Thursday, January 31, 2008

Things Christians Overlook: The Detail of the Bible

This post isn't as theological as the previous two. Here, I'm simply trying to point out the following idea, namely, that the Bible has a great deal of textual detail that is rich and rewarding to study. In this way, it is like a piece of rich soil just waiting for one to come and dig and unearth its treasures. Too many of us are asleep in the shade, I think, when we should be digging.

I'm not going to give a ton of examples of this point, because there are so many one could give. I'll simply say that close study of the biblical text yields untold rewards. It is wonderfully true that a person of the simplest mind can pick up the Bible and grasp its basic ideas. Yet we must allow a right understanding of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture to undermine a doctrine of the depth of the Word of God. The Word is easily comprehensible, but it is also a storehouse of linguistic, exegetical, textual, and theological treasures. For example, I recently preached a sermon on Samson. In my study of Judges 16:21-31, I discovered a number of really cool insights about the text. For example, there is allusion to Samson's fortunes in the geography of his trip to Philistine territory--he was "going down" to there. There is significance in Samson being forced to harvest grain in a Philistine grainery--Dagon, the Philistine god, was the god of grain. Samson was thus acting out in a physical, tangible way the defeat of his God by the Philistines. Now, I didn't see these things myself--commentaries helped me out a great deal here. However, I have from time to time seen things in the text due to my own search for detail, as many others will also have experienced. In addition, my training in the languages has really helped in this area. It is not essential to know Greek and Hebrew in order to be a faithful preacher of the Word--not by a long stretch--but it does not hurt, either, and can only help the student of the Word. If you want to be a preacher, and you can't take any other classes, take language classes. You can read theology, study philosophy, and search history on your own terms, but rare is the man who can teach himself an ancient language. If you don't have linguistic training and want to pick up overlooked details in the text and thus preach the Word with a richness and depth your people will eagerly drink up, acquire commentaries that can guide in a close study of the original text.

In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked components of evangelical preaching. So much preaching that I hear is right and true and faithful and boring. Let's just speak honestly here. Do you resonate on any level with this opinion? This is not said to denigrate evangelical preachers. Preaching is hard work, and we need to hear the plainest truths on a regular basis simply to live and sustain our faith. With this said, we should not confuse faithfulness with sleepiness. We should exegete the text, dig into the text, and leave our people fascinated by the Word of God. That is a carefully chosen word--fascinated. The Word of God isn't simply true. It's downright remarkable! It possesses a level of detail that has sustained centuries of scholastic inquiry, inquiry that has utterly failed to exhaust the Scripture's riches. Think about it. There are tons of things that even the most astute scholars of God's Word have not figured out. This is a rich book indeed that we are dealing with. Now, how about we Christians start digging into these details? Forget preaching--in our own personal study, we can obtain a commentary and use it to illuminate our study of the Word. Or think about small group studies. Why would we ever study passages of Scripture based only on our own intuition when godly, gifted men have literally given their lives to search out the riches of that text? This is a fool's proposition--and one that we sometimes make, sadly.

Let's make a commitment, then, to studying and unearthing the untold riches of the Bible. Let's dig deeply into the Word, and as Christians, whether laymen or preachers, let's bring these riches to others and think together about them. The result? A faith that is deeper, more enlightening, and way less boring than a faith dependent on the same cliches, the same maxims, that we know--and need--but that become inestimably more powerful when rooted in the detailed "soil" in which they were given.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things Christians Overlook: The Ministry of the Spirit in the Believer's Life is Powerful

This series attempts to touch very briefly on a few things that many Christians overlook in their daily lives. All of these things are points that I have overlooked in my own life. This is not intended to be a nasty series, a virtual poke in the eyes, but is meant to pass along a few things others have taught me that I have found helpful.

Today we look very quickly at the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and the believer. We sometimes think that Jesus accomplished the various miracles of His ministry in His own strength. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The ministry of Christ was Spirit-powered.

John 1:32-33 Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'

This text shows us that Jesus received the Spirit at the beginning of His earthly ministry. In fact, it was the Spirit's descent that marked the beginning of Christ's work as Lord and Savior. From this point forward, Christ accomplished all that He did through the power of the Spirit. Note that I'm not saying that it was not possible for Christ to do all His work in His own power; rather, He chose to lay His power down in order that the power of the Spirit would be manifest in Him. This is a key distinction, and a subtle one, and the subtlety makes all the difference.

Why is this significant beyond mere theological quibbling? As my father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Ware, explained in introducing me and others to this foundational idea, it shows us that in possessing the same Spirit that Christ did, we have access to the same power that Christ did. This is a dynamic truth, a life-changing truth. Do you see it? You do not live your life through a kind of vague divinity that occasionally trickles down from on high. No, you live your life as a Christian through access to the same Spirit who enabled Christ to raise men from the dead, heal the sick, walk on the waters. You do not have access to a trickle--you have access to a flood of spiritual power that will enable you to walk in godliness and truth all your days, and to be a channel of blessing to all who surround you in your daily life. As you carry the gospel to the lost, as you carry out your daily responsibilities, as you fight for holiness each hour of the day, you can call upon the Father to move in a powerful way in your life through the Holy Spirit. This is a prayer that God will answer. He will take joy in your recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit, and just as He did for Christ, He will move in your life in marvelous ways to bring His will and plan to pass in your life. Clearly, this is a truth we need to recognize. Have you realized that you don't have to live in your own strength as a Christian? Are you calling on God to work in you through the Spirit? Or are you out there fighting your own battles, waging your own wars, struggling to grow in godliness and live a gospel-centered life?

If so, read the gospel of John, observe how John highlights the Spirit's work in Christ's life, and claim this same Spirit dynamism in your own life. This is one matter we cannot afford to overlook.

Further reading: Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2005.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Things Christians Overlook: The Bible Has a Thesis (Hint: Christ)

I want to do a brief series on some key biblical things that I and other Christians have overlooked and do overlook. Today's topic is on a pretty simple but incredibly under-recognized idea, that the Bible has a thesis, and that this thesis is Jesus Christ.

I have talked about this before on this blog, and I'm sure I'll talk about it again, because it is incredibly important. I think that many Christians of the past century were taught to read the Bible rather flatly. That is, there is no peak in the canon which all preceding materials foretells and all following material explores. But there is such a peak: it is none other than Jesus Christ.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:44-46"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead...

John 1:45
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

John 5:39
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me...

These are some of the texts that point us to find the Bible's thesis in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Preachers are not being fanciful when they attempt to connect their sermon text to the person and work of Jesus Christ; they are being faithful. One can pick up a book of Scripture and read it in its context and take away lots of important information and context and content. This is, in fact, how many Christians read the Bible. They read a given text--say, Esther--and they come away encouraged by it, understanding more of God and man and how the two interact and what ancient Judaism looked like and how God triumphs over evil and things like this. Let me be clear: these are immensely important things. However, this Christian is missing the Bible's thesis, the richness of a thesis-driven reading of Scripture, and is in some way disobeying Christ and His explicit command to read the Bible in terms of a theological argument. I once read the Bible in this way, and though I am sure that I and others who did (and do) are not seeking to disobey Christ's direct teaching, it is clear that we are.

This post is not okaying any and all interpretations of Scripture so long as they purport to point to Christ (as if I can okay anything). No. We must be responsible Christocentricists. We can acknowledge that some texts foreshadow and disclose Christ's coming and work more clearly and fully than others. We can at times confess, both to ourselves and to our congregations, that the Christocentric connection is rather abstract due to a lack of clarity on our part (thus emphasizing our exegetical weakness and the Bible's mystery more than its lack of anything). With these caveats stated, whether you are a preacher or a politician, a teacher or a tradesman, a homemaker or a teenager, you are called to read the Bible as if it has a thesis, namely, the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament foreshadows Christ, the New Testament discloses His person and work in fullness (see the above texts). Thus, every text of the Bible in some way relates to the gospel of Christ, and every Christian must learn to the read the Bible with this rich, invigorating, glorious thesis. God in His wisdom wrote the Bible through men, and He did so with a distinct thesis in mind: He wrote the Scripture to tell of Himself, to illuminate the character of men, to record a history of His dealings with men, and most significantly, to point to Christ and His work as the center, the apex, the pinnacle, of the Word.

Let us read the Scripture accordingly--not as a book of sixty-six fascinating but loosely connected books, but as a collection of diverse authors and subjects who nonetheless speak a single central theme: the glory of God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us not ignore this matter; if we do so, after all, we're not disobeying a bunch of fanciful theologians who comment on the Bible. No, we're disobeying Christ, the One who wrote it.

Further reading: Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Proclaiming Christ from All of Scripture, P & R, 2007.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Week-est Link, January 25 2008

1. Thanks so much to all the bloggers out there who have linked to consumed. I really appreciate it, and thanks to all who left very kind comments last week about my blog. I was very encouraged as I always am by the commenters on this blog.

2. Here's what looks like a perceptive and beneficial lecture on Islam and the claims of radical Islam. It was held at Capitol Hill Baptist last spring and has received very good feedback.

3. A well-rounded and persuasive piece on limited atonement, written by an SBTS student and friend named Bradley Cochrane. What's nice is that the post is readable and relatively brief, unlike some of the stuff you see out there on the subject. (HT: Said at Southern)

4. Griffin House makes good, soulful music. I don't think you've heard of him--I certainly hadn't--but my buddy Ben Peays hipped me to him. Check out this song for sure--very melancholy and moving: "Tell Me a Lie." Sort of country, folk, alt-rock. If you like the video snippet, buy the mp3. I can't stop listening to it.

5. Excellent Collin Hansen piece on Barack Obama's abortion views. Obama is the most pro-abortion candidate ever, according to some. Some may sneer at single-issue voting, but Christians should not, when that issue relates to the death of millions of babies. Hansen's a fellow TEDS student and a very good writer. More on his work in the future. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Have a great weekend. It's supposed to warm up here in Deerfield, which means that regular existence--characterized by such activities as moving and breathing--should resume soon.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

"There Will Be Blood" Makes Good on Its Promise, and Startles in its Depiction of Evil Manhood

Some of you who read this blog will know that I do not style myself a reviewer of movies. I do not have the credentials to do so, and I seek to avoid presenting myself as an expert regarding things for which I have no credentials or training. However, I do think it useful and fun to study cinema, as cinema is one of the primary ways our culture thinks about itself and its world. Movies are not just about entertaining--they are ways in which the culture tells its story, represents and thinks about itself, and thus it is worthy to think about them.

I will not attempt, then, to exhaustively review the film and its details but will instead make a few notes about things that interested me about There Will Be Blood. Made by Paul Thomas Anderson, a director of talent and varied focus, the film is, well, startling. It is directed with a bold hand, and it makes a strong impact on the viewer. It contains some objectionable content and is in itself disturbing, and thus some Christians will not wish to view it, and that is fine--we all have different levels of tolerance and stomach for negative content. The film, in my humble estimation, is primarily about men. This will surprise no one, as I'm constantly looking to discover how the culture thinks about gender, but I think I'm right here. The film is a study of manhood as it relates to temptation. The plot follows an oil prospector named Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) who comes to a small Texas town and attempts to build his own impenetrable oil empire. Along the way, he runs up against a fervent country preacher named Eli Sunday (the name smacks of Billy Sunday; the actor is Paul Dano) who wishes to reap some of the oil money for himself and his congregation. The story also involves Plainview's adopted son H.W., who wrestles as he grows up with an obviously difficult father and the life this father gives him. I won't reveal much about the plot, but suffice it to say that it provides a platform by which to watch the strong personalities of the prospector and the preacher clash and display much ugliness.

The manhood evident in the film is raw and unadorned. Plainview is a hard, sharp-edged, calculating man--the only trait that occasionally supercedes his calculation is his explosive temper. This is a man who lives to compete and to win. He loads the odds against himself and then finds his greatest life pleasure in taking those odds on headfirst and defeating them. He shows flashes of humanity, most often toward his son, but in watching Plainview, we are watching a man consumed by himself and his lust for money. He is the antitype to the model of manhood set out by Christ. Christ was unfailingly others-centered; Plainview is unfailingly self-centered. A man at his best is a man living for the gospel-focused good of others--family, church, society, broader world. A man at his worst is a man living for the good of himself--his pockets, his reputation, his selfish dreams. A Christ-following man lives with an open hand, for he has been freed by the gospel to live generously and joyfully for the benefit of others. God smiles upon him, and he may smile upon others, and so he does, and all around bask in his goodness and kindness. A self-centered man lives with a clenched fist, his selfish interests running like slippery thread between his fingers. He is so consumed by himself that he cannot live for others; he is so driven by his own interests that he cannot even glimpse those borne by the people around him. Plainview shows very brief snatches of caring for others, but his masculinity, his psyche, is so dominated by himself that such snatches are quickly drowned out by a flood of selfish action or vicious anger directed at his competitors, whether real or imagined. As we watch this man play his depravity, we recoil, even as we study his character in all its complexity. Somehow, Day-Lewis manages to avoid an unnuanced character. He plays Plainview with such depth and subtlety that the word "masterful" does not suffice. When Day-Lewis discovers a great character, he burrows into it, until we cannot be sure if we are watching an actor or a man. Somehow, Plainview is both ogre and man, repulsive and endearing. This is the mark of great acting, and represents sinful humanity in its unredeemed essence.

Eli, for his part, cares not so much for his church as he cares for his reputation as a well-financed preacher. Eli wants to be around money, wishes desperately to distance himself from impoverished ministry, and so is willing to go to great lengths to do so. Eli's character is interpreted and played rather harshly by Paul Dano, a strange and somehow affecting actor. Nonetheless, there is something for us to pick up from Sunday's character. Do we crave cultural respectability and--forget the other urges--money so much that we sell our soul and our families and churches up the river? Do we lust after the world's things so much that we forget that we have every treasure already in Christ? Eli Sunday does, and as a result, we are presented with a man who lives for himself just as Plainview does, although Sunday's greed is disguised and covered up with showy piety where Plainview's is naked and plainly malevolent. In the end, we're not sure who to like more. I think I ended up liking Plainview more, which tells us something about how much damage a false godliness can do.

Paul Thomas Anderson often explores themes of manhood and fatherhood, and he does so eloquently here, though his is a rough eloquence. His characters are unvarnished, his relationships unpretty, his view of life rough and tumble. There Will Be Blood is beautifully shot, well-paced (and long, which allows for character and plot development), and ultimately quite revealing about the hearts of men. We are strange and powerful creatures, us men. We are capable of such good, as seen magnificently in the person of Christ, and we are capable of almost limitless evil. In the end, it is Plainview's malevolence that most sticks with us. Though no Christian, Anderson understands that men are naturally evil, and his film plays out the evil self-centredness of one man. We are left repulsed, fascinated, and startled by what Plainview is able to do. Armed with masculine energy, ambition, and strength, he is able to do incredible things, to in effect attack the ground and wrest its fruit for himself. This is a triumph of masculine agency, and it is not evil in itself. And yet even as we affirm Plainview's sense of masculine agency, at his strong hand, we recoil at his consuming greed, his tight-fisted grasp on all he has. We walk out of the theater startled by what man can do with his wit and his hands, and frightened by what he can do with his heart. We leave the theater thankful that though the world is filled with real-life Plainviews, flesh-and-blood men who live for themselves and wreak havoc upon their world, it is ruled by a Man who so lived for others that He bought them back from damnation by the very blood of His veins. That is a startling reality indeed.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The CBMW Website: An Essential Resource in a Gender-Confused Age

I want to encourage you to go to a new resource on the Internet: the CBMW Gender Blog. This site, which debuted just a little while ago, is already one of Technorati's top-rated blogs. This blog, published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, provides excellent, pithy material on the matter of gender. If you have not already, bookmark this site, tell your friends about it, and check it regularly. Led by President Randy Stinson, a man known for his robustly scriptural home, and directed by a godly, gifted man named David Kotter, it is fun to read, passionate about biblical truth regarding gender, and destined to educate its regular readers on things that matter.

Gender (by which I mean sex) is a matter of great importance. If you do not presently think this, I would challenge you to rethink your understanding of this topic. Gender is the fundamental earthly reality of the human race. Whether you are a man or woman determines almost innumerable things about the way you live, though you may not even recognize this. What's more, the Bible has a great deal of things to teach us about gender. The Bible is not a gender-blind book written to a sexless audience. There are many texts that apply equally to all people, but the Bible sketches from beginning to end a portrait of biblical manhood and biblical womanhood. There is of course no one book that touches exhaustively on this subject, but this is not the way the Bible constructs doctrine, is it? No, the biblical theology movement has taught us that doctrines and ideas are developed progressively through the Bible--there's a bit given here, a bit given there, and by the end of it, we've got a textured, many-colored understanding of a certain doctrine composed of the work of varied authors writing in varied times. Do not commit the easy fallacy of thinking that the Bible does not have much to say about gender roles simply because there is no one extended section on the matter. To repeat, this is not the way the Bible teaches us about most any important matter. All our major doctrines--salvation, the person of God, the afterlife, to name just a few--are developed over many years and through the writing of many authors.

With this apology for a clear biblical theology of gender thus stated, it is also true as I have said above that gender is the fundamental earthly reality of our existence. God's creation of Adam and Eve--each of a different gender--was not some divine afterthought in a creative jag. No, God was saying something to us when He created two people of distinct genders. He was saying that gender is hugely important, and He went on to show us that He gave distinct roles to men and women. All this to say that the CBMW website and blog reflects this reality and promises to educate a confused world--and, sadly, a confused church--about biblical manhood and womanhood.

Also, the Gender Blog is currently featuring a blog I wrote a few weeks ago on the "Goof on the Roof." If you have not read this piece, I would encourage you to visit the site. Read the piece. Then, read other pieces. There is a ton of good stuff on this blog. Join with me in supporting this important resource in an age when biblical gender roles are debased, forgotten, or just plain ignored, whether by the man in the street or the Christian in the pew.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Short List of Important History Biographies: 1-3

In the spirit of the lists posted by historians Sean Lucas and Michael Haykin, I offer my own humble little list of my favorite history biographies.

1. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards--If you haven't read this, you are missing out on a masterpiece of readable, richly textured history. Marsden sets Edwards's context as well as one can. He brings you into the world of Edwards, even as he brings the character and theology of Edwards to life. A masterpiece, and my favorite book, period (excepting, of course, the Good one). Works on both the popular and academic levels, which is a feat in its own right.

2. D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America--Again, a great historical work. This is a more tightly focused argument than you will find in some biographies, as it is clearly academic history, but there is rich material for all students of historical theology to discover here. Though Hart sympathizes with much of Machen's theology, he writes in a remarkably balanced, non-hagiographic manner. There are points to quibble with here and there, but this is an excellent critical biography of a great man.

3. Rudolph Nelson, The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind--This is a sensational biography of a fascinating and tragic evangelical figure, E. J. Carnell. Nelson is a former evangelical who still manages to approach his subject with fairness, though his work is decidedly slanted toward psychology. I couldn't agree with significant parts of his analysis of Carnell, but I found his biography engrossing and filled with rich detail from the life and thought of this neo-evangelical. If you are interested in the neo-evangelicals, as I very much am, I would encourage you to buy this book and read it. I could not put it down.

More of this tomorrow. What are some of your favorites?

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Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK: A Figure of Controversy and Great Importance

Not a long post today, but I think it is right to focus if only for a moment on a holiday on the actual reason for the holiday. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I always feel a bit sheepish about having a day off from work and school and all that and yet doing absolutely nothing in relation to the holiday itself.

With that confession out of the way, I give you a link to a blog listing a number of important resources related to MLK. Harold has done an excellent job of compiling some of the key documents from King's life, and I think it is a good thing to link them here. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a figure of great historical importance, after all. He was not perfect, and he was in fact a deeply flawed man, but it is clear that he was used to change the whole course of American history. He is not solely responsible for positive racial developments, and he should not be portrayed as such. However, he was a figure of great importance, and he was used to bring good, great good, to this country. Though we might have significant disagreements with his theology, and grave concerns about his womanizing lifestyle, we are right to honor him for his achievements in the realm of civil rights. We evangelicals are also chastened by his example, for in so emphasizing right doctrinal and exegetical theology, we can forget to construct and advocate a scriptural political theology. Surely, the Scripture has more to say about the way life is lived in our country than we often give it credit. In a small, insignificant, and virtually unnoticed way, then, I attempt to honor MLK on this blog, even as I privately thank God for making this country more just, fair and safe by the efforts of Dr. King.

On an unrelated note, thanks to all of you who gave me your blog links. I have updated my list, and I am glad to be using whatever very small degree of attention I get here to direct people elsewhere to good content that may or may not be receiving the readership it deserves. I know what it's like to dwell in the world of Small and Insignificant blogs, and while I'm quite happy to occupy this terrain, I'll do what I can for fellow bloggers of this realm. Thanks for linking to me, and thanks for reading this humble little webpage.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Week-est Link, January 18, 2008

1. Some quick thoughts from yesterday's post: There will certainly be times when Christians are forced to work very shrewdly in order to share the gospel with unbelievers. For example, I know that public school teachers have to be very careful about evangelizing while on the job. Terry had some good words on this matter in yesterday's comments. Readers should not take my post to mean that being a Christian means constantly sharing the gospel regardless of consequences. No, the matter is more complex than that. My point was a different one--I was saying that Christians who are able to share the gospel without some immediate penalty or something like that should ideally have the mindset that they should share the gospel as soon and fully as possible, rather than waiting for a relationship to build.

So often, we forget a very basic biblical idea: we are not cursed if we incur hate or condemnation from unbelievers because of the gospel--we are actually blessed, according to Matthew 5! Can you believe that? Well, I don't think many of us do believe this teaching in practice. I think that we completely forget it and so tailor our witnessing to the reaction of the world around us, in the process stifling our witness and failing to give God glory. Relational evangelism can (not always) be a way of hiding our light under a bushel, so to speak, of being cowardly, of thinking gospel-induced hatred is a curse, not a blessing from God.

2. Thanks to all who left their blog info. Please remember to link to me. I will have my links updated over the course of the weekend. Again, as I've linked to you, please link to me.

3. Presbyterian historian Sean Lucas and Baptist historian Michael Haykin post their top nine biographies. An odd number (literally, right?), but the lists are interesting. (HT: Justin Taylor)

4. Get some great lectures on the Gospel of John here. The lectures are by Dr. Jonathan Pennington, a rising scholar of the Gospels. He teaches at Southern Seminary, did his PhD at St. Andrews, and is an engaging, understandable communicator who has much to teach you if you will take a bit of time to listen. (HT: Said at Southern)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Re-Thinking Relational Evangelism: Getting the Gospel Out in Front

To get right to the point, I wonder if many of us haven't gone too far in the direction of "relational evangelism." We've seen contact evangelism done poorly in certain circumstances, we realize that many of our peers are hostile to the gospel, and we ourselves have grown up going to school with and working with unsaved people, and therefore we're accustomed to fitting in pretty well with them, and consequently we don't make it a point to make sharing the gospel the most important thing in our friendships with lost people. There is some good to this, particularly in certain instances, but in considering the biblical testimony, it's hard to make the case that the model of biblical evangelism is relational. No, the apostles and disciples are pretty up-front with their truth claims. Where we worry about stepping on toes, and saying just the right thing, the apostles spoke the truth, and worried about pleasing God rather than man.

Don't hear me wrongly. I'm not saying that there is no place for relational evangelism. There are times when a person makes very clear that they do not want to talk about Christ and salvation. I have had this happen on a number of occasions. We're always going to have use discernment in our evangelism and attempt to determine what exactly to say and how best to say it. I also am not making an explicit argument here for the kind of public "contact evangelism" model that some use (I'm actually not addressing it here). However, I think that many of us have reversed the biblical paradigm for evangelism, which is this: declare one's faith, call others to this faith, and then allow them to observe your life in order to show that the gospel is transformative and powerful. The order many of us have adopted in the current day seems to be something like this: demonstrate a transformed life, get to know the person we're seeking to evangelize, and then, at some late and very comfortable point, share the gospel. This order does make people feel comfortable, and it is less confrontational than the first paradigm, but I'm wondering if it does not reflect an overly culture-conscious Christianity and a fear of man.

As Christians, whether postmen or waitresses or moms or pastors, our duty is to honor God by sharing the gospel of salvation by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. We seek to graft lost people into the story of the kingdom, to show people that there is a great reign and rule that they need to be a part of in order to be saved and to participate in everlasting worship of the coming King. All of us do this, and all of us should do this. We'll do it in different ways and at different times and some of us will do it more than others, but if you are a Christian, this is what your life is about: knowing Jesus and making Him known. In the current day, I think that many of us have grown far too culturally aware of our status and perceived image. We don't want to be identified with "fundamentalists," we don't want to be ostracized, and we just want to live in our little corner of things and not be bothered by others. But here's the thing: the point of being a Christian is to get the gospel out there. We need to get the gospel out in front of people so that they can consider it, so that the Spirit can work, and then we need to demonstrate its power by living distinctively transformed lives.

I'm not saying that I'll never use "relational evangelism." To be honest, I'm sure that I will, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of fear. But with that said, it is my goal to work against the prevailing paradigm and to get the gospel out in front of people, in order that they can consider it and also observe the difference it makes in a person's life. In God's infinite wisdom, the gospel has the power to save immediately. Evangelism does not always bear such quick fruit, and we may well sometimes need to build a friendship over time with a particularly wary or hostile person, but we must remember that the gospel is powerful. It's not your people skills that save people, it's not your perfectly crafted relationships that save people, it's not introducing exactly the right conversational topic at exactly the right time that saves people--it's sharing the gospel, period. The Holy Spirit magically and miraculously uses the incredible simple device of verbal communication of a clear and concise message to save sinners from hell. So let's do "relational evangelism"--yeah, let's boldly and clearly declaim the privileges of being the children of God. That's an evangelistic program that cannot be topped, a strategy that will never be supplanted.


Monday, January 14, 2008

You Link to Me, I'll Gladly Link to You

Update on Tuesday, January 15: If anyone else wants to be linked on my blog, please let me know. I'll check out your blog and then link to it provided everything makes sense. Then, if you could link to me, that would be great. I'll leave this up today in order to see if anyone else wants to be linked on this blog. Thanks to everyone who has already left their names and addresses--my blog will be the stronger for your links.

Short post from Deerfield, IL today (my first ever from here). If you read my blog regularly and would like me to link to your blog, please leave your blog name and address in the comments section. The one caveat is this: if I link to you, you link to me. The more blogs that link to your blog, the higher up your blog will appear in online searching. I have wanted to do this for a long time but have not found the time to do so. Don't be shy--I will link to your blog if it checks out. There are a lot of good blogs out there that could use some exposure. I don't have much, but what I have, I will gladly use to help fellow bloggers of like mind.

So, feel free to leave me your blog's name and address. I will add a bunch of links in days to come, and you can add my blog to your link list, and everyone will benefit, and we'll slowly take over the world together, one Google search at a time.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Last Day in the Office: Reflections on Working for Dr. Mohler

For the last three and a half years, I have worked on campus at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. For the last two and a half years, I have worked in the President's Office, and a year and a half of that time has been devoted to research for an upcoming book on Christian manhood. Today is my last day in the office. It has been a privilege to work for Dr. Al Mohler. My day in and day out work involved lots of reading, compiling of outlines and quotations, and attending the radio show. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I have learned a great deal from him. I have not written much about my experience on my blog, as I have not wanted to appear (or be) proud, and I have not wished to be seen as obsequious or slavish, two traits I personally abhor. Now that I am leaving Louisville, however, it is appropriate to speak publicly about Dr. Mohler in an effort to share what I have learned from him and to honor him as a mentor in the faith.

Dr. Mohler has taught me the importance of thinking theologically about all of life. Carrying on in the vein of men like Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry, Dr. Mohler thinks theologically about everything. There is nothing that I know of that he does not view through his theological lenses. He even talks about his dog in theological terms. I've heard him recount on a number of times his thoughts on "Baxter the beagle," and each time he illustrates the uniqueness of humanity in comparison to animals (though he never fails to state his love for his dog). Dr. Mohler has, fundamentally, a curiosity about anything and everything. He reads and researches tirelessly and thus is equipped to instruct on a great many topics of interest. In working under him, I have acquired a similar drive to learn and to think in biblical terms about everything. Too many of us see spiritual things in spiritual terms and everything else in earthly terms. Dr. Mohler has taught me to think of all things in spiritual terms, and my life is all the richer for it.

Dr. Mohler has taught me the importance of gender as it relates to the Christian life. Many Christians think about Christianity from a sexless standpoint--that is, every text applies in the same way to all people, regardless of gender. I have learned from Dr. Mohler that gender (sex) is the fundamental reality of life. There is nothing more basic to our earthly existence than gender. Our bodies are determined by it, and, importantly, so are our spiritual lives and daily existences. Dr. Mohler has passed on to me and many others the importance of emphasizing gender and fulfilling the roles given to each sex. He has encouraged me a great deal in the quest each man faces to identify and define his manhood, and has given me ideological and theological markers by which to understand manhood--marriage, the cultivation of a family, the performance of God-glorifying work, meaningful contribution to society in a variety of ways. Many Christians touch on these ideas, but Dr. Mohler has helped me to see that the Bible makes much of such things, and that we should do the same in attempting to fulfill our individual, gender-based discipleship under Christ in the context of a corporate body.

Dr. Mohler has taught me the value of hard work driven by a vision for life and a belief in truth. If you spend much time around him, you know that a wasted moment and Dr. Mohler rarely meet. He has a relentlessness about him, a desire to take intellectual and spiritual dominion over all that he can. This is a biblical desire, even if it can be difficult for Dr. Mohler (and for all of us) to balance at times. Though we all fall short in many ways, I have been profoundly challenged by Dr. Mohler to avoid a passive, weak-willed, lazy existence. When one sees a man working hard and enjoying it, one is driven to do the same thing and to rebel against a culture that glorifies laziness and masculine weakness. Dr. Mohler is a strong man, a man of oak, and I desire to emulate him in living hard and well for the glory of God. He is a courageous man, a man who stands for what he believes, and he has taught me the importance of contending for the faith in a fallen world. Dr. Mohler is not ashamed to speak up for his cause, and he does not shrink back from conflict when it is necessary. He is not in such a hurry to make friends that he compromises the faith, though I also know that he often makes friends of his enemies, though he and they disagree to the point of bitterness. Watching him remain personally warm to those who disagree with him has helped me to see that burning bridges is not a necessary part of contending for truth. I hope for myself and many young men that we will practice this in our own lives.

In the midst of a busy life, Dr. Mohler finds time to show kindness to people. Thus I have learned from him that a Christian, whether a pastor or lawyer or homemaker or farmer, must always prize people. The point of our existence is not to make a name for ourselves. We are to love God and our neighbor. Too often we minimize the first, forget the second, and substitute in a third--"love oneself above all else." I can remember Dr. Mohler calling me from vacation to tell me the day before my wedding that he was proud of me and praying for me. I will remember that for a long time. I learned from that act that even a small gesture has the power to deeply affect another person. There have been other acts of similar kindness, and I will remember them as well. For example, it has been a great encouragement to observe Dr. Mohler handle callers of all abilities and backgrounds on his radio show. He is unfailingly kind to callers, and I have listened many times as he has led a timid caller through the paces and helped them to articulate their thoughts. He does not embarrass his listeners, and he easily could. That means a great deal. More than this, he loves his wife and family a great deal, and I have been impacted by his concern for them. He truly honors and ennobles his wife and clearly holds her in great esteem. It is right that he do so, but many men do not. I want to be a man like this, who strengthens and dignifies those around him, leaving them desirous of honoring him in all situations. Loyalty can be blind, but it can also be won out of a history of godliness and kindness, as it is in my case and many others with Dr. Mohler.

I have picked up a great deal from Dr. Mohler and could write much more about my brief time with him. I could mention, for example, his quick wit, his courtesy to guests, his love for students, his courage, his ability to take a joke and poke fun at himself, and his boyishness. Perhaps there will be a day when I can write more. I hope it will come. Dr. Mohler is not a perfect man, and I have seen his weaknesses as well as his strengths. He can drive himself quite hard, he must balance his accomplishments with the need to be humble, and he can get a bit testy at times. I've seen him scorch an intern a time or two, though, of course, I was never in such a position (ahem). In the end, Dr. Mohler is a man just like anyone else. He is gifted, he is godly, he is a sinner, he is redeemed by the blood of Christ. This last point is, as it is for all Christians, the central fact of his existence. Being around a man of such focus has caused my time at Southern to be one of great learning, change, and growth. I count Dr. Mohler as the chief catalyst in these things. For his kindness, his investment in me, his continual exhortation and instruction, I am thankful to God.

It all wraps up now. My desk is cleared, my goodbyes are said, and I'm just about to begin a new season of life and ministry. I will really miss Donna, Wendy, and Tricia, the office "ladies," the office head, Jason Allen, and my good friends Tyler Wittman, Drew Dixon, and Matt Crawford, a man I respect and trust. I am very sorry to part ways with Greg Gilbert and Matt Hall, my fellow history devotees. I have been blessed to share friendship with these men and have learned a great deal from them both. Greg has been something of an older brother to me and has a great many talents to steward and Matt is a good friend and a future historian of renown. In sum, it is hard to leave work and a work environment that one loves. I have seen firsthand in this job how work that is close to one's heart need not be dreary or dreaded; instead, it may be a source of great blessing, an opportunity to use gifts and share fellowship in the service of Christ and the advancement of His kingdom. I will really miss this office and these people. It has been a sweet season indeed. As I go, I trust that I will honor the friendship of these people, Dr. Mohler's investment in me these last few years, and far more importantly, the Savior who died for His church to save it and bring it into a place of unending worship, where all that one leaves behind is sin, sickness, pain, and the sadness of parting with those one loves.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

In Pursuit of God-Glorifying Blogging

I've been thinking a little lately about blogging. I wrote a while back on humility as it relates to blogging, but I've had some further thoughts on the subject. Blogging, it seems to me, is neither good nor bad. It is a neutral field that can be used for either good or bad ends. It thus takes discernment and careful thought to blog in a distinctly Christian manner. From a quick and under-developed look at the evangelical blogosphere, I think it's clear that many of us need to think more about how we blog, myself included.

1. Be careful about narcissism. A friend of mine, a wise and godly Christian, often states his belief that blogging is fundamentally narcissistic. I do not agree that any and all blogging is narcissistic, though I do think that he has an important point that all bloggers should consider. It is easy to construct a blog that promotes oneself and that makes much of oneself. Constantly referencing what we do, who we are, and who we know shows that our blogging is not primarily glorifying God, but ourselves. In such a situation, though we may have some good content, we're dishonoring God. As Christians, we're not to tirelessly promote ourselves. We do all represent ourselves publicly, of course, and it is no bad thing to point readers to our writings, but we've got to be really careful that our blogs are not propelled by narcissism and filled full of hot air by our own egos. I would encourage bloggers like myself to continually take stock of themselves, to continually ask whether their writing is narcissistic, arrogant, self-promoting, and self-glorifying. Do you regularly reference yourself and your accomplishments? Does your stat counter consume much of your mental attention? Are you jealous of other bloggers who have a greater readership than you do? Is your blog more about you than it is about God? Watch out for narcissism, and head it off wherever you can, in order that Christ might be revealed more and more in your writing.

2. Make your blog about ideas. I know that some people have blogs to communicate with family and friends, and that obviously changes things. I do sometimes wonder about the appropriateness of making such a private thing--communication between family/friends--so public. That aside, I do think that one way we Christian bloggers can avoid narcissism is to make our blogs about ideas, not about ourselves. We will of course state our own opinions and thoughts, and our blogs will be driven by our own agendas, but in discussing ideas, we can do alot to steer ourselves away from narcissism, and we can do much to create meaningful, edifying discussion among brothers and sisters--and others.

3. Watch out that you're not contributing to a culture of amateurs. There's a good new book on this, The Cult of the Amateur, by Sam Keen. I highly recommend that every single evangelical blogger read it in order to rightly structure their posture toward their reading audience, whether that audience is 10 people or 10,000. Ten readers of your blog means ten people you're influencing in a direct way each day. Though that may not seem like much in the way of stewardship, I assure you, that is a good deal of influence, relatively speaking, especially when you consider that having that kind of blog is like giving a speech to ten people each day. The reason that this is important is because many of us bloggers are not qualified to have a great deal of influence on many matters. Just because you have a solid blog and can write provocatively on evangelical matters does not mean that you are qualified to help people choose their presidential candidate, for example. It is my belief that we should be careful about such matters, especially when we're young. We need to know our strengths and play to them, in order that we would not be a bunch of amateurs posing as professionals. There will be blurry lines in this discussion, of course, but I think it's a good thing to ask ourselves, Am I an amateur posing as an expert? Do I bloviate on things I don't know much about? Does my writing subtly undermine the work done by professionals and those better equipped than me? Do I point people to real resources that will help to settle their questions and form their opinions, or do I act like I'm the authority on things?

4. Remember that blogs aren't really that significant. It is hugely important to be a member of a church, and to contribute to that church in all kinds of ways. It is hugely important to take on either manhood or womanhood depending on one's sex, and thus to seek marriage, children, and the establishment of a God-glorifying home. For men, it is hugely important to seek out meaningful, God-honoring work, and to do it hard and well, while for women, it is hugely important to seek to form a home and raise a family, God willing. Such things and others help us to contribute meaningfully to society, another very important thing to consider. These are the things that really matter in life. We should give great attention to them. We should not give great attention to our blogs and sports and pastimes and other things that don't matter. This is not to say that these things are not gifts from God and good for us to do, but it is to say that we should devote ourselves to things that have lasting significance. In addition, our blogs should not displace the instruction of a local church, or encourage our readers to trust us more than they trust their pastors. We're going to have to remember often that our blogs can do some good, that they can prove helpful and edifying to others, that they can help to advance the kingdom, but that they are just a tool, albeit a small one, in a world in which the local church is the most important institution of all. Keeping this in mind as we blog will help us to avoid giving too much priority to blogs.

5. Seek accountability in your blogging, like anything else. I need to do more of this myself, but I think it will be helpful for many of us to ask a friend or two to help us in our pursuit of God-glorifying bloging. Ask them to read your blog with some of the above points in mind, or with some you cull from your own reading of Scripture. Scripture, of course, has nothing to say about blogging directly, but it has much to say about it indirectly. Ask a friend to help you apply biblical wisdom to your own blogging. Your writing can be a help to many, it can be an encouragement, it can glorify God, but if it is to do so, you and I will need to approach our writing with care, with thought, with discernment.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Adonis Complex and How it Affects Modern Men

Where our grandfathers could typically care less about what they looked like, modern men are increasingly concerned with their appearances. Many sociologists have noted this trend, pointing out that men have moved into traditionally feminine territory in constantly caring for their bodily comportment. The Adonis Complex, a 2000 book writted by doctors/researchers Harrison Pope, Katharine Phillips, and Roberto Olivardia, examines this phenomenon, taking special pains to pain out how many men have become obsessed with how they look.

I would encourage readers to check this book out. Parents will be helped by it as it will help them to understand the common struggles of young men today, and young men themselves, whether Christian or not, will be helped by studying the effects of narcissism. We live in an appearance-obsessed society, and this book illuminates the results of such a culture. Many men today are focused on their bodies that they end up with a condition called "Body Dysmorphic Disorder," in which they perceive their body differently than it really is. In other words, though many men are strong, they perceive themselves to be weak. Or, men who have a good head of hair (though perhaps receding as is the natural course for men) find themselves unable to cope with a perceived, not real, follicle fallout. Though one might think that it's only "muscle men" or guys who spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym who struggle with "BDD," it's not. Your average teenager has been bombarded with images--images of abs, images of impossibly muscled bodybuilders, images of athletes with muscles on their muscles, images in movies (a medium that overwhelmingly favors the beautiful), images on tv, images on the computer--such that it is incredibly difficult not to worry a great deal about one's appearance.

I can see the effects of such a culture on myself and many other Christian men I know, particularly men of my age. We are all much too concerned with how we look, to put it simply. We worry about things our grandfathers did not think about for more than a minute over the span of their entire lives--our hairline, our biceps, the relative hardness of our abs. Are you kidding me? They were too busy with real things, important things, to give attention to their hairlines. Yet I find myself concerned with such things, to my shame. Here is hoping that we young Christian men can rebel against our contemporary culture. We should take care of our bodies, we should pursue health, and we should not adopt a gnostic, anti-aesthetic, dualistic mindset (mind/spirit: good, body: bad) and baptize it in Christian parlance. However, when we are healthy and fit, we should leave things be and let the culture obsess over its pecs, its abs, it eyebrow wrinkles. If we are obsessed with such matters--and if you constantly check out your appearance in the mirror, fret if you don't get to the gym daily, and are constantly worried about how you look, then you're obsessed--then we must turn to Christ, repent of our narcissism and concern with lesser things, and seek accountability and discipline in order that we might turn away from our sin. In point of fact, all of us could probably do some repenting over this matter. It's one thing to take care of your body--it's another thing to obsess over it. Would that we would give Christ as much devotion as we do our hairlines.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

The New Hampshire Debates: Quick Thoughts

I'm not sure if you watched the debates from New Hampshire, but I watched snatches of them and came away with quick thoughts on the candidates. Due to a busy schedule, I had not seen any of the candidates in action.

On the Republican side, it was fun to see a bunch of smart, confident, able men talk for a while about important things. You don't see that sort of thing on television much these days. Rudy Giuliani is a tour de force in a conversational sense. Whether you like him or not, he commands your attention from the moment he begins talking. Add in his record of turnaround in New York City and you can see why people are drawn to him as a candidate (or perhaps, were drawn to him). Fred Thompson is like your grandfather. He talks slowly, he's in no hurry to do anything, but if you listen to him, he has interesting things to say. McCain is also a bit of a grandfather-type, though in a different way. He doesn't intimidate you like Thompson does. His voice is nasal and high, and that has something to do with it. But he is a war hero, and that gives him gravitas that other candidates don't have. Romney is slick and smooth. You can tell that he must have been an incredible dealmaker as a businessman. It's hard to buy his line that being in business correlates with political ability. Most presidents have not been salesmen. Huckabee is also a smooth communicator, though he went pretty quiet at times. Ron Paul failed to rouse my interest on any level.

In general, Romney seemed a bit desperate, Thompson seemed half-asleep, McCain seemed prickly and testy, Huckabee seemed rather bland, and Giuliani impressed. I couldn't vote for Giuliani, but you can tell that he was a terrific mayor in an administrative sense. None of these candidates really encourages me. Someone will push to the top, but there is no clear front-runner. At the same time, though, I was happy to see articulateness on display in this debate, if only to be reassured that public articulateness has not died in America.

On the Democratic side, I thought that Clinton seemed defensive and hurt at losing in Iowa, Richardson seemed utterly outclassed, Edwards had one shtick and kept saying it, and Obama came across as in control of the process. As with the Republicans, the Dems continually referenced themselves, reminding me of the great annoyance that is the presidential campaigning season, and indeed all of politics: self-reference. No candidate feels comfortable talking about the issues. Every candidate must continually reference themselves and their work. It's terribly annoying that this is the way politics works, and it reminds one that politics, as with everything in this world, has clay feet. Even the best candidates sacrifice humility for self-promotion, and continually blather on about what they've done, even when their "accomplishments" have little to do with the subject at hand. "You know, that's right, and this discussion on (fill in the blank) reminds me of our (better than "my") work in (fill in the blank), in which I ("accomplished" some dubious feat)."

"Immigration is a priority for me, and that's why I've ensured that all middle-schoolers in my state possess adequate instruction in entering and exiting buildings." Or some such blather. Makes you so thankful that you don't ultimately follow a politician, but a Man who didn't hedge His bets, check His beliefs, or cite dubious "achievements" in His record. No, when Christ told His hearers He did something, He meant it. Here's hoping for a new city, a city of God, in which He will be the only leader we follow.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

The Week-est Link, Jan. 4, 2008

1. A look at the Emergent Church movement by PBS. The video is 10:44 long. It's got some interesting material, and commentary from a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor, Don Carson. I'm hoping to take a class from him in coming days. The video shows us that the Emergent Church is a confused movement, a mishmash of practices from other religions combined with a dose of traditional Christian doctrine. The saddest moment: when a young woman at the weekly gathering says something to the effect of, "I've learned that we have questions, and we don't need to have answers." While it is true that Christians must embrace a mysterious providence at times (a point we must not fail to state), it is also true that by God's grace, we have found the One who is the Answer. HT: Josh Harris.

2. The results of the Iowa presidential caucuses. The short of it: Huckabee wins, Obama wins, and Hillary Clinton finishes third. I am not a huge fan of Huckabee, though I would like to see and hear more from him. Though I disagree strongly with his politics, I find Obama an arresting figure. He has that "it" factor that all great politicians possess, that ability to appeal to many people through a combination of poise, grace, populist communication, and a larger-than-life persona. See also the helpful commentary from Dr. Al Mohler (last paragraph especially).

3. A great soundtrack: Finding Neverland. The theme, in both its major and minor keys, is quite moving. The movie is a sad one, and the soundtrack captures the movie's mood nicely. Good driving or studying music.

4. An excellent piece by 9Marks writer and Virginia pastor Mike McKinley and Christians and coolness. McKinley makes a number of salient points that young Christians very much need to hear in the current day. Note that McKinley himself would be considered "cool" by many, as he has a bunch of tattoos. However, I publicly dispute his claim that he is the "resident cool guy" at 9Marks--who, I would query him, has a rap cd?

On that note, have a nice weekend.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Vanity Fair on the New Indiana Jones Movie

Don't try to pretend that you're not checking for the next Indy movie. We all are.

Vanity Fair has a long and interesting chronicle of the process that has led to the filming of the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, due out in the coming year. If you like cinema, there's alot to chew on--and the photos are gorgeous--but the aspect of the article I found most interesting was a discussion of the evolving nature of action films. Here's what the writer, Jim Windolf, has to say about this matter:

"At the same time, action movies went through a major evolution. A bald monk flew. So did Keanu. Jackie Chan chopped necks while moving like Astaire. Travolta wiped blood off a windshield. Spidey killed baddies between bouts of emo-boy angst. Batman got the Christian Bale treatment (thin, dark, intense), and a computer-generated Yoda battled Palpatine. Jason Bourne crunched the bones of his pursuers in films that came out great despite looking as if they had been edited in a Cuisinart. In this atmosphere, can Indy compete?"

The reason I find this interesting is because action movies relate closely to masculinity, as it is most often men who are the protagonists of action movies. To study action movies, then, is to study men--both in terms of character depiction and audience reaction. As noted in the above quotation, the last few years have marked a major shift in action movies as the Jason Bourne films have proven wildly popular. I've blogged about them before, but I want to note quickly that Bourne's ascendance marked the fall of the fantastically empowered superhero (excepting fantasy action movies). Bourne is lethally strong and agile, but he is still a man. He bleeds. He fights human criminals, not ghosts and demons. We thus observe something going on in the culture. Action-film devotees are not as intrigued by ghoulish mystery as they used to be. The films they like seem to be shifting in tone, such that grimness, sobriety, and struggle characterize the standard action film nowadays, or at least the blockbusters. I Am Legend certainly fits this bill, for example. We don't seem to want our action heroes to beat up the bad guys and then crack wise about them. We want them to take their actions seriously, to question themselves, to turn a bit spiritual in the midst of it all.

What does all this mean, then? I'm not exactly sure. I can say that our age seems to be a little less convinced of the omnipotence of man, and a little less prone to hubris relative to our foes. Perhaps we'll see amidst the action and comedy of the fourth Indiana Jones movie a recognition of the limits of man. Perhaps with this shift in cinematic anthropology we'll see pockets of openness in the culture to discuss the limits of humanity and the limitation-destroying person and work of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Perhaps not, but we should look for the opportunity just the same.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The New 9Marks eJournal: Corporate Prayer

If you don't check the 9Marks site for its bimonthly offerings (all free!), you should. It is like taking a course in whatever subject the site is examining. It's amazing that it is free, because there are multiple contributors each issue who offer choice insights and expert analysis. Though I have a book review in this issue, I am decidedly not including myself in that group. However, I do hope that my review of Dallas Seminary professor Aubrey Malphurs's book is helpful.

The new issue, Jan/Feb 2008, is on corporate prayer
. I would highly encourage you to take a look at it and read a few articles. For example, the sample corporate prayers will give you a good idea of how to pray before a congregation in a "big" way, that is, in such a way that one magnifies God and the work of His people on His earth. That's just one example, of course. The whole thing is very well done as it is led by a godly man named Jonathan Leeman. Jonathan is a very talented editor and thinker and his work is quite valuable. I would encourage you to pass on the eJournal to someone who doesn't know about it or link to it on your blog. Even if you don't agree with all that you read, I think that you'll still find some good material to mull over.

Here's a quotation from my review that gives you a taste of it:

"Malphurs encourages the church to evaluate itself, which in itself is a healthy idea. His form of measurement, however, is concerning.

Evaluation takes place according to "PIs," performance indicators that reveal the church’s progress toward its goals. For example, one might evaluate the effectiveness of a "seeker service" by the number of baptisms, or the effectiveness of personal evangelism by the number of professions of faith (307).

While numbers may reflect the blessing of God on our ministry, they may also reflect other realities. Our numbers may be high because our doctrine is shallow and easy to stomach. Our evangelism may appear fruitful because our evangelistic program goes soft on hell and perseverance. Isn’t it better to evaluate one’s church according to its faithfulness to Scripture?"

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Bible Reading and Spirituality Are Connected

Sometimes I think that older Christians can get away from the basics. We've been in the faith for awhile, and we're coasting along, and life is busy, and we can let the foundational aspects of the faith slip away.

I've recently been convicted of the need to read the Bible more. I now have a graduate degree in theology, I've been in church my whole life, and I do regularly read the Bible, but I have recently been convicted of the need to read more of the Bible. I haven't arrived at this conclusion due to legalism; I don't think that reading more of the Bible is going to up my standing in heaven, at least not in any way I could myself discern; no, I just desire to take in more Bible. It's pretty simple, and I think (hope) it portends good things for my spiritual walk with Christ.

Adult life can be challenging, and as a fairly young adult, I know that there is much more in store for me that many other readers have already experienced. Even at this young juncture in my life, though, I can see the importance of going back to the Bible. Reading it for a textbook and studying it as a document can, over time, sap one's thirst for Scripture. I can see a distinct need in my own life for more. The Christian life isn't really anything that fancy, after all. With all our books, all our commentaries, all our training (all of which I support), we will never get away from the simple truth that reading the Bible--merely reading it on a regular basis--is transforming. I have a fresh sense of the truth of this assertion, and in the year to come, I hope to apply it, and to enjoy reading a good deal of the Bible each day in order that I would grow closer to God and holier in my own life.

For those who are interested in a year-long reading plan, my friend Tony Kummer has created a chart and has a plan all set up.

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