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Archive for September, 2008

Daily linkathon 9/30

September 30, 2008 Leave a comment

From the Acts 29 blog, D.A. Carson on five trends in the church today.

Barton at From the Ashes on how we should be remembered when we pass on.

If you work at a church and are into creativity and visual arts, Barton Damer’s Already Been Chewed blog may prove extremely helpful to you. (HT: Ben Arment)

Scot McKnight continues his series on the gospel, part 5 and part 6.

Ligonier has a page with summaries of each session of its West Coast Conference held last weekend.

Kem Meyer lists people’s reasons for using Facebook and/or Twitter.

All of the video, audio and notes from each session of last weekend’s Desiring God Conference (HT: Justin Taylor).

Tim Challies reviews Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear’s book Death by Love; my review is forthcoming, sooner or later 🙂

Challies on Calvinism and evangelism.

Alan Hirsch gives his answer on if fundamentalism is a true expression of Christianity (a hint: no).

Ed Stetzer interviews megachurch pastor Kerry Shook.

Dave Ramsey on his three steps to change America’s future.

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ESV Study Bible: I can wait…can’t I?

September 30, 2008 4 comments

The ESV Study Bible is just over two weeks away from release to the public.

It has its share of endorsers, it’s been heavily hyped online and, judging by the PDF files available at its blog, looks really, really nice. Nice enough, perhaps, to preorder 🙂

So why am I not foaming at the mouth yelling at you to place your order for this thing?

After reading a parody post by iMonk yesterday, I did a quick mental inventory of the study Bibles I do own.

I already own copies of:

Not to mention the fact that I own many different translations of the Bible, including the Message, the New Living Translation, the New International Version, the King James, the New King James, the New American Standard Bible, the Good News Bible, and a German New Testament.

In fact, I own so many copies of the Bible that I ought to be giving them away.

Still I got caught up in this frenzy. Crossway, the ESV Study Bible’s publisher, has done a very good job of promoting its product.

In fact, Crossway almost got me to cough up some cash and place an advance order. Almost.

I haven’t cracked, though…yet….there’s still time.

There’s still tim–wait…I’m kidding myself.

I’m (probably) not going to buy the ESV Study Bible (maybe). I tell myself it’s because I have enough good study Bibles as is and that one more may be too much, or I could use the money on other things, like buying food and paying bills.

Perhaps I should hold out and wait to see if the ultimate study Bible will be released, and by that I mean (drum roll, please):

The Mark Driscoll Study Bible.

The MDSB, rated MH-17, available in ESV, NIV and other MD-approved translations, jam-packed with enough Biblical application and insight, uniquely delivered in Driscoll’s own style, to edify the saints and keep the discerners blogging to their graves 🙂

It may never get released 😉

Regardless…I’m sure there will be more specialty study Bibles for me to check out, though there are already dozens of them in any Christian bookstore.

And I hope the thought that occurred to me as I was writing this sticks with me forever:

How about reading one of the Bibles you have – pick one, any one – or give in to your consumerism and buy the ESV Study Bible, for cryin’ out loud, as long as you’re reading the Bible????

Now there’s a thought.

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Daily linkathon 9/29

September 29, 2008 1 comment

10:43 p.m. update: Phoenix Preacher is down, and that’s all I know. I would say the reason is some type of server issue. That kind of thing will happen from time to time so I wouldn’t make too much of it. If you wish, you may continue the PP conversations over here, or just hang out.

10:45 p.m. update: Phoenix Preacher is back up! Hoorah! 🙂

Dan Edelen’s latest post may be one of the best blog posts you’ll read this year.

Here, he nails it regarding how the common man and woman are getting screwed by corporate America; evangelicalism’s unrealistic prescriptions for our country’s financial ills; and the unholy marriage between evangelicalism and the world.

ERunner on mental illness.

J.D. Greear on why hell troubles us so.

Mark Driscoll announces the publication of an e-book on male sexuality.

iMonk’s second post in a series on rebaptism.

Ed Stetzer kicks off his series on megachurches.

Stetzer also is interviewed by Joe Thorn at sub.text about suburban churches. (HT: Steve McCoy)

Three questions that mess Perry Noble up.

Also, I posted my review of Josh Harris’s Stop Dating the Church earlier today; if you’re interested or think it might prove helpful to you, check it out!

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Book review: Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris

September 29, 2008 14 comments

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Note: I’m in the process of gathering my old threads and reposting them here. I’ll use them when I’m not able to produce original material on a given day.

The book being reviewed in this thread is Stop Dating the Church, written by Josh Harris, the senior pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and an author and speaker in his own right.

I felt after reading his book that Harris had some helpful things to say about involvement in the church, particularly to “church hoppers” and those not involved in any church. I still feel that way, and would recommend it as a resource to help people understand what true commitment to a church really is all about; though I may not come to the same conclusions he does, I think Harris is helpful in reminding us that church is much more than a place to sit in the back pew before the 1 o’clock NFL game watching the giant action figure talk about family and stuff.

Stop Dating the Church, written by pastor and author Joshua Harris, is a good little book that affirms the importance of belonging to a church community and participating in it as a giver, not as a consumer.

Harris, the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is probably most famous for writing a book extolling the virtues of courtship called I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

He calls on Christians to kissing dating the church goodbye, too, in Stop Dating the Church. In an age where many Christians (but not all) “shop” for churches and look for what can most benefit they and their families personally, Harris challenges the church-shopping reader to drop his consumeristic mindset.

Harris tells us some of the things that church-shoppers miss out on when they don’t commit to serving and being a part of a local church. He talks about what the church really is – not a building or an organization, but the body of Christ. Harris tells his readers why they need a local church, what happens when one joins a local church, and what the reader needs to look for when joining a local church (he boils them down to find one that teaches, values and lives God’s word), as well as giving tips for how to get the most out of Sunday services.

The level of commitment that Harris calls the reader to isn’t light. It is one that demands consistent, faithful participation in the life of that church, which includes service, regular attendance at the weekend services and giving. The idea of church discipline is also discussed, and Harris even goes so far as to recommend that readers looking for a church ask if the prospective church would be willing to kick you out for blatant, unrepentant sin.

Yet, Harris says all of these things in an easy going manner. He never comes across as yelling at the reader or trying to shove some undoable ideas down the reader’s throat.

Some grace might be advised, though, on behalf of people who have been hurt by the church (perhaps a good topic for a future book by Mr. Harris).

The idea is raised in this book that if you don’t join a church you are being disobedient to Scripture and may not really be a Christian. While it seems to me that Harris’s main point is that Christians need community to grow in Christ and cannot do so as lone rangers (which makes sense), that advice could be taken as abusive by someone who has been hurt by a local church, and has been burnt by every “local church” they’ve had the misfortune of running into (then again, what those folks could really use are strong, loving, committed Christians and a good, loving, Christ-honoring church to come alongside them).

The other point I have a problem with is Harris’s idea that you should seek a good, solid local church to the point of either not attending a certain college if there isn’t a good church in that community, or moving from your own community to another where there is a good local church.

First, his points on college just-so-slightly could easily lead to church leaders imposing their will on young college students and perhaps acting more in the church’s best interest than in the student’s best interest. More disturbing is the idea of moving out of town if you can’t find any good churches – what if you can’t? What is every church is the church from hell? Or you’re one of many people who don’t fit in with the existing church cliques? (Harris advises his reader to to pray for God to strengthen and refine the churches in their area, and find the best church they can and serve it humbly)

Even then, though, Harris doesn’t come off as demanding and authoritarian – perhaps his style makes his ideas a lot easier to accept than it would from another author.

The book is small, not much bigger than a CD and approximately 120 pages of material. It includes recommended books that will be helpful to the average Christian (including J.I. Packer’s Knowing God), and is one I recommend for anyone who is looking for a church or who needs to commit to one, local church.

Stop Dating the Church can be purchased through Amazon, christianbook.com, Monergism and Sovereign Grace.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Sunday linkathon 9/28

September 28, 2008 6 comments

Tim Challies posted this Puritan prayer of penitence. It comes from a book called The Valley of Vision and nails it in so far as how I feel sometimes. Fortunately, I believe God is willing to answer this kind of prayer when we mean it 🙂

All of the notes, and audio, from Friday’s and yesterday’s sessions at the Desiring God National Conference are available here. I will say that I have only been able to hear Mark Driscoll, and his talk was very, very good. I look forward especially to hearing Paul Tripp‘s talk later on.

How was your church service today? What did your pastor preach on?

I normally steer clear of politics, but a post by Bryon Mondok about a letter from an Iraqi man he befriended is worth your while to read.

iMonk intros a series of his on rebaptism.

Josh Harris talks about praying for Iran.

I’ve fixed my email link under “Contact Me” on the right-hand side of this page. I apologize for the mistake, but you now see the correct email address for this blog.

Have a great Lord’s Day!

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Daily linkathon 9/27

September 27, 2008 Leave a comment

If you can’t be at the Desiring God conference in Minneapolis…the next best thing is following it online, at the Desiring God blog and The Resurgence live chat (when Mike Anderson is able to get an internet connection) 🙂

If you want to follow the Ligonier West Coast Conference and can’t be there, you can do so at the Ligonier blog.

Those who have lost a loved one may find Greg Laurie’s blog to be a resource that ministers to them as they work through their loss. Greg, who lost his son, Christopher, in a car accident this summer, has been writing most recently about heaven.

iMonk reviews a book called Saving Paradise by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker.

Here’s the book description from its Amazon.com page:

When Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker began traveling the Mediterranean world in search of art depicting the dead, crucified Jesus, they discovered something that traditional histories of Christianity and Christian art had underplayed or sought to explain away: it took Jesus Christ a thousand years to die.

During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, a healer, an enthroned god; he is an infant, a youth, and a bearded elder. But he is never dead. When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise—paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.

But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do.

Saving Paradise offers a fascinating new lens on the history of Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, and asks how its early vision of beauty evolved into one of torture. In tracing the changes in society and theology that marked the medieval emergence of images of Christ crucified, Saving Paradise exposes the imperial strategies embedded in theologies of redemptive violence and sheds new light on Christianity’s turn to holy war. It reveals how the New World, established through Christian conquest and colonization, is haunted by the loss of a spiritual understanding of paradise here and now.

Brock and Parker reconstruct the idea that salvation is paradise in this world and in this life, and they offer a bold new theology for saving paradise. They ground justice and peace for humanity in love for the earth and open a new future for Christianity through a theology of redemptive beauty.

iMonk also offers this from his review (boldface emphasis mine):

…Brock and Parker believe placing the cross at the center of Christianity’s message, devotion and worship (in the eucharist) was a disaster, losing a love of life in this world and accepting all kinds of violence as redemptive. It’s a bold and divisive claim, and if you haven’t taken it on in your consideration of postmodern Christian communication, you need to calm down and do so.

Saving Paradise makes dozens and dozens of controversial claims, and some of them are, in my view, completely ridiculous (such as the acceptance of same gender sex in early monasticism and the ordination of women as bishops and priests). But other claims are truly thought provoking and compelling. The artistic, historical and documentary case they build for the role of paradise and the absence of constant evocation of the crucifixion is strong and disturbing. I may not agree with their conclusions, but much of their evidence is not to be tossed aside lightly.

Brock and Parker are, without a doubt, going to strike evangelicals as those often talked about gnostic oriented progressives who want to remove the atonement as the center of Christianity. Their point of view as women theologians well outside the boundaries of traditional orthodoxy is obvious. In another book, Brock states her view openly: “We were convinced Christianity could not promise healing for victims of intimate violence as long as its central image was a divine parent who required the death of his child.” In other words, the atonement, as generally presented, is powerless to help many absued women because it presents an abusive God.

As offensive as such a view is to many evangelicals, it is a view that requires more than a shout-back. Brock and Parker have responded with a volume of historical evidence. Many will not find them worthy of a response, but I’d like to hear it. Ironically, just today I received Mark Driscoll’s book Death by Love: Letters from The Cross. I haven’t read the book, but it appears to be the pastoral application of exactly what Brock and Parker say can’t be done. If Brock and Parker are right, Driscoll is presenting a message very different than what prevailed in the early church, and a message that legitimizes oppression and violence with the blessing of the Christian God.

I do not recommend this book if you can’t read a point of view with which you deeply disagree and be open enough to learn what is of value along the way. If you can pull off that trick, then Saving Paradise will be one of the most interesting and thought provoking books you’ll ever read. Perhaps it will provoke a substantial historical response. Where is the crucifixion in early Christian art? How invest are we as Protestants in the eucharistic theology of presenting the crucified Jesus over and over? Have we lost the resurrection’s influence over all aspects of our community practice and life? Do we consider the pastoral application of the atonement to women, the abused and victims of violence, or are we too male and theologically ivory-towered to think about such things?

So, Michael Spencer is not giving his unadulterated approval of Saving Paradise, but is saying that there are some things of value here to learn.

I think there’s always something of value to learn anywhere, but you have to have a filter to discern the truth from the lie.

That filter has to consist of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit and only of those two factors.

If you buy this book, make sure you have that filter on, but when you read it you’ll probably find it’s there and already working.

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Book review: Jim and Casper Go To Church

September 27, 2008 2 comments

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What does church look like to an outsider, much less one who doesn’t even believe in the God the churches preach about?

And, what would that person’s observations be if he was taken on a tour of contemporary megachurch evangelical Christianity, and was told to be upfront and straight-up honest about what he saw?

We get to find out what one atheist thought in the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, co-written by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. Casper is the atheist, and Henderson (co-founder and executive director of Off the Map) is a Christian who offered to take Casper on a tour of 11 churches in southern California, suburban Chicago and metro Houston to get his views on what he saw and experienced at each church, and that included his views as an atheist.

The book conveys the duo’s experiences very well, and is written in the first-person (from Henderson’s point of view). Henderson writes each chapter about the experiences he and Casper had at whatever church they chose to visit and critique. He would tell something about the church they were in and answer whatever questions Casper had, and Casper would give what he was hired to give: his honest feedback.

Casper and Henderson visited some of the biggest and most well-known megachurches in America – Saddleback, Willow Creek, Potter’s House, Mosaic, and Lakewood.

The duo also visited a couple of emerging churches in Portland, Oregon, along with the charismatic Dream Center in Los Angeles; Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle; a white Presbyterian church in suburban Chicago and a less-affluent, predominantly black church 10 minutes away; and the house church of a drummer in Casper’s rock band.

The megas didn’t come off very well in Casper’s critiques; he noted, for one thing, their affluence and how it contrasted to his understanding of who Jesus was and what He represented. He also noted how many of them made their ‘pitch’ for people ‘s money (what most Christians understand to be the giving of tithes and offerings).

Casper seemed to give high marks to Lawndale (the urban Chicagoland church) for its outreach to the community and to “Jason’s House” (the house church) for its honesty and realism (as opposed to the megas).

But two things in the book stood out to me.

The first, and biggest of the two, is Casper and Henderson’s negative critique of Lakewood, in suburban Houston. This is Joel Osteen’s church, and by recent reports is drawing more than 40,000 attendees each weekend. Henderson’s modus operandi throughout most of their church visits was to remain silent while Casper spoke, ask questions, tell about the church and answer any questions Casper raised during the service. But he was as negative toward the Lakewood “show” as Casper was; Casper even commented Osteen didn’t say anything that Tony Robbins (the noted self-help speaker) hadn’t said better.

The second came in the chapter where the duo visited Mosaic, the church led by Christian “rock star” pastor and speaker Erwin McManus. Henderson writes about a conversation he and Casper had with McManus before the service, and the telling comments come in what Casper and Henderson said about the conversation.

“He had a savvy way of talking to me; he didn’t really fully answer my questions, yet I felt the conversation was progressing. It was weird, like talking to a salesman” (pg. 30), said Casper, who also noted how McManus seemed to misunderstand Casper’s lack of belief in any religion as a belief system of its own, like Hinduism or Buddhism (29).

Henderson observed that McManus wasn’t listening as much as trying to control the conversation (30).

Later in that chapter, referring to McManus explaining a video shown at the end of the service, Henderson said “many of my young Christian friends also want the opportunity to come to their own, uncontrived conclusions. Maybe this is the heart of the matter when it comes to communicating with non-Christians. Rather than talking down to people we’re trying to influence, we’d be wise to remember that just because they don’t have God, it doesn’t mean they have no soul.” (35)

This is a good resource to have when wondering what atheists might think of our Christian subculture, especially in the light of the growing influence of hardcore, aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris on American intellectual life.

It’s also a good resource to have to see what contemporary American Christianity, in its megachurch, suburban, urban, charismatic, seeker-friendly, small group, mainline and emergent guises looks from the outside, by a person who more than once seems to understand more what Jesus was about than the churches themselves do.

Jim & Casper Go To Church should be available at your local mainstream or Christian bookstore, but if not you can buy it through Amazon and christianbook.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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