Faith for Thinkers. Sat, 22 Apr 2017 09:43:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 50456626 ScribblePreach Awards 04.22.2017 Sat, 22 Apr 2017 09:43:52 +0000 From the Pub: Our Ally and Enemy

“It is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort – and impersonal absolute goodness – then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, then He cannot be good.’

‘On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not foverned by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.’

‘Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of an absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. they are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger – according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.” – CS LEWIS, MERE CHRISTIANITY

Kindle Deal of the Week: Present Concerns 

C.S. Lewis apparently has a collection of newspaper and journal articles I knew nothing about, for $1.99.

Preaching: Bunyan and the Hidden Perils of Preaching

Bunyan expresses so well the full weight of duty upon a preacher, as well as our freedom given in Christ.

Apologetics: Tim Keller’s Free Apologetic Lectures

Kevin Halloran rounds up several of Keller’s lectures given at Oxford University, each talking points through his new work, “Making Sense of God.” I’m eager to put these in my earbuds.

Theology: B.B. Warfield’s Old Testament Analogy for the Trinity. 

“The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before.

The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view.

Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation that follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.”

A Glimpse of Truth: Nihilism or Wonder: The Alien Story

Literary Hub has an interesting perspective on how worldviews have morphed our outer space narratives, preferring the less nature is red, tooth and claw approach…but why? Because we’re not wired to resonate with a false narrative. That’s why.

Books and Lit: A Father’s Final Odyssey

This had me in tears. It’s long form, but you will be captivated by this literary and physical final journey of father and son.

Writing: Only One Platform Will Last

Karen Swallow Prior nails it on this one, and I have an icky feeling I’ve been part of the problem (which is why I backed off links-to-these-ends last year).

Christians and Culture: The Need for Cultural Humility

I was just talking to a friend about how my various experience across North America have given me more cultural humility than I began with. My judgment of various NA cultures stemmed more from my faults than theirs.

Micro Book Review: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

I’m torn by this review. On the one hand, I want to say that this book really hit me where I needed it as a parent. I was moved and stretched all over these pages. So, I thank God for Paul Tripp’s ministry for me now.

On the other, being familiar with Tripp’s work, I felt these was his least good. It felt as though perhaps the book had been whipped up in a rush – lots of repetition, unclear categories, no research or citations behind anything, etc. Just Paul Tripp saying what he says. The 14 “principles” are more like 14 words or biblical concepts that Tripps riffs off of…so I didn’t exactly walk away knowing what I read, and I wasn’t sure whether I agreed, since Tripp doesn’t really attempt to argue his points, he just states them.

But again, I remember specific points of challenge and encouragement.

So, 3 out of 5 stars.

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The ScribblePreach Awards 04.15.17 (The Benedict Option Special) Sat, 15 Apr 2017 09:57:55 +0000 From the PubTolkien’s Easter Egg

“Noon?” said Sam, trying to calculate. “Noon of what day?”

‘The Fourteenth of the New Year,’ said Gandalf; ‘or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him.’


“No one any longer celebrates the twenty-fifth of March, and Tolkien’s point is accordingly missed, as I think he intended. He inserted it only as a kind of signature, a personal mark of piety. However, as he knew perfectly well, in old English tradition, 25th March is the date of the crucifixion, of the first Good Friday. As Good Friday is celebrated on a different day each year, Easter being a mobile date defined by the phases of the moon, the connection has been lost, except for one thing. In Gondor the New Year will always begin on the 25th of March… One might note that in the Calendar of dates which Tolkien so carefully wrote out in Appendix B, December 25th is the day on which the fellowship sets out from Rivendell. The main action of the Lord of the Rings takes place, then, in the mythic space between Christmas, Christ’s birth, and the crucifixion, Christ’s death.” – TOM SHIPPEY, ‘TOLKIEN: AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY”

Kindle Deal of the Week: Dead White Guys: A Father, His Daughter, and the Great Books of the Western World.

I knew you’d like this – $1.99.

Preaching: The Necessity of Preaching.

I don’t centralize preaching the way other reformed folk do…but this article gave me pause, which makes it worth at least a mention.

Apologetics:  Why an Award Winning Writer Turned Her Attention to Evangelicals

I imagine I’ll be picking this book up (this is a review) and quoting it to those who stereotype evangelicals as being overly political and naive. It’s very useful, especially coming from a secular source who’s willing to engage and understand, not just lob false grenades.

Theology: God Died on the Cross.

Depending on what you mean.

A Glimpse of Truth: Is It Really That Bad? Christianity, Secularism, and the Apocalypse.

An apocalyptic review, to boot. I love the way Jake Meador exegetes our cultural narratives (Breaking Bad, Her, Daredevil, etc) through the lens of the current conversation about Christians and culture.

Books and Lit: 10 Words to Win You the Game of Scrabble.

Since that’s really the point of reading literature, anyway. I’m off to grab some za.

Writing: Kurt Vonnegut’s Best Writing Advice.

It was a tossup this week. But this – this is so, so epic. Well researched, easy to understand, hilarious, and true to the core.

Christians and Culture: The Daily: The Climate Change Battle Through One Coal Miner’s Eyes

The NY Times started a new, daily, 20 minute podcast two months ago. I’ve listened to every. single. episode. Is it biased? Yes, like everything. But not in the arrogant, elitist fashion of the the NY Times editorials, nor in the deceitfully oversimplified and frankly dishonest “fair and balanced” approach at FOX. What makes it truly balanced and fair is Barbaro’s sheer honesty about his bias, and his willingness to question himself. The thing listens like a daily Radio Lab of the world – it’s erudite, warm, informative, dynamic, riveting, and provocative all in one.

I implore you to give it a chance – start with the episode above, which I can almost guarantee will win a prize for journalism this year. I imagine I’ll sit on my porch 50 years from now saying, “I’ve listened to every single episode, youngsters, and it started in 2017!”

Micro Book Review: The Benedict Option.


I disagree with those who say Dreher is calling us to disengage with culture. He’s providing an alternative way to engage.

I disagree with those who say Dreher is racist…sort of (see below).

I disagree with those who say Dreher is obsessed with sexuality – that IS the conversation.

I disagree with those who critiqued Dreher for not writing the dreary, meddlesome scholarly text they would have. It’s only their slip showing.

I disagree with those who complain about Dreher offering “nothing new” and it all being a marketing ploy. Well? What’s the critique? What are you doing, exactly? He’s translating the gospel, which is what I believe we are all trying to do here?

I disagree with those who say Dreher is anti-evangelism. You didn’t read the book.

I disagree with those who hone in on the flood analogy at the expense of everything else – it’s a clever metaphor. You can’t make a stool stand on two legs. It’s not called “The Flood Option” for a reason. Plus read the ending, as he twists the metaphor to dispel those petty objections.

Second: I don’t see this book lasting long.

The reason? Dreher gives too many answers. I like the way Dreher has thought through his own cultural context. But he does us a disservice by prescribing his answers to our situations. At the risk of sounding the shallow evangelical, I think this is straight up legalism, NOT because of the prescriptions themselves. Liturgy, good. Discipline, good. Rules of life, good. But it becomes problematic as a prescription for everyone. That’s legalism – making my situation, preferences, personality and culture a mandate for everyone else. It’s becoming a law unto myself. And that’s where Dreher’s prescriptions cross the line.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have much critique for Dreher’s specific decisions. They all sound fine. But if he’s going to prescribe it to the rest of us, he leaves himself  wide open to the fair critique of ethnocentrism – our most blatant cultural display of legalism. It’s not that Dreher is anti-black (or Asian, or Hispanic), it’s just that he’s exclusively white (or should I say Greek Orthodox First Century Hellenistic white?). It’s not racist for being hostile, but for being monolithic – it’s for Dreher’s cultural choices, and against everyone else’s. Again – that’s legalism.

So, the book is a good conversation starter. But the alarmism tires me (as it doesn’t align with the New Testament’s vision of the kingdom, for one), and while I have no problems with Dreher’s own application of God’s law, I wish he would have provided tools for the rest of us, rather than culturally limited answers. Instead he did the math on his own small patch of geography, then told us we’re wrong to dress warm in Michigan because Baton Rouge is sweltering.

If we’re going to respond dynamically to the complexity of culture, an “option” won’t do. We need discernment in exploring all our options, because God in His grace has given us different situations, each which will require a different spin than Dreher’s.

But let me end on a positive: I think the people who read this book need it the least. Everyone who’s disinclined should be made to choke it down, because Dreher’s most valuable contribution is his level-headed filter for cultural norms – smartphones, public schools, politics – he runs the gamut. Most evangelicals are drifting brainlessly along, awash in the sea of secularism, and those are the folks that need to hear Dreher’s rightly critical voice.

I’m only sorry his invitation is from one extreme to the another.

3 out of 5 stars.


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ScribblePreach Awards 04.08.2017 Sat, 08 Apr 2017 09:00:14 +0000 From the Pub: Learning to Ride

“To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world- shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else— since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him?” – CS LEWIS, MIRACLES

Kindle Deal of the Week: Outlaws of Time

This YA book by ND Wilson has 120 reviews on Amazon at 5 stars. I’m in, for $1.99

Preaching: 15 Lessons from Calvin’s Biography

I’m posting this one for what will probably go down as one of my life quotes now that I’ve stumbled upon it,  since it encapsulates so much of what I try to do here at ScribblePreach, and since the failure to distinguish between these two is the cause of so much bad critique: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us”.

Apologetics: Why Practicing Catholics Have the Best Sex

Of course as a protestant I don’t share the Catholic view on contraceptions (though I’m probably closer than most). However – I love the way First Things is highlighting the positive vision of sexuality in the Christian life this week. We need so much more of this. Well done.

Theology: Graceful Law

I’m linking to the first of two sermons I gave on the role of the law in the Christian life. I don’t normally link to my own sermons (have I ever?), but I feel like this was revolutionary for our congregation, and that’s because this topic is so severely misunderstand in evangelicalism. Here’s part two. I benefited greatly from putting these together, and I think you will too.

A Glimpse of Truth: The Strange Persistence of Guilt

David Brooks nails it in the NY Times, here. Share this with your secular friends.

Books and Lit: 10 Essential Terms for Poets (And Everyone Else)

I didn’t know most of these – this is a little long, so set aside a bit to get your bearings.

Writing: Self Doubt Can Be an Ally

“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” – STEVEN PRESSFIELD

Christians and Culture: Campus Wars of Religion

I’m not a Wall Street Journal Subscriber, but I appreciate the excerpts from a recent WSJ article on how the campus hysteria we hear about goes also by a different name: religious fervor.

Micro Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

This was an easy read that was enjoyable – though difficult at times in content – from beginning to end. It’s not brilliant prose, but it’s also not icky and self-conscious, which makes it better than most. But the book isn’t about style – it’s about opening our eyes to a slice of the American pie that gets smothered in the news: hillbillies. J.D.’s story journey from mountain town to Yale shows just how many hoops the white poor have to overcome to make it…anywhere other than home.

I can’t say I resonated with the stories here like others did. This simply wasn’t my context. But it does help me to understand the stories of so many around me.

A fair, critical yet compassionate, but above all honest view of impoverished white culture makes this book a superb and necessary read for every American.

4 out of 5 stars.

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ScribblePreach Awards 04.01.17 Sat, 01 Apr 2017 09:51:03 +0000 Hello All,

ScribblePreach has been out of commission for the last two weeks, as Brenna and I have explored a potential call to a Reformed University Fellowship opportunity. I’m back today, obviously, with three weeks of curated gold, just for you. But if you would lift my family up and prayer as we discern, and ask God’s provision if He so calls us, I would be deeply grateful.

From the Pub: The Universe is Perfectly Lonely

“The universe is of necessity the perfectly lonely thing. You may state the eternal problem in the form of saying: “Why is there a Cosmos?” But you can state it just as well by saying: “Why is there an omnibus?” You can say: “Why is there everything?” You can say instead: “Why is there anything?” For that law and sequence and harmony and inevitability on which science so proudly insists are in their nature only true of the relations of the parts to each other. The whole, the nature of things itself, is not legal, is not consecutive, is not harmonious, and not inevitable. It is wild, like a poem; arbitrary, like a poem; unique, like a poem.” – GK CHESTERTON

Kindle Deal of the Week: The Great Divorce

One of my favorites of C.S. Lewis, for $1.99.

Preaching: Personality and Preaching

Why do some preachers seem so electric, while others put us to sleep? One answer is personality: which means, the answer is always the same and never the same.

Apologetics: Secularism and Our Christian Hope

Here’s a good little intro to the way we might think of secularism from a presuppositionalist perspective.

Theology: Preaching the Ten Commandments

As I’ve been preaching through the commandments the past two weeks, I found this article impressively clear and concise.

A Glimpse of Truth: Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever

Fascinating, sad, horrifying, honest – I don’t know what to say about this article, except that so many elements of the gospel-less human condition are herein contained.

Books and Lit: Here’s How Many Books You Can Read Before You Die.

So choose wisely, and get reading.

Writing: 4 Things Beth Moore Taught me About Writing

I’m not a huge Beth Moore follower – okay, not at all – but she is an impressive communicator. This article brings out some reasons why.

Christians and Culture: The Benedict Option: Good Solution, Bad Posture

I’m most of the way through Rod Dreher’s new book. I’ve found it really stimulating, although on the whole I don’t see how I can get on board with Dreher’s worldview. Trevin Wax articulates why better than I.

Micro Book Review: Saturate

Saturate is Jeff Vanderstelt’s introduction to missional communities – I found the anecdotes very illuminating and inspiring, but in the end, his prescription was a little too complicated for me and ill-defined. For example, one of the core values of a missional community is “Listening”, which apparently means hearing one another’s stories, as well as “listening to God on others’ behalf” (whatever that means…it seems like a dangerous concept), as well as “listening to God” as a group, and as individuals…it’s just not a very clean category.

Speaking of the “Listening to God” category, I do feel Vanderstelt falls prey to the critique often leveled at the missional community model: it’s truly not word-centered. Lots of talk about how communities bring people to Christ – even by skipping the proclamation on the word on Sundays to serve them – and little about how God’s word is the orchestra for those communities.

So, overall, I still prefer Brad House’s “Community” for most small group leaders, although I’d happily hand this out for someone looking for inspiration in pulling it off.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Blind, Deaf, Dead: Taking the Metaphor Too Far. Tue, 14 Mar 2017 09:29:36 +0000 Here are two recent direct quotes I’ve read from otherwise wonderful, gospel-centered, reformed resources:

“It doesn’t make any sense to get mad at somebody who is lost. It doesn’t make any sense to make it a matter of personal offense against you. It doesn’t make any sense to condemn a lost person with words or throw a punishment at them and walk away. Lost people need understanding and compassion.” – Paul Tripp, “Parenting, 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family”

“Why do we raise our voice when talking to someone who is blind? They aren’t deaf; they just cannot see…A blind man will not see, no matter how hard or loud you yell at him. We cannot fault a man for being blind and demand him to see. We can only pray that Jesus would give him sight and thank Jesus for healing our own blindness.” – Brad House, “Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support”

These are two books I heartily recommend. Yet I was dumbstruck by these two paragraphs.

This view of sin is well beyond the pale of a Reformed view of sin. The Bible does indeed talk about a certain lack of ability to obey God’s law apart from Christ. Yes, and Amen. But the problem with statements like those above is that they treat sin as merely an outside force, and therefore more worthy of compassion than judgment. But if sin is merely an outside force, shackling us to its symptoms like a warren over a prison, then God would not be just in condemning us. It would be like sentencing a man to life in prison for having cancer. 

Sin is not merely a disease like ovarian cancer or diabetes. It is a disease for which we are culpable. As Romans 1 so blithely states: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” According to Romans 1, then, blindness is a result of sin, not the other way around

Jonathan Edwards dealt with this own misunderstanding in his day. The problem with the reformed view, said Edwards’ Arminian opponents, is that “God would not require what he does not allow”. He cannot punish us for sin if we are unable to obey. In response, Edwards asks his readers to imagine two scenarios:

In situation one, a man sits in prison, the door locked from the outside. The warren invites him to freedom, but the man says, “I can’t.” In this case, what he means is: “Though I want to be free, I am trapped.” This is not, Edwards notes, the way to think about slavery to sin.

Rather, he says, imagine a man sitting in prison with the door wide open. The warren genuinely invites the man to freedom. The man says, “I can’t.” In this case he does not mean: “I want to be free, but I’m trapped.” Rather, he means: “I do not want to be free, and you cannot force me. Here I am god, and here I’ll stay.” This, says Edwards, is the true nature of our captivity: yes, we are prisoners – but the prison is of our own hardened, self-centered hearts. In the second case, the prisoner is both imprisoned and culpable – and that is just the way it is with sin.

So when Tripp says: “It doesn’t make sense to make [sin] a a personal offense against you,” we must say that’s a gross misunderstanding of sin. Sin is a personal offense against me! The fact that the offending party is blind to her own sin only makes it the more despicable, because the blinding is self-willed. It allows us to sin without feeling, or thinking about, the weight of our own rebellion. House says: “We cannot fault a man for being blind…” Sure we can! Why? Because our blindness is our choice.

Unlike these statements from two otherwise wonderful authors, the Bible never minimizes sin in order to encourage forgiveness. Rather, it maximizes grace: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” There’s no talk here of excusing sin because it is a symptom of helplessness. That would be like excusing sin in the name of sin!

Rather, the writer of Ephesians gives us permission both to look squarely at the radical nature of sin and the radical grace of God in the gospel. Such thinking won’t make us bitter, judgmental people. Rather, it will make us radically kind and compassionate to sinners. Why? Not because sinners deserve our compassion, but because we too are self-blinded sinners who received a compassion we didn’t deserve.

So yes, be gentle. Be kind. Speak the truth in love. But not because sinners are innocent – they aren’t! Do so because Christ, the only truly innocent victim of sin, suffered for us “while we were yet sinners”. Through Christ, our hearts have been transformed from self-made prisons into temples of God’s glory. As we extend that miraculous gift to others, we become vessels of that transformative grace in the lives of others.

It’s true that yelling, screaming and arguing won’t change people. But the grace of God, flowing from recipients of that same grace, certainly can. Thanks be to God!

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ScribblePreach Awards 03.11.17 Sat, 11 Mar 2017 10:02:33 +0000 From the Pub: Where Reason Directs Us Elsewhere

“The Christian statement that only He who does the will of the Father will ever know the true doctrine is philosophically accurate. Imagination may help a little; but in the moral life, and (still more) in the devotional life we touch something concrete which will at once begin to correct the growing emptiness of our idea of God. One moment even of feeble contrition or blurred thankfulness will, at least in some degree, head us off from the abyss of abstraction. It is Reason herself which teaches us not to rely on Reason only in this matter. For Reason knows that she cannot work without materials. When it becomes clear that you cannot find out by reasoning whether the cat is in the linen-cupboard, it is Reason herself who whispers, “Go and look. This is not my job: it is a matter for the senses.’ So here. The materials for correcting our abstract conception of God cannot be supplied by Reason: she will be the first to tell you to go and try experience – ‘Oh, taste and see!'” – CS LEWIS, MIRACLES

Kindle Deal of the Week: The Whole Christ

I wrote a glowing review of this book a few weeks ago. It’s on sale now for $3.99. Go. Do it.

Preaching: Nathan Preaches a 3-Point Sermon to David. 

Here’s my essay for the week, and I think it’s a darned good one.

Apologetics: Evolution’s Irony: The Kingdom of Speech

Tom Wolfe, a secularist himself, recently wrote a book-length treatment against the ridiculousness of evolution as a “theory of everything.” Great stuff here.

Theology: Hierarchy and Subordination vs. Headship and Household Mission

I think Aimee Byrd’s take on the issue of headship and submission needs to be read by all sides. She’s not a complementarian nor an egalitarian, but sees headship as fundamentally a “role” one plays. Especially important, I think, is the bit in the article she links to which distinguishes between “role” and “function” – submission as function argues God didn’t simply choose women to “play” the role of the church, but he wired women to be a submissive being and men to be a ruling being, which is a gross perversion of the situation. This was difficult for me to read in multiple ways, and I didn’t always agree. But I think the article and its links are a very important contribution to what I hope becomes a larger and more helpful conversation.

A Glimpse of Truth: In ‘Logan’, Wolverine Confronts the Wages of Sin

I’m probably too squeamish to watch a movie like this, but I’m very interested by the rawness of the thematic elements.

Books and Lit: An Interview with Professor Trevor Hart

Dr. Trevor Hart directs the ever fascinating Center for Theology and Imagination at arguably the best theological school out there today, St. Andrews. This interview, especially the bit about imagination’s sanctifying power, is captivating for anyone wired exactly like me, and no one else.

Writing: Imagine Your Reader Over Your Shoulder

“We suggest that whenever anyone sits down to write he should imagine a crowd of his prospective readers (rather than a grammarian in cap and gown) looking over his shoulder. They will be asking such questions as: “What does this sentence mean?” “Why do you trouble to tell me that again?” “Why have you chosen such a ridiculous metaphor?” “Must I really read this long, limping sentence?” “Haven’t you got your ideas muddled here?” By anticipating and listing as many of these questions as possible, the writer will discover certain tests of intelligibility to which he may regularly submit his work before he sends it off to the printer.” – ROBERT GRAVES and ALAN HODGE

Christians and Culture: D.A. Carson on the Benedict Option

Well I’m not sure Carson hits on the actual nuances of the Benedict Option here, but he does have some good things to say about Christians influencing culture, particularly in his perspective on the way conversion relates to all that.

Micro Book Review: The Pastor Theologian. 

This book was magnificent for me, but I’m not sure if others will relish it in the way I have. It’s one of those rare pieces that made me feel as though the Lord were grabbing me by the shoulders and saying: “See? THIS is what you’re supposed to be doing!” In fact the authors don’t stop short of imploring pastors, in the name of Christ, to be theologians in the very particular way they commend.

Now I realize the title at first blush is not very interesting. It’s one of those I felt I’d read already when I saw: “Pastor theologian”. Okay, pastors be theologically astute. Got it. Heard it. In the bag.

But it’s actually imploring pastors to do much more than that, namely, it’s recalling an ancient vision of the pastor as the primary source of ecclesial theology, unlike the situation today where the academy houses all the goods and we dish them out. It gives nuanced but radical challenges for exploring this vision in your own life (don’t skip to the suggestions until you’ve braced yourself with the vision they’ve laid out, it’ll scare you off). Elders could also specially benefit from this work as they encourage their pastor toward this vision.

They convinced me. They’re right. We need to get on board.

Magnificent, easy reading, life-changing.

5 out of 5 stars.

Nathan Preaches a 3-Point Sermon to David Fri, 10 Mar 2017 10:40:28 +0000 So the Lord sent Nathan to David. Nathan came to him and said, “’There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, and the other was poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cows, but the poor man had only one little female lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up in his home with his children. She would eat his food and drink from his cup. She rested in his arms and was like a daughter.”

‘Now David, let me pause and make an observation. First, I want you to notice in my story the Disparity between the rich and poor. When I survey our city of Jerusalem, I see a certain disparity between rich and poor that is repulsive to God’s standard of mercy set out in the law. And isn’t it true that some of us in this room are very rich, while others remain derelict? Isn’t it true that the advantages of kingship have swelled your belly, and filled your purse, while others have no such advantages?”

“I suppose so,” said David, gripping the throne with white-speckled knuckles.

“Good,” said Nathan. “Now let’s move on: A visitor came to the rich man. The rich man thought it would be a pity to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler.”

‘This leads me to my second point, which is: the Devious attitude of the wealthy. You’ll notice what selfishness, what ingratitude the rich man displays in his attitude. I can’t help but think, O King, of your recent attitude about the matter with Uriah the Hittite.”

“Excuse me?” said David, his facing flashing hot red.

“Your attitude problem with Uriah the Hittite, O King,” said Nathan. “It seems an obvious application of the story, doesn’t it? You yourself also have plenty of wealth, like the rich man, but you thought it a pity to give up anything because of your pride, selfishness and greed.”

“This is absurd,” said David.

“Okay,” said Nathan. “That leads me to point three: “So he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared her for the traveler.” And so my third point is this: The Disastrous Disobedience you’ve exercised by taking Uriah’s wife for yourself. You see, just like the rich man, you took Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, which is disastrous, and disobedient, as my alliteration proves from the text.”

“Traitor!” cried King David, and he burned with anger against Nathan the prophet. “I solemnly swear, as the Lords lives, you will die for this treason!”

“But I was only speaking God’s truth!” cried Nathan. “I was being faithful to the scriptures! I was letting God’s word do the work! YOU are clearly the hard-hearted one, not me!”

And so it goes.

We preachers have an ingeniously subversive tool in our scriptures: the narrative. But the narrative loses its subversive effect when we force it into a 3-point outline, as though sprinkling practical and theological nuggets throughout can somehow improve upon the God-ordained format of the text. Pauline outlines are wonderful for Pauline letters, but it is a subtle betrayal of scripture to force everything into a Pauline outline.

Narrative is its own form, meant to trick the normally resistant listener (aka all of us) into seeing herself from God’s point of view. When we reformat narratives into didactic outlines, we’re like magicians showing the mirror in our hat even as we pull out the rabbit, or like actors who break the third wall every 15 minutes to “apply” the film’s script. The whole point of the illusion, whether of stage or film, is the redirect. Stories take us in – they soak us like casserole dishes in the sink, until the grimy self-preserving defenses have loosened and we can be easily plucked up and wiped clean. To sprinkle ‘application’ throughout may give a quasi-satisfying sense of immediate intellectual relief, but it robs us of the narrative’s magic and thus of its rhetorical perry and thrust.

The job of narrative preaching, then, is first to weave the spell of the story. Once the story is finished, the judgment pronounced, the indictment clarified, the eucatastrophe unveiled, – then, and only then – may we apply it. Then – and only then – may we flip the script ala Nathan: “You are the man!” Then – and only then – will we will hear David’s words ring out: “I have sinned against the Lord!”, to which we may reply: “The Lord Jesus also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”


ScribblePreach Awards 03.04.17 Sat, 04 Mar 2017 10:41:02 +0000 From the Pub: The Limitations of Science

If a man were to say that science stands for barbarism and religion for civilization, he would in these days be accused of a mere trick of topsy-turveydom. Yet there is one sense, at least, in which this is unquestionably true. The generalizations which science makes true or false are of necessity limitations of human hope. The laws which science deduces, fairly or unfairly, are necessarily, like all laws, a restraint of liberty. The nearer a man is to an ordered and classified being, the nearer he is to an automaton. The nearer he is to an automaton, the nearer he is to a beast. The lowest part of man is that which he does in accordance with law, such as eating, drinking, growing a beard, or falling over a precipice. The highest part of him is that which is most lawless: spiritual movements, passionate attachment, art. – GK CHESTERTON,

Kindle Deal of the Week: Tales from the Perilous Realms

Four of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novellas, including his charming “Leaf by Niggle”, and one epic poem, collected together – this is highly rated on Amazon by Tolkenians, so I dove in.

Preaching: The Persuasive Power of an Analogy

I’ve been trying to craft my teaching more in terms of pictures than systematic categories as of late. Last Tuesday I spoke at the campus of UNC Charlotte and used 30 powerpoint slides (all pictures but two, which were quotes), and had only one single point I presented at the beginning. I was surprised by the great response. I covered some deep philosophy, and the students were right there with me. This is a great article about why analogies are so successful, citing the Governator himself.

Apologetics: You Either See This One or You Don’t. 

Here’s a pithy quote to set you on a longer path, on the aesthetic argument for God’s existence.

Theology: The Scriptures Made Strange

The Bible is not the same thing as the scriptures. This is a very helpful distinction when we’re talking the charge of Bibliolatry.

A Glimpse of Truth: Betsy Devos’s Misunderstood Alma Mater

I thought it was really great the way The Atlantic gave a fair hearing to Calvin College, with some wonderfully insightful quotes to boot.

Books and Lit: Exhume the Ordinary

If you haven’t seen Viola Davis’s shockingly non-political, God-honoring, beautifully crafted speech on the arts as she received her academy award…go do so now.

Writing: Who is More Clever? 

“Style is a relation between form and content. Where the content is less than the form, where the author pretends to emotion which he does not feel, the language will seem flamboyant. The more ignorant a writer feels, the more artificial becomes his style. A writer who thinks himself cleverer than his readers writes simply, one who is afraid they are cleverer than he, will make use of mystification: good style is arrived at when the chosen represents what the author requires of it without mystification.” – CYRIL CONNOLLY

Christians and Culture: A Reader Response to the Benedict Option.

This is a striking, thoughtful, incisive and well crafted response to the Atlantic’s piece on Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. A very clear indictment of evangelicals on this side of the pond, as well as their critics.

Micro Book Review: Total Church

This was a good survey of several aspects of the missional church movement. It’s a little too far on the anti-institutional side of the coin for me (although not as far as it’s blamed to be). Keep in mind the authors are trying to stretch our paradigms, and you’ll be fine.

The chapter on apologetics rocked me to the core, so much so that I went back and revised all my upcoming talks in light of it.

The primary usefulness of this book is in its approachability. Chester is a giftedly simple voice, and I’ve read every book he’s published. This book is a good introduction to the missional church movement if you’re looking for one. It has of course been surpassed by Keller’s “Center Church”, but Keller’s work will be far too complex and drudgerous for most lay elders.

3 out of 5 stars.

The ScribblePreach Awards 02.25.17 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:42:02 +0000 From the Pub: Not Naked But Reclothed

For all the accusations that Lewis is a Christian Platonist, here, I think, is a poignant refutation of Plato’s ultimate claims:

“Our own situation is much like that of the erudite limpets. Great prophets and saints have an intuition of God which is positive and concrete in the highest degree. Because, just touching the fringes of His being, they have seen that He is plentitude of life and energy and joy, therefore (and for no other reason) they have to pronounce that He transcends those limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality, and the like.

The positive quality in Him which repels these limitations is their only ground for all the negatives (infinite, immaterial, impassible, immutable, etc.) and use them unchecked by any positive intuition. At each step we have to strip off from our idea of God some human attribute. But the only real reason for stripping off the human attribute is to make room for putting in some positive divine attribute.

In St Paul’s language, the purpose of all this unclothing is not that our idea of God should reach nakedness but that it should be reclothed. But unhappily we have no means of doing the reclothing. When we have removed from our idea of God some puny human characteristic, we (as merely erudite or intelligent enquirers) have no resources from which to supply that blindingly real and concrete attribute of Deity which ought to replace it.

Thus at each step in the process of refinement our idea of God contains less, and the fatal pictures come in (an endless, silent sea, an empty sky beyond all stars, a dome of white radiance) and we reach at last mere zero and worship a nonentity.” – CS LEWIS, MIRACLES

Kindle Deal of the Week: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes.

This Nancy Pearcy book is a 5-star, 141 reviews Amazon find, and comes with accolades from a reader friend I trust. So for $2.99, I’m taking it.

Preaching: Um, Like, How do I Stop Using Filler Words?

I’ve noticed some annoying fillers popping up in my preaching lately, to the point of distraction. Mine is “Right?” Others include “So,” “Like”, “Um…” What’s your favorite filler?

Apologetics: Atheism is a Fancy Word for Polytheism.

This is a failed article I wrote for First Things Magazine. Maybe you have higher standards 😉

Theology: Tim Keller on The Shack

“But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”

A Glimpse of Truth: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.

This article is a review of three books written by academics, each with the same conclusion: people aren’t rational. They’re tribalistic and egotistical. I’m going to quote this one as I speak at UNC Charlotte this Tuesday night. Please pray alongside me.

Books and Lit: The Jesus Storybook Bible Turns 10. 

I enjoyed reading Sally Lloyd-Jones journey through the publishing grinder, and some of the divine twists and turns it took to get this one out there.

Writing: Pixar and the Art of Storytelling.

I knew when I saw the first video this was going to be my winner in the “Writing” category for the week. This is a new, free series – and they get it so, so right.

Christians and Culture: The Fractured Republic

This interview with Yuval Levin is fantastic – easy and insightful. I’ve seen his book on multiple “top 10” lists for 2016.

Micro Book Review: Community, by Brad House

5 out of 5 stars.

As I’ve been charged to reignite our church’s small group ministry, I’ve been surveying a litany of books on small groups. I had read Brad House’s book before seminary, and I was curious if it would stand up to my now PTSD (Post Traumatic Seminary Disordered) scrutiny.

Well, it did.

Not only that, but I found it miles beyond the other dozens of books I’m reading in terms of theological frameworking and practicality. No doubt the prescription of the book is radical, but in my mind it is justified by the theological foundation laid, and Brad holds our hand by giving us step-by-step processes we can use to implement it.

Two warnings: one, this is not an easy book. The first chapter alone is a theological firehouse which might feel overwhelming. The ideas Brad lays out are so unfamiliar to many churches and individuals that they will surely take chewing on to process. But it’s worth it. It’s also not easy in the sense that the call of the book is personally radical and challenging. This, from what I see, is the main critique given by the negative reviewers: “It just seems too hard.” Well – maybe. But in my mind, the vision here is compelling.

Second warning: This is a book produced by the Community Groups pastor at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church in Seattle. I think it’s a shame that Brad’s excellent, excellent work will be tagged forever with Driscoll’s reputation (Brad House now works at Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY).

I’ve had several friends who were a part of Mars Hill, and each of them told me the small group experience was the highlight of the whole thing. This book tells me why. If you are a leader of a church, or, really, a member of a church – this book the best starting place I know for forming missional, life-giving communities in your area.

Take and read.

(PS – the book has been critiqued for not being scripture heavy. It IS, but most of the scriptures are end-noted so as not to clog up the book. I appreciated that, personally).

PPS – I happen to know from friends that this book was actually not the end-all for training small group leaders at Mars Hill. Also used were Paul Tripp’s book “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” and “How People Change“, by Timothy Lane, two more excellent resources.

Atheism is A Fancy Word for Polytheism. Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:41:01 +0000 Here is a failed essay I wrote for First Things magazine. I can only suppose you have higher standards, so I’m offering it to you for your enjoyment. It is in response to a 1997 essay by Harvard scientist Dr. Richard Lewontin, which you can read here. 

Two brick statuettes stood side by side, each holding a pair of inlet lights and, had I not known better, a nose. They looked at me like stolid sentinels, but their ruddy cheeks gave them away: they were cheery old uncles, trying to get a rise out of me. They were located at the intersection of Twelve Mile Road and Alycekay drive, the two Gentle Giants who guarded the fairy land I called “Grandma’s House”.

In truth, they were only two pillars attached to a gate. I’ve searched for the faces on Google maps – they’ve long been pillaged by some devilish machine. But for years, to me, I could not think of them as anything but faces. In fact they belonged to some unknown corporate entity. It never occurred to me that these had any pragmatic purpose, or rather, the purpose to me seemed sufficiently pragmatic: to stand, winking at curious passersby. That they would receive monthly renumeration, I only assumed.

I suppose this is the sort of useless sentimentality Dr. Lewontin means to critique, when he writes in his 1997 essay Billions and Billions of Demons: “The problem is to get [people] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth.” But does he indeed see Science as the only arbiter of truth? I doubt it. He believes in the hidden giants as much as I do – only he calls them by a cruder name.

This is because looked at squarely, Lewontin’s claim to materialism has as much rhetorical power as mine to being Secretary of State. The claim can be accepted only insofar as it is untried. The psalmist declares, “the fools says in his heart, there is no god”. But what makes him a fool is his not saying the same with his hands. He is not consistent. The fool, in truth, is a customer of bad credit, borrowing from theism as needed without interest. Lewontin may claim to believe he is only $1.85 worth of chemical compounds. In that case Lewontin’s mortician will one day know more of him than his wife. But I doubt he will have the mortician give the eulogy: “He was 10 cents worth of magnesium. Now that is very useful.” The materialist is only a partial materialist, or put positively, a fair-weather theist. The Psalmist’s fool is spurned not so much for being an atheist as for thinking himself one. He is indicted not as a heathen, but a schizophrenic. The same applies to Lewontin’s claims above.

This is evident for two reasons.

First, there is a kind of religious fervor to Lewontin’s worldview which compels him – convicts him, even – that somehow the world could be made better. For him this means treating Scientific inquiry as the omnibus of truth, the sole begetter of practical reason. That we fail to do this, in his words, is “the problem”. But the true materialist would not say such things. The eminent mathematician Blaise Pascal noted that the idea of “problem” is loaded: it implies both an ideal and a Fall, two concepts which the materialist has smuggled in from the Christian narrative. The true materialist refuses to say “problem” because she can only shrug her shoulders at the universe. Why should it be one shape and not the other? Why should we corral to make my head squarer, or my skin blue? Eat, drink and be merry – tomorrow we die. The true materialist is out carousing, not postulating. The materialist doesn’t see problems, only opportunities.

Second, the true materialist is not interested in truth as a Solution or anything else. This is because, first, he recognizes that “truth” is merely a randomly firing synapse in his brain, a chemical compound useful to his species. It is not a thing out there – it was what must be believed to spear the Mammoth. His conclusions are as chemical as mine, and his assertion of them is only one of power.

But this is where Lewontin’s interest in the Beyond betrays him. The hidden dagger of Lewontin’s own methodology is the hypothesis of science itself: the presupposition that there is a hidden order – a secret Providence – which underlies and orchestrates the bedlam. His utter faith in its existence impels the pursuit. Science rejects the materialistic conclusion. It stubbornly insists that truth is outside us. Sagan entreats pastors to tackle the God hypothesis with an even hand. He fails to recognize that science is the God hypothesis.

Let’s take, for example, scientific law.

The original scientific practitioners saw Divinity as the source of their inquiry. They aimed to “think God’s thoughts after him,” and rightly so. The materialists had no reason to look for Laws, only to sit back and laugh at a fool’s errand. Laws are not properly things, but thoughts. We all know the type of person who would go to war and hide in the bunker, but nevertheless claim the credit by procession in the victory lap. As a Christian, it’s my duty to walk alongside that man. But if during the course of things he begins to accuse us all of cowardice, it is my Christian duty to ask him what the deuce he’s thinking. The materialist is that man. He is coming up to say he led the charge, when in truth, the Christian – both historically and philosophically speaking – is the one with claims to having done so. The very idea of science is the that of an orderly and discoverable Mind orchestrating a like world. Now, having discovered the Theist to be correct, the materialists like Lewontin would take the reigns, not to mention the credit.

The materialist’s current pursuit of science is an accidental concession of the theist’s premise. They, too, are convinced of the conspiratorial order of the world, and are only hazarding our mutual cause – that of Science – by denying its theistic foundation. They are carving out their porterhouse, cowing belief in cattle. That is not very good for the cow, but it is worse for the porterhouse. If we disbelieve in cows, after all, they will go on existing. It is the porterhouse which will go extinct. And that is the destiny we prescribe for science by hyping materialism to the helm. The peddlers of materialism set us on a course that will not strip us of laws, only of their enjoyment. We will, after all, have no foundation for seeking them out, having cut the branch of theism out from under the leaves of science.

So why do materialists like Dr. Lewontin make this move?

According to Lewontin’s essay, taking his cue from Newton and LaPlace, the idea of Laws has replaced the God hypothesis. But this is as compelling as my claim that no one baked my chocolate cake because I’ve parsed out the recipe. All this proves is that you’re too far in the details, and having had your cake it’s time you ate it, which would at least recall its purpose. A cake is more than its components. Where we find recipes, we find chefs. And where we find Thoughts, we find Thinkers. It’s true that Newton wrongly inserted God in the gaps, but he also rightly – necessarily, even – assumed him in the webbing. He could hardly conceive of a world where, having discovered God’s thoughts, we denied his existence. The very idea of an explainable world – a world with a Mind, an Order, a Logos, a Principle – has only one explanation. God is compelling not where explanations fail, but where they succeed. One expects regularity only of a Deity.

“But,” the scientist might object, “The order is only in our explanations.” The key word here, however, is explanations, not concoctions. Einstein did not invent E=mc2. It had always been there – eternally, even. Einstein is not the law, he is merely a genius. The beauty, simplicity, regularity, sublimity and universality of the law belong to itself. It was present before him, and it is omnipresent without him. If we would test it, we would find that it really exists. He is not the law, only its arbiter. But the materialist must deny this, since to see the law as “out there” would require him to admit – to my own surprise and certainly to his – that he is not an atheist, but a polytheist. Or, if you like, a PolyAtheist.

How so?

When the scientist asserts a law, unhappily or no, he asserts something of the Divine. The laws of the universe do not have material qualities. Logic, for example, is omnipresent. Material never can be. In every conceivable universe, 2+2=4: “If I go down to Sheol, you are there.” Laws are omnipotent. One cannot disobey Kirchhoff’s circuit laws without brutal penalty: “for who can resist His will?” Laws are immutable. The law of non-contradiction can never be contradicted: “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Laws are personal, accessible through observation and speech: “speak, for your servant is listening.” They are self-existent, not “dwelling in temples made by human hands.” They are simple and sublime: “the perfection of beauty.” God has laid out the God hypothesis on a table before His enemies. His cup overflows. The materialist has come to the same conclusions as the Theist, only in the crudest form. In the name of progress, he has found paganism: here is the god of gravity, there the second god of thermodynamics. Over against One Mind, he has constructed an Olympia of self-existent deities. They call them laws, we call them thoughts. They call him Mother Nature, we call him Father.

The wager, then, is not between a universe of God and no-God. The question is, “Whose gods are superior?“ Here I think one point should end it: the rules of science itself dictate that its gods are subject to conquest. Only a few centuries ago, Galileo’s gods supplanted those of Aristotle. Last century, Einstein’s gods quite literally put Newton’s in their place. If we are looking for a “social apparatus of truth”, I can’t see why we should commend the fluctuating realm of science. Its demons are always springing up and dying off. The Christian God, by definition, is Eternal Stability. The Christian admits at times he has not traced out God’s thoughts properly, but is always left with the same Deity. The PolyAtheist must continually scrap his whole system. If the monotheist is wrong, he merely cuts away the dead branch. The scientist must uproot the whole tree, for which he’s missed the forest in the first place.

So here is my two-fold solution. First, let’s take Lewontin’s prescription of scientific law as a basis for society, with the slight caveat that these laws belong to one Mind. This, in the end, will invite us into the other disciplines. In the meantime it will prevent us from cleaning house for each new scientific revolution. It will save the Intelligentsia the embarrassment, and the rest of us the headache.

Second, let us each look at these laws – these Specters – as I did the Giants in my brick statuettes. Perhaps they are only friendly old uncles, cajoling us into the universe’s Secret. Why, then, should we not listen further? There can only be one reason. It is the same as the cause for Lewontin’s a priori materialism, and of the wood and stone worshiping PolyAtheists before him. I see the attraction myself: these gods are mutes. They have no demands, they stake no claims. Do nothing – or do what you will – and you have complied. The materialist is not anti-Principle, only anti-Personality. Admission of a Person invites us to comport with graver laws than gravity. As materialist Aldous Huxley once wrote: “The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world…is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants.” The civilians of Germany denied Auschwitz not as a matter of calculation, but of conscience. The same is true in this case: the materialist writhes under the scrutiny of a Divine mind. Thus, the a priori commitment – not to materialism – but to autonomy.

There is a time in every toddler’s life when he will try to zip his pants not for want of need, but pride of place. We are each of us in need of Revelation beyond our horizons, but few of us admit with Lewontin’s candor our own helplessness. I only wish he would admit more. I will pray to that end, since it may be that prayer is a yet undiscovered law in his world. Perhaps someday he will look up with me at his serendipitously titled “billions and billions of demons”, and we will say, in chorus: “They might be Giants.”