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Sunday, July 31, 2011

book preview: Letters to the Church by Karen Jobes (2011)

In our Bible study at work, we've been working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. It's great for small group studies because it provokes many questions which make for good conversations. In the meantime, a partial preview of this new biblical survey came out on Netgalley.com, so I was very interesting in reviewing it, so they sent me partial copy to look through on my Kindle. I've been working my way through it slowly, taking time to digest what Dr. Jobes offers. She writes very well. She's engaging, open and not dogmatic, and thorough. I'm sure the primary market for this book is for seminaries and Bible colleges, but I'm a church elder who teaches classes and facilitates Bible studies, and I'm the other, though certainly smaller, market for this type of book. Jobe's background is in science, physics and computer science, and I appreciate her presentation of the data. Hebrews provides mysteries so there are several questions. When was it written? Who wrote it? Who was it written to? She lays out her humble answers, is generous with other theories, except the spurious ones. Although she is a Kione Greek scholar, in fact, the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College, but she doesn't expect the reader to be familiar with the language. I would be very happy to lead a class in church with this as our text to dig deep into this important sermon to the church. I highly recommend it, based on the chunk of book given me, only through chapter 4 of Hebrews.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

book report: Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World by Brad Wright (2011)

As a UConn alumnus, there is much to be proud of. Multiple basketball championships in both men's and women's teams. A degree program that got me into a career related to my major. And a sociology professor who has written a second winner, Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World, by Brad Wright has proven once again that this particular field of study is not for those students who can't pick a major. I really enjoyed his first book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media, which came out last year. Not only did I feel better as I read the first book but I learned a great deal. This new book does all that but allows more of Wright's voice, sardonic and self-deprecating, in the presentation of the data. This new book also presents vignettes of individuals and groups acting altruistically, as Christians, to make the world a better place. I love data, but I'm a scientist who makes and interprets graphs everyday. The only drawback for me, then, was the poor distinction between the different lines on the graphs. I'm sure Wright made large, colorful graphs but did not enjoy the shrinking of them into a third of a page in black and white with minuscule graphing points, nearly indistinguishable. But after reading this book, poor graph presentation is only one of the few things to despair over in our current world.

I couldn't put this book down. It lifted the negative clouds that the news on the radio spews out at me. There is no doubt that there are terrible things going on around the world right now, but Wright shows that in many dimensions of our lives, the terribleness is not as bad or as much as it used to be one or two generations ago. The sky hasn't fallen. More babies make it past their first birthday than ever before. Our air and water are cleaner than ever. We have more leisure time than ever. The world is more politically free than ever. Wright does not claim that we have entered Utopia, but he demonstrates that we are further away from Dystopia than ever before. If you don't believe it, read the book.

Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

book report: George Washington Carver by John Perry (2011)

John Perry has contributed to Thomas Nelson's Christian Encounters series with a new biography on George Washington Carver. Carver's life is fascinating. Born at the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri into slavery, orphaned when he and his mother were kidnapped by slavers, raised by the childless couple who owned him and his brother as free children. Being a sickly child, possibly due to being born prematurely, kept him near the house and out of hard labor, allowing his brilliant mind and keen observation skills to blossom. He withstood racism his entire life, when his merits preceded him, earning him a welcome, only to be rescinded when his presence revealed the melanin levels in his skin.

The author, John Perry, brings a beneficial extra perspective to this biography as he has previously written about the life of Booker T. Washington, the great African American statesman who hired Carver to Tuskegee Institute, which he presided over. Their dynamic was fiery. Carver would feel slighted and threaten to leave and Washington would find a way to pacify him. This recurred frequently, over decades. Although a devout Christian, Carver was proud and thin-skinned with his peers. To his students, however, he was an inspiration, a confidante, a mentor, and a spiritual leader.

He believed his merits would enable the racist white culture of America look past his skin color. Over and over again, those whites who did not know him, treated him as less than human, but those whites who did know him, treated him with great respect. But he could only win one audience at a time, and only to himself. He could not convince white America to treat every dark skinned person with the respect they expected for themselves, despite their Christian culture. It is a sad commentary on our culture that it would not freely give respect, but that it had to be demanded and fought in the courts and in acts of civil disobedience. When great men like George Washington Carver tried to live a life of respect, it was appreciated, but hardly embraced by whites.

This book is a great reflection on the scientist, painter, horticulturist, and peace maker who happened to be of African descent, born into chains. But in the background, it's also about the God he loved who redeemed such an evil situation.

Thanks to Booksneeze.com for the complimentary copy.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

book report: J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

I have always enjoyed these short biographies in the Christian Encounters Series from Thomas Nelson and this one on J.R.R. Tolkien is no exception. I prefer biographies, but I don't always have the patience for 700 page tomes, nor will brief internet posts or encyclopedia entries suffice either. However, I am not a Lord of the Rings fanboy either. I read them in elementary school and enjoyed the ideas in my head more than the story. I also enjoyed the movies. But this short book intrigued me because it showed me his life as an orphan with his brother in a rented room, unsupported by his extended family because of his mother's conversion to Catholicism before her death. I wish I learned more about his relationship with his brother, who became a farmer, into adulthood. In that boarding house, he met his future wife, 3 years older, and Protestant.

Like the other biographies in this Christian Encounters series, this is a mere biographical appetizer, and this appetizer is the bacon-wrapped scallop. It's saltiness and fat leave you wanting more. There is much more to discover about his service in World War 1 and his study of philology and Icelandic myths but a perfectionism that almost paralyzed him from publishing. I can't complain about what it lacks, because it is not claiming to be a main course, but a delicious appetizer.

Many thanks to Booksneeze for the e-book, free for review.
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How come Jesus doesn't define what is manly for pastors like Driscoll?

This rant has been pent up for a week or so, since Driscoll came out with this taunt on Facebook, since pulled down.
So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you've ever personally witnessed?
My first response is, "what a #%&*." But Rachel Held Evans was more polite and simply called him a bully. For some reason, someone like Anthony Bradley, of all people attacked her for libeling Driscoll in the comments and in an article in World Mag. Why would one Christian defend the "right" of another to pile on a third Christian who doesn't look like them, especially when brother one spends so a great deal of effort explaining the american black experience to clueless white americans? Driscoll admitted his elder board called him out on it and confessed he "erred." But that's not a confession if he doesn't tell us what his error was. Part of his error could be his endorsement of violent cage matches in the MMA, something Tony Jones could not find more ironic. I love irony, thanks Tony. But Driscoll, according to a former MMA fighter, Matt Morin, could not understand MMA less than he proclaims.
And perhaps this is the main reason that I bristle when Driscoll begins to opine on MMA, because he is the type of fan that fighters despise. If you go to any live event, you will know why: the fans are there for blood. Well, more accurately, they are there to get drunk, whistle at ring-card girls, and bullshit about why they would fight if some circumstance outside of their control were different. But mainly, they are there to see blood. If you can count on fans yelling anything during a fight, it is the cry, “Elbow him! Elbow him!” An elbow that is delivered properly can be much more destructive than a fist. One well-timed elbow can end a fight—or a career. By their cries, many fans make it clear that they are there for one reason: to see someone get hurt.

Fighters regard these types of fans as—to borrow a term from the armed services—chickenhawks. A chickenhawk is a person who endorses war with all the belligerent bellowing of a drill sergeant, yet when the time comes to enlist, they are nowhere to be seen. So the MMA churches and their MMA pastors can rail all they want against the “fat, lazy” men who critique MMA, but I, as a former fighter, have a great deal more respect for the person who is willing to interrogate my sport for the well-being of its participants than one who, from an equally distanced vantage point, deceives himself into thinking that he is a fighter and speaks so self-assuredly about what MMA is.

(HT: Joe Carter
) This author has left the sport and entered the ministry before the sport destroyed his body and mind. Driscoll seems to hold up these guys as role models, but I just read in the same Bible he reads,
Do not envy violent people; don't copy their ways Proverbs 3:31. I'm not sure how punching and kicking someone until they submit is a role model for those who follow Jesus. Driscoll likes to point to David, a warrior who fought to defend his nation, for his life and those of his people, not for amusement. Contrary to Driscoll, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when we are struck by the evil person and not resist him, Matthew 5:39.

But Driscoll wants his church to make fun of the guy who does not have the genetics nor interest in getting buff nor dressing in the legalistic way Driscoll considers spiritual. Now every worship leader in Driscoll's network has to burn their skinny jeans and worry about being considered sub-spiritual because of their wardrobe or haircut or hipster glasses. That is not pointing to Jesus, but to a law of man. Also, men whose sexual identity is broken, even though their self-control may not be, and don't conform to a man made rule, are at risk of rejection, perhaps removed from doing what they were gifted by God to do, leading others in glorifying God.

I thought Jesus cared about our hearts, not our clothes or styles. Driscoll is my age, and I figured he would have the same level of maturity about some of these things, but he doesn't. I felt slimy being a follower of his on facebook and his blog, so I had to purge him out of my FB and my feedreader.

The gnu-Calvinists keep getting themselves ejected from my limited reading time. Their lack of compassion in many areas leaves me ashamed and embarrassed. They are my family in Jesus, but I can't defend them sometimes. And they seem unable to confess it when it's in their faces. I'll simply go hang out in another room and look for honest sinners, the kind Jesus likes, instead of posers.
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Loving polygamists in our churches

What? You don't have any bigamists or polygamists in your church? I think Paul's disciple Timothy did, why else would Paul mention them as not eligible for the role of elder/overseer/bishop/presbyter or deacon in 1 Timothy 3, verses 2 and 8? In cultures where Christianity is the minority/missionary religion this is not a rarity. As culturally Christian areas of the world slip toward post-Christianity, this reality in our own churches is becoming more likely. It may already be true in sub-cultures where Christian churches are the minority outposts. What will churches do for those families who leave fundamentalist Mormon splinter groups that practice polygamy or those who convert from polygamous Muslim culture in Utah or Detroit or your own increasingly diverse neighborhoods? I don't see anything in the Bible encouraging divorce. However, Paul does say if one spouse converts and the unbelieving other initiates divorce then let them go, 1 Corinthians 7:15. If there are children involved, why would any church encourage divorce or separation? But, legally, only one marriage contract is valid in our culture. If there are no children, and since the marriage is in name only, not a legal contract, the relationship is co-habitation, not marriage. In that case, maybe the woman can apply the advice Paul gives slaves in the Corinthian church,
7:20 Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. 7:21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. 7:22 For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman.In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. 7:23 You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. 7:24 In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God. (NET)

In other words, be free. But there is another temptation for the church. Instead of calling people to Christ's better life, we let others sink into the mud of the culture and turn a blind eye to those in our care who seek out polygamy or polyamory. They claim monogamy is too hard, so instead of swimming against the current of their selfish desires, they turn and go with the flow, as Tony Jones has encountered. They disregard Jesus's teaching on God's intent for marriage in Mark 10,
10:5 But Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your hard hearts. 10:6 But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female.13 10:7 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, 14 10:8 and the two will become one flesh. 15 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (NET)
Jesus focused on two genders, distinction from their childhood households, and consummation of some sort. Adding another party to this party would be adultery. Jesus has a big problem with adultery and recommends self-mutilation before adultery (in his hyperbolic way), see his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:27-30. He certainly forgives adultery, see John 8, but also tells that poor woman, after he forgives her to stop it. In John 4 he calls out a lady for being a serial monogamist (5 divorces) and living with a guy, but she became an evangelist to her neighborhood. Good news can't be contained.

What are the options for the church? Love all but promote some, which would be "open, but not affirming." This is not a new issue for the church. It keeps coming up, because no one has stopped sinning. Refraining from calling it sin undermines the witness of the church, Christ's bride. Marriage is a picture of Jesus's love for us the church collective, see Ephesians 5
22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 5:23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church – he himself being the savior of the body.5:24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 5:26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 5:27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. 5:28 In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 5:29 For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 5:30 for we are members of his body. 5:31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 41 5:32 This mystery is great – but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (NET) [my bolds]
Christ loves one church. We are his body, he is our head. He is the bridegroom, we are the bride. We are different and distinct from Jesus, we are other, not the same, the Latin terms would be hetero, not homo. He is singular, he has one bride. Our consummation with Christ in the new age is called a wedding feast in John's Apocalypse chapter 19
19:6 Then I heard what sounded like the voice of a vast throng, like the roar of manywaters and like loud crashes of thunder. They were shouting:

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God, the All-Powerful, reigns!

19:7 Let us rejoice and exult

and give him glory,

because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,

and his bride has made herself ready.

19:8 She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen isthe righteous deeds of the saints).

19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (NET)

Therefore, those who aren't in sinful, broken, image-defiling marriages shouldn't seek one out. Those who come to Christ and his church in such relationships should get free of them if they can, but "if they can" is complicated. Complicated things need to be handled with abundant grace and lots of room for the Holy Spirit.

Tony thought this conversation should be had, these are my 2 cents, but I don't have a PhD or MDiv. I have a B.S. in Biology and I took two years of NT Greek, but those don't contribute to this discussion.