Cole’s quote as I think all of us can think of times we have unintentionally misinterpreted something in the Bible, yet God has been good to us to bless us despite ourselves. J.C. Ryle’s quote stands as a warning that to use the Bible flippantly and outside of proper methods is both dishonoring and dangerous. The Chicago Statement reminds me that Scripture must (and will) interpret Scripture, not correct it.

The Bible is an awesome revelation and it behooves us to treat it with the utmost care and respect.

May 12, 2007

I continue to make my way, rather slowly, really, through the 20th anniversary edition of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Though written some 22 years ago, it continues to stretch my mind and to help me think about this visual culture we live in. In a chapter dealing with “the peek-a-boo world” he discusses the changing concept and definition of news. Where news was once regarded as functional information, the telegraph (and, after it, other forms of far-reaching and instant communication) made relevance irrelevant. Suddenly people encountered news that had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed. Information became a form of entertainment and with it news became entertainment. Postman writes this about “context-free information:”

How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? … Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principle legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the “information-action ratio.”

What is the problem with this? Postman answers, “In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action.” Telegraphy, television and other forms of electronic media have made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. We hear more news than ever which elicits more opinions than ever, but which leave us increasingly impotent, unable to do anything more than offer opinions and bluster about what we might do if we could. And I am left asking, do I really need to read and to know so much of what passes as news today?

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