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Archive for the ‘recommendations’ Category

Another great quote from Hoekema (You need to read this book)

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, theology, you need to read this book on February 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Boom.

“Being a citizen of the kingdom, therefore, means that we should see all of life and all fo reality in the light of the goal of the redemption of the cosmos. This implies, as Abraham Kuyper once said, that there is not a thumb-breadth of the universe about which Christ does not say, “It is mine.” This implies a Christian philosophy of history: all of history must be seen as the working out of God’s eternal purpose. This kingdom vision includes a Christian philosophy of culture: art and science reflect the glory of God and are therefore to be pursued for his praise. It also includes a Christian view of vocation: all callings are from God, and all that we do in everyday life is to be done to God’s praise, whether this be study, teaching, preaching, business, industry, or housework.”

Seriously folks, The Bible and the Future is a goldmine. Eschatology matters, and the more I think about what God has done, is doing, and is going to do in history, the more I’m led to worship.

Which Jesus do you worship?

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations on February 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Today I started reading Your Jesus Is Too Safe by Jared C. Wilson, pastor and blogger at The Gospel-Driven Church. I’ve been looking forward to starting it for a while now and I would highly recommend it (even by just reading the introduction!).

We live in in a culture that has many different pseudo-Jesuses (macho-Jesus, buddy-Jesus, therapist-Jesus, flowing-product-in-hair-Jesus, etc.). Unfortunately, these are just as present within the church as without. So, with the hope that you’ll see who Jesus really is, which Jesus do you worship?

“The great irony is that, despite being the most discussed and confessed figure in all of history, no historical figure has been more marginalized and commoditized than Jesus. For many today he is a generic brand, a log0, a catchphrase, a pick-me-up. He’s been fictionalized by The Last Temptation of Christ, and humanized by The Passion of the Christ, and satirized by South Park. He’s been romanticized by countless admirers, and sanitized by the Christian consumer culture.

Yes, even the church itself is guilty when it comes to the marketing of Jesus. We’ve put our own gloss on him, our own spin. It’s no wonder the world doesn’t get Jesus, because we’ve spent decades selling a Jesus cast in our own image. Even our religious ancestors feared the stern taskmaster Jesus. This quasi-Puritan Jesus liked to smack you on the knuckles with a ruler when you got out of line. Later, we received Postcard Jesus–the Coppertoned, blond-haired, blank-stare Jesus of the gold-framed portrait, a bland, two-dimensional figure occupying moral tales that help us to be better people. This flat portrait evolved into the Get-Out-of-Hell-Free Jesus, and this Jesus has inspired millions to say a prayer to get his forgiveness–and then go on living lives devoid of his presence….

…You’d think if anyone’s got a handle on Jesus, it would be the Christian church. But we’ve settled for the glossy portrait. We’ve used him and abused him, made him into types and stereotypes, taken his message out of context and made it about being a better person or being cool or helping us to help ourselves. Consequently, what we have today–in a world where Jesus is most cited, most recognized, and most admired–is a generation of people who don’t know the Gospels very well–which means we don’t know Jesus very well.”

Jared is a guy worth listening to. He was even nice enough to give me a copy of his book through a contest on Twitter. Check him out, but more importantly, check Jesus out. The real one. The one who is King.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis on “gospel intentionality”

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, you need to read this book on February 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Yesterday, my chapel coworkers and I had a great conversation about how important it is for the church to be both a gathered and sent people. There is no church where there is not a people gathered around the proclamation of the Word and the administering of the sacraments (Acts 2:41-42, 1 Cor. 11:17-34, Titus 1:9, etc.). However, the church is also a sent people. We live as citizens of the Kingdom that was inaugurated in and through the person and work of Jesus and will eventually be consummated at his second coming. We are on mission with Jesus, preaching the gospel, making disciples of the nations, and demonstrating the mercy and grace we have been shown in Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20, John 15:12, Galatians 5:13-15, etc.). This calls for living with gospel intentionality. In their excellent book Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis give us some words of wisdom as to how this might play out.

“Western culture has become very compartmentalized. We divide our lives into work time, leisure time, family time, church time, and mission or outreach time. We want to spend more time in evangelism, but because this can happen only at the expense of something else, it never happens. Rethinking evangelism as relationships rather than events radically changes this. Evangelism is not an activity to be squeezed into our busy schedules. It becomes an intention we carry with us throughout our day. The same is true of church. If church and mission are redefined in relational terms, then work, leisure, and family time can all be viewed as gospel activities. Ordinary life becomes pastoral and missional if we have gospel intentionality.”

Jeremiah Burroughs on contentment with life circumstances

In books, prayer requests, quotes, recommendations, reviews, theology on January 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Right now is just about the most exciting and the most nerve-wracking time of my entire life. I am graduating from college in May, getting married to the most beautiful woman on the planet in July, and I’ve been accepted to seminary. Evidences of God’s grace are found everywhere in my life. However, there are so many decisions that we have to make in the next few months that I often feel bogged down with stress and anxiety. It is far too easy for me to focus on what is uncertain instead of focus on what is. I think a lot of my friends are in the same boat.

I’ve been reading an incredible book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by an old Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs. His purpose in the book is to help believers find peace and contentment during difficult times. Today I came across a quote that was a very helpful word of grace that I just wanted to share with you:

“You should labour to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as mere temptations.

…So it is with those who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into those circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, ‘Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.'”

Tullian Tchividjian on “relevance”.

In books, loving jesus, music, quotes, recommendations on January 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Today I started Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent (so far) book Unfashionable and let me tell you, my copy already has a lot of underlining in it. I just thought I would share a statement he makes about the church and “relevance”:

“Ironically, the more we Christians pursue worldly relevance, the more we’ll render ourselves irrelevant to the world around us. There’s an irrelevance to pursuing relevance, just as there’s a relevance to practicing irrelevance. To be truly relevant, you have to say things that are unfashionably eternal, not trendy. It’s the timeless things that are most relevant to most people and we dare not forget this fact in our pursuit of relevance.”

Don’t get me wrong, I (and Tullian) think it is incredibly important for Christians to be actively engaging and, as Andy Crouch puts it, creating culture, but if all we do is relate to and copy what is “cool” in whatever culture we find ourselves in, we don’t look like a people who have been changed by the sheer grace of God. If our number one goal is to be a “cool church” then we are already on the wrong track. We need to keep the gospel central, even if it means sounding completely uncool. Paul does call the cross a “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23) and Jesus says that “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). We have the best news in the world, but that news runs completely counter to the world’s way of thinking.

Besides, we tend to be pretty behind the times. If I hear one more song on K-Love that sounds like U2 circa 1987, I’m going to flip out. While U2 circa 1987 was, in my humble opinion, one of the best seasons of rock and roll, we really don’t need more worship songs trying (and failing) to sound like the intro of “Where the Streets Have No Name”. Oh wait… did I just try to be cool by ripping on Christian rock? I still have some work to do…

Ok fine. I have to leave you with one more quote…

“We can’t engineer God’s transcendent presence; we can only fall on our faces and beg for it. In fact, we rob this world of the opportunity to see God high and lifted up–above and beyond us–when we try to program him and fit him into contemporary categories of “cool.” When the size of God grips us more than the size of our churches and leadership conferences, and when we become obsessed with surrendering our lives to God’s sovereign presence, only then will we be redemptively different and serve as God’s cosmic change agents in a world yearning for change.”

Top 10 albums of 2009!

In music, recommendations, reviews on January 2, 2010 at 9:20 am

Here it is. With great jubilation, I present to you my ten favorite albums of 2009. I think we all can agree that this was a great year for music. For serious. At the end of 2008, I had a very rough time compiling my list (and looking back there are plenty of changes I would make). There were only about five albums that stood out. While there were other very good ones, none of them had the elusive “it”. This year, I have a list of about 20 albums that could very easily make the cut. Nevertheless, here are those lucky albums to earn a spot.

1. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You


2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

4. Wilco – Wilco (the album)

5. M. Ward – Hold Time

6. U2 – No Line on the Horizon

7. The Swell SeasonStrict Joy

8. Derek Webb – Stockholm Syndrome

9. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

10. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

Now I have to admit, I even had second thoughts while writing this. The number ten spot could have gone to a few other albums (Brandi CarlileJohn Mayer, and Volcano Choir among others), and I’ve been recently listening to several records that could take a spot upon further listening (Joe HenryDave Rawlings Machine, The Low Anthem), but here’s my list and I’m sticking to it.

You need to read this book (12/31/09)

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, theology, you need to read this book on December 31, 2009 at 1:32 am

Deep Church by Jim Belcher

So technically it’s the last day of 2009. My clock says 12:12 am CST. I thought I would try to fit in one more book recommendation into the year. While there have been a number of excellent books to come out this year, after Horton’s Christless Christianity, Jim Belcher’s Deep Church comes in as another favorite of the year. It is clear, practical, and Belcher (a PCA minister) says nearly everything I have been thinking about the debates between “emerging” and “traditional” churches. Like many of us, Belcher both feels like an insider and an outsider to the emerging church discussion(s) and Deep Church is his attempt to provide a way forward. f you are involved with church ministry, this is a must read. Besides, virtually everyone in the blogosphere (is it ok to say blogosphere?) is talking about it.

While Belcher and I come from similar backgrounds (I’m basically PCA with a lot of Kuyper thrown in for fun), Deep Church would be just as helpful for other brothers and sisters who don’t share my particular theological distinctives. Either way, you have to read a book on the church that has endorsements from both Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell on the back.

Current Jamz – 12/12/09

In music, recommendations on December 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

In no particular order…

Review of James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom

In books, recommendations, reviews, theology on November 29, 2009 at 12:27 am

Below is a recent review of James K.A. Smith’s new book Desiring the Kingdom that I wrote for my Faith and Learning in American Culture class this semester with the incredible George Marsden. I hope it’s helpful.

The question of Christian education has been hotly debated for many years. What are the primary factors that shape a distinctively Christian education and what kind of content is learned? Is “content” even at the heart of Christian education? In his recent book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, James K.A. Smith argues for a renewed vision for Christian education. While there are certainly many things to be admired in “worldview” models of Christian education, Smith claims that we should instead root our models in the actual practices of Christian worship. Too often, Smith notes, Christian education has started with an insufficient anthropology that sees human beings primarily as thinking things and not as fully embodied creatures. What Smith calls for is an Augustinian renewal of our understanding of the human person, primarily as “embodied agents of desire or love” (47).

The problem with worldview thinking, Smith argues, is that much of it “owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons” (31). While Christian education certainly involves the passing of information from a “Christian perspective” to some degree, Smith believes that this is not formative enough. The starting point for Smith’s model is worship rather than worldview. To demonstrate this point, Smith boldly claims that

“Before we articulate a worldview, we worship… That’s the kind of animals we are, first and foremost: loving, desiring, affective, liturgical animals who, for the most part, don’t inhabit the world as thinkers or cognitive machines… given the sorts of animals we are, we pray before we believe, we worship before we know—or rather, we worship in order to know.” (33-34).

This is at the heart of this Augustinian renewal: rightly ordered loves.

Smith divides his “Human Person as Lover” model into three primary categories: love’s aim, love’s end, and love’s fulcrum/formation. Smith argues persuasively that the fundamental mode of the human person is love. We engage the world as lovers and it is what we love that defines us. When espousing his views, Smith rightly notes that the issue of love is essentially an issue of worship and he states that “our ultimate love is what we worship” (51). While this ultimate love should be God, sin has distorted our affections and has pointed them toward things that are not God. Much of the time these things are not inherently bad. Rather, they are usually good things, but anything other than God that we hold as ultimate in our lives necessarily is an issue of idolatry. Indeed, Smith rightly shows that at our core is a kind of constant “love pump” (52) that sin has caused to be aimed at the wrong things. Smith then goes on to engage with love’s end, or telos. What is the end to which we love? What we love is ultimately rooted in some kind of picture of human flourishing. Whatever supreme picture of human flourishing we hold will then govern the way we act, think, decide, and love. It is here that Smith argues persuasively for his anthropology of the human person primarily as lover:

“Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire. It’s not so much that we’re intellectually convinced and then we muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons” (54).

Because of the fact that our “love pump” is misdirected, there are many different pictures of human flourishing we end up holding. This picture amounts to nothing less than our view of the kingdom. The way we live and the habits that we hold flow from this picture largely as second nature. However, our habits also help to shape this picture, and, as Smith shows, this must be taken into account when thinking through the nature and shape of Christian education.

One of the most helpful aspects of Smith’s anthropology of the human person primarily as lover is that it opens up the factors that shape us past the realm of ideas and concepts. When love becomes the primary characteristic of the human person, cultural practices and institutions become kinds of liturgies and create what Smith calls “cultural pedagogies”. As Smith shows, even something as seemingly neutral as shopping at the mall becomes a powerful liturgical event that has a dramatic effect on our vision of the kingdom. While there are certainly different levels of this effect, for example, brushing one’s teeth does not likely have a significant impact on one’s ultimate love, things like going to church on Sundays and engaging in daily prayer have a significant impact on our vision of human flourishing. Smith outlines several “secular liturgies”, such as shopping at the mall and university education, deftly showing their formative nature and the subtle ways they direct our desires.

According to Smith, human beings are ultimately driven by desires and affections and these desires both help shape and are shaped by the activities that we participate in. In summarizing his goal, Smith writes,

“Fundamentally, the concern was to emphasize that Christianity is not only (or even primarily) a set of cognitive, heading believes; Christianity is not fundamentally a worldview… Rather, we sought to show that what Christians think and believe (and they do think and believe, and that’s a good thing!) grows out of what Christians do” (216).

Smith wants to root Christian education in the nature and practices of Christian worship. However, I am not entirely convinced that what we do takes on any more of a significant role in our development than what we think and believe. I don’t Smith intends to set up an either/or dichotomy between what we think and what we do, but he certainly places the weight of formation on the side of practices.

In my view, both practice and worldview have significant impact on our vision of the kingdom. Much of what the New Testament says about what Christians are to do and how they are supposed to act are rooted in both liturgical practices and doctrine. One clear example of this is Ephesians 4:17-24. Note how many times Paul references teachings:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles to, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (emphasis added).

In this passage, Paul references “deceitful desires”, but the answer is not only to “put on the new self” (changing what we do), but also the renewal in the “spirit of your minds” (changing what we think). Paul then goes on to address specific issues in the church of Ephesus, concluding, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Paul is asking for changes in practice, but it is rooted in the fact (the idea or concept, if you will) that God has already forgiven them in Christ. While our visions of the kingdom are certainly shaped by the practices that we take part in, it cannot be denied that we are also incredibly influenced by ideas and concepts.

Overall, Smith’s anthropology of the human person fundamentally as lover is an incredibly helpful model for discussing how a proper model of Christian education should be constructed. We certainly are more than just “thinking things” and too often this has been forgotten or ignored. While I don’t think Smith intends to completely abandon a model of education that emphasizes facts and ideas in favor of one that only emphasizes practices, he certainly argues that cultural practices and liturgies are the primary factor that influences our kingdom-visions of human flourishing. It seems wise to adopt a more moderate view that sees practices and concepts as both significant influences that shape our vision of the kingdom. Nevertheless, James K.A. Smith successfully changes the conversation about Christian education. No longer can we simply teach classes from a “Christian perspective” and consider it to be sufficient; we must go deeper. If human beings are primarily creatures of desire, the goal of a Christian education must seek to influence these desires, helping students to gain a biblical picture of the kingdom, rightly ordering all loves around the worship of our great God.

You need to read this book (10/9/09)

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, you need to read this book on October 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton

This is by far the best book I’ve read this year. Horton argues that the American church has been slowly moving away from the gospel of Jesus as the center of our life and preaching to softer, gentler forms of legalism (moralism, personal comfort, self-help, self-improvement, and individualistic religion). We need to stop preaching “Do better, try harder” and start preaching Jesus.

“When we try to fit God into our life movie, the plot is all wrong – and not just wrong but trivial. When we are pulled out of our own drama and cast as characters in his unfolding plot, we become part of the greatest story ever told. It is through God’s Word of judgment (law) and salvation (gospel) that we are transferred from our own pointless scripts and into the grand narrative that revolves around Jesus Christ” (Christless Chrisitianity, 94).