5.28.2019

You Who?

You Who? Why You Matter and How to Deal With ItYou Who? Why You Matter and How to Deal With It by Rachel Jankovic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve made a habit of checking the New York Times best seller list regularly now for the last 3-4 months. One author has consistently had two titles in the top 10 the entire time: Rachel Hollis. “Girl, Wash Your Face!” “Girl, Stop Apologizing!” I admit I haven’t read Hollis. I trust the Gospel Coalition’s critical review of her, though, and it gave me pause.

Now, after reading You Who, by Rachel Jankovic, I connected the dots. Jankovic attacks head on the can-do, “you’re-good-enough” positivism Hollis doles out as a panacea for hurting women. The problem is Hollis cries “peace, peace” too soon, when there is really none to be had until you get to the denial and death of our petty and wicked self, and our recovery in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jankovic is at her best when substantively refuting Hollis’ shallow, self-affirming message with the basic gospel of the Christian Scriptures. We need to apologize to God and others for sinning against them. We need to do more than wash our face; God needs to wash us clean. We generate gunk on our own and need an outside cleanser in Christ. It isn’t the other way around: that we generate glory inside ourselves and need to shed the gunk the world tries to load us down with. The chapter on looking to Christ was especially good.

I had one quibble with a chapter where Jankovic inadvertently implies that we should rely on our obedience for our standing before God. She is so reactionary against letting emotions define you (mostly a right reaction), that in this chapter she fell into the other ditch of letting your actions define your faith. But it’s important to recall, too, the Romans 7 reality, that we don’t always behave how we know as believers we should.

Jankovic also suffers from a marketing weakness. She seems unwilling to come right out and say to whom she is responding. She knows enough to go after this big beast, but seems to want to keep the reader in the dark that she is refuting a precious author who affirms them as they are. You Who? really needed a subtitle like, “A Response to Rachel Hollis.” Maybe it is intentional to not turn away readers who haven’t heard of Hollis, though.

A solid read overall to re-center women in the Gospel and not heed the siren song of Oprah with a Christian veneer.



View all my reviews

The Importance of Being Earnest

Importance of Being EarnestImportance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Importance of Being Earnest

So this was my first Oscar Wilde read ever. Barely 70 pages long, filled with snarky yet penetrating social criticism, Wilde knew how to comically caricature a general behavioral fault so we could see ourselves, laugh and hopefully reconsider our ways. I’m not sure I’ll bother to go out of my way to read a lot more Wilde, though.

He plays with the social class’ self-awareness a fair bit. They try so hard to be dishonest, sometimes it backfires and they are found out. They know having a reputation for bad behavior is partly a help in their social ambitions, as long as they don’t cross a certain line. To stay in the socialite circles often calls for disingenuous hypocrisy, and Wilde calls us to sincerity.

Mean what you say.

Be earnest.



View all my reviews

5.25.2019

A Memorial Day Thought

When we lived within a half hour's drive of 5 different military bases, the active duty guys were always keen to remind me that Memorial Day is a time to remember those in the military who died serving their country.  Many confuse this with Veterans' Day, a holiday to commemorate all those who have served.  It is akin to the difference between thanking Jesus for dying on the cross, and being grateful for Christian martyrs who kept the faith and died by lions in the arena.  Jesus gave, and these honored dead of our country gave, the last full measure of their devotion.

It's a good analogy, though all analogies break down somewhere.  Those we honor were not perfect and did not make a sacrifice to atone for anyone, nor did they establish a perfect nation.  Often we cannot see the direct effect their death had in the conflict in which they fought, while Jesus' death was efficacious.  He died to make men holy, so let us do what we can and live to make men free.

Memorial Day always has a small home town feel for me.  We had a small parade to the cemetery where the roll call of those buried there who served and died would be read.  Taps and silence.  A short sermon by a local pastor.  Several of the names in the roll call were direct ancestors of mine, or my wife's.  It brings to mind the sacrifices great and small made by our forefathers.  We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  Some were spiritual giants.  Some performed acts of amazing courage.  Some simply kept plodding along, doing their duty.  Let us thank God for them this weekend.

5.24.2019

One-Anothering // Racist Democrats? // Fossil Fuels

Here's a helpful infographic on all the "one-another" verses in the Bible.


And here's further evidence that the race and harassment cards are usually only enforced against Republicans/conservatives.


World Magazine lauds the virtues and necessity of fossil fuels.  Despite all the Green New Deal hype, we cannot survive without them and they aren't as dirty as we are led to believe.

5.23.2019

Why Baptize Babies? // Against Mr Judgy Pants // Supreme Battle

Toby Sumpter gives a short yet comprehensive and clear case for infant baptism.


Jonathan Edwards had plenty to say against a censorious spirit, Nick Batzig reports.


Here's great insight into the Supreme Court's internal battle.

5.08.2019

Bible Project // For Your Marriage // Google's Gags

The Bible Project looks like an engaging yet faithful way to draw in new readers.


Good marriage advice here from Mark Altrogge.


The Claremont Institute is an excellent conservative think tank.  Their president has a piece in the Wall Street Journal today relating their recent gagging by Google's groupthink.  I think you have to subscribe to read, so here's a little more for free: they ran a series critiquing multi-culturalism and identity politics.  Google shut them down.  They spent hours on the phone with Google and only got "you broke the policy in your treatment of multi-culturalism; there is no appeal."  Once Claremont went public with the story, Google reversed course and let them back online.

This is really ugly.  Any criticism of multi-culturalism today is assumed to be racist.  The liberal lie has won the day, that if you'd rather comparatively critique cultures instead of celebrate them without a hint of moral judgment, you must be a xeno-centric, white-supremacist. 

What a world.

5.07.2019

Leadership and Self-Deception

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the BoxLeadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Written in a business world context, this valuable book applies widely to anyone who works with others. It shows how we blame others and justify ourselves as a defensive response when we have not done what we should for others. We minimize our problems and exaggerate their faults, and don’t realize we are doing it. This self-deception, the authors call being in the box. A primary cause of this is objectifying others as tools for our agenda, instead of treating them as people.

There is a lot of sound theology behind this. It really defines conviction, sin, and repentance quite well regarding behavior toward others. It shows the slipperiness of sin. How anything can be used for sinful, self-serving purposes, even this book that exposes our self-serving tendencies! If we don’t give more weight to our own responsibilities than others’ faults, we’ll stay in the box. There is a difference between blaming others to get something for yourself, and assigning responsibility to them for their own good.

An important read for those in conflict with others, and those who have a “problem” person in their life, whether at work, church or home.



View all my reviews

Sunday Mornings

Sunday Mornings: An Introduction to Biblical WorshipSunday Mornings: An Introduction to Biblical Worship by Brian W. Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A colleague and pastor in North Carolina wrote this wonderful introduction to what worship should be. While there are more academic treatments of covenant renewal worship, which is characteristic of my denomination the CREC, this one is easily readable and meant to address the average church goer.

Phillips first attacks the problem, critiquing the typical church’s approach to worship today. It is too casual when we should cultivate reverence and awe. We exalt sincerity and give any and every worship experiment a pass in its name. The Nadab and Abihu incident from Leviticus 10 rebukes this attitude in force. We also remove our children from worship and cater a more entertaining program to them until well into their teen years. Then we wonder why they don’t like “adult worship” when they are brought in later on.

Phillips argues instead that there is a biblical pattern of worship, principles we still should follow found in the most specific instruction God ever gave His people on worship, in Leviticus 9, which Hezekiah follows in 2 Chronicles 29:20-36. I’ll leave the details of this for another time.

Phillips also argues for bringing the children to Jesus in the corporate (all together) worship service. A generation ago (maybe a bit less), this was known as family-integrated worship. The label has fallen on hard times, due to legalistic excesses and scandals in the movement, but the idea is still a good one: stop segregating God’s people by age and instead train the children in the thing you want them to arrive at: mature worship. I think a valid case can be made against this: why not teach to children at the level they can understand (Nehemiah 8:3)? But there’s a better case for the inclusion of children (they eat the Passover lamb, Ephesians 6:1 is addressed to them, etc.). An analogy might be teaching a foreign language using the immersion method early on when they don’t get it all yet, instead of teaching them the grammar and vocabulary later on.

Phillips addresses other hotly debated topics even more briefly:
We should give our baptized children communion with everyone else.
The Sabbath is an ongoing commandment but shouldn’t become a burdensome obligation.

The whole book will either turn people off early on and they’ll dismiss it, or it just begs for more study if Phillips’ assertions are taken seriously, as I heartily believe they should be. One place to go next is The Lord’s Service, by Jeff Meyers.

Highly recommended for thinking through what your church experience should be.



View all my reviews

4.24.2019

A Reckoning for Josh Harris and Courtship Culture

Yet another gloating piece about Josh Harris’ apology for I Kissed Dating Goodbye crossed my desk last week, and I’m getting tired of it.

Mainstream conservative Christianity is pushing back hard against any form of courtship, the newly popular dirty word.

Here’s what I think.

Yes, Harris went overboard in swearing off opposite sex relationships completely, and overstating how damaging emotional defrauding can be.

No, his idea of waiting to date until you’re ready to marry is NOT a bad idea.


I wouldn't call it a sin to date before you're ready to marry, but I do consider it less wise than waiting.

Desiring God Ministries thought so a few years ago, too.
I bet they still do.

So what’s going on?  Why are so many so happy to hear Harris recant?

Well, there IS such a thing as an unwritten “purity culture” out there, egged on (but not truly endorsed) by books like this.  It’s an attitude among families and churches that ostracizes young people who mix too freely with the opposite sex.  It implies that if you lose your emotional purity, much more your physical purity, it’s all over for you.  You lost at the “live God’s way” game in your teens and 20s.  Grace is not preached or emphasized because that would take away the motivation of fear.  I’m against this unwritten purity culture - a form of legalism - as much as the next guy.

But I think it’s just as easy to go too far the other way and say that young people should mix socially without any regard for sexual attraction – why can’t we be friends without worrying about that? – to the point of young people of mixed genders living together, convinced that it won’t be a problem.  It’s quite an inconsistency to behold dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists who are very pessimistic about whether they can advance in sanctification at all, be completely confident that their close interactions with girls couldn’t lead to any kind of trouble.

So reveling in recantations like Harris' is just another pendulum swing away from sober wisdom when it comes to preparing for marriage and finding your spouse.

Celebrate the Resurrection - Again!

Christ is risen!

Resurrection Day is past but the Easter season isn't over.

I encourage you to continue celebrating the Easter season as a family in some way.  This season runs until Ascension Day May 30, which includes 5 more Sundays.  Here are a few ways to "keep the feast."

1. Teach your children to respond joyfully to "Christ is risen!" with "He is risen indeed!"  Say this to them a few times a day, maybe at mealtime or waking.

2. Have a special drink on the table each Sunday of the season.  Even make "Christ is risen!" the toast, so to speak.

3. Practice joy.  When you are tempted to gloominess, take a deliberately joyful act, remembering the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

4. Study the resurrection more in the Reformed confessions:
- Westminster Confession of Faith 8.4
- Westminster Larger Catechism 51-52
- Heidelberg 45
- For something different, try the Second Helvetic Confession 11.10


May the Lord give you the joy of new life in Christ each day!

4.13.2019

On the Trinity - Book 7

Augustine spent almost 30 years writing "On the Trinity" in the early 400s.

I thought I'd make an attempt to summarize this valuable but hard-to-read treatise.

First of all, the way Augustine can flip between minute philosophical points and pious personal ones is astonishing.

In book 7, the bishop from North Africa uses the doctrine of divine simplicity to resolve a question:
if Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30) then how can the Father and the Spirit also be the wisdom of God without there being three Wisdoms?

Answer:
Since to be God is to be wise, the Father is wisdom, and the Son is wisdom of wisdom, in the same way that Christ is light of light.  There isn't some other thing or essence that is wisdom, light, truth, etc. that the Father, Son and Spirit are made or derived from.  To be the Father is to be truth, to be the Son is to be truth, etc.

Finally, Augustine defends traditional language regarding the Trinity: Scripture does not speak of three Persons in one God, but we have to speak this way because there is no other way to maintain the unity of God as one, and the divinity of Father, Son and Spirit.

4.12.2019

Job


Job
Something I hadn’t thought of before.
We often think of Job as vindicated at the end of the book, and God does have him pray for his friends.  But don’t forget chapters 38-41, especially 40:8.  God certainly sets Job straight.  There is an antimony (apparent-but-not-real contradiction) between two truths: 1) Job needed rebuke from God for charging God with wrong (40:8); and 2) Job spoke of God what was right (42:7, 8).  The difference is that Job repents (42:3, 6).  His friends don’t.

At first.

Here’s something else we don’t consider much at the end of Job.  His friends repent, too.

Job finds himself willingly interceding for the friends who persecuted him.  They repent, too, but God has put Job in a favored position by His sovereign choice.

Jesus is put to the test like Job.  He suffers unjustly, not just in appearance but in truth.  He opens not His mouth to charge God with wrong or to revile His accusers.  He speaks only words of faith: He knows His redeemer lives.

3.22.2019

Power Politics // Sabbath in society // #MeToo

I don't know what to make of this.  A Trump supporter sues a paper that misrepresents him in an altercation with an opposing protestor.  On one hand, it might be a useful tactic against media bias: defamation.  On the other, since when did conservatives go to litigation and the bare-knuckled approach, instead of the high road and persuasion?  Something's rotten in the state of conservatism.  But that's old news, I suppose.


Two opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye today.
1. Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard Law, fights back against the MeToo movement, having been accused of sexual harassment when the objective evidence completely favors his innocence.  No matter.  If you are accused twice, even when the same lawyer is behind both accusations, people start calling his innocence "inconclusive."  Dershowitz is right that accusers have a civil right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but we are quickly losing that right in our society.

2. The Supreme Court is revisiting the case where an employee asks for a day off for religious reasons.  The 1972 law is that the employer needs to give it unless it causes said employer undue hardship.  A 1977 court verdict made that hardship a bare minimum, almost an inconvenience, which any reshuffling of employee schedules is.  So the obligation was virtually gone.  Let's hope the court restores some leeway for the conscience of employees for religious reasons with employers who couldn't care less about the Sabbath.

3.20.2019

1 Corinthians 11-14


The Text:
Have loving regard for each other.
Order your clothing and your conduct in worship to honor God (chapter 11).  Maintain natural gender identity in worship.  Eat and drink at Communion together, remembering the body of Christ on the cross, and recognizing the body of Christ sitting around you and with you.
Work together like a body with different parts that need each other (12).  The same Spirit gifts each one of us uniquely.
All the work and sacrifice in the world doesn’t mean anything without love (13).  Other gifts will fade in importance over time (tongues, knowledge, etc.) but love is the reason why we have regard for each other.  Love is your future destination.
Use your gifts to help others, not show off how great you are (14).  Don’t use the worship service to show off in any way.  The presenting issue is tongues, but this would apply to a preacher showing off knowledge, flashy clothing and more.

Christ in the text
Jesus laid down His physical body sacrificially to establish and strengthen His spiritual body, the Church.  His Incarnation, ministry, atonement, resurrection, current reign, and future return – each of these He does specifically for His people, in an orderly fashion and not chaotically (ch 14), without showboating (ch 12, 14), or disregarding us (ch 11).

Doctrinal application
Some of these gifts Paul discusses have passed away.  They were signs of apostolic authority (2 Cor. 12:12), or of a new phase of revelation from God, as with Moses and Elijah.  God continues to heal people miraculously, but does not ordinarily vest specific people with the gift to do so.  (I’m willing to consider anomalies and exceptions to this.)

Personal application
But the principle remains: use the gifts the Lord has given you to help others, not to advance your own ego or reputation.  The Corinthians had a real problem with this, and we do today, also.

Cultural application
We have institutionalized and celebrated it, with Madison Avenue’s branding of the self.  It’s a fine line between getting people aware of you in the marketplace, and vaunting pride.  Confident announcement, or shameless self-promotion?  One way to tell is to ask yourself, “Where’s the love?”  You can do what you do to show others how great you are out of self-love, or you can do what you do to help others out of love for them.  Knowing that much of our vocation is oriented to providing for yourself and your family, it is still true that the most successful people balance that with a genuine motivation to provide value to others in their work, using their gifts.  Christian love is the only real desire fueling that motivation.


1 Corinthians 11:3-16 cuts against the grain of our culture's gender fluid push today.  Cultures may express it differently, but there is a built-in-to-nature creational difference between men and women.  More on this another time.

2.18.2019

Counseling is More than Correcting // Bible is More than Fixing Sin

This edition of strolling the links is brought to you by Uri Brito, pastor in Pensacola, FL.


First a snippet from a longer conversation - but this on counseling.
"Pastoral counseling habits require a re-orientation. We are too quick to offer solutions and Bible verses without listening to our counselees’ concerns and contexts. While there are occasions where direct (nouthetic) confrontation is needed, it ought not to be the paradigm for counseling. As Dr. Field notes, “Some conservative pastors get restless after ten or twenty minutes of listening.” "


And here's something I've been trying to articulate for years, now.
"The Bible is not just about solving our sin problem. It has a more foundational purpose. It begins with the creation account. Creation is the fundamental starting point of missions. In the creation, we learn to answer the questions, “Who owns this world?” and “What is our mission in it?” These questions only find an answer in the first pages of recorded revelation. If you skip this part, everything about the way you view the world will be thwarted. You can’t begin with creation fallen. You must begin with creation as it was intended and then move from there."