Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book review: Blue Like Jazz

This won't be a review in the traditional sense. I just wanted to share some thoughts on the book, as I've just recently finished it.

As I noted before, I really enjoyed Miller's book. It's refreshingly (and sometimes brutally) honest. It's charming and funny. It's challenging and gripping. In short, it's a really well-crafted book.

I was surprised by the humor of the book, to be honest. I guess I didn't expect the book to be so funny in places...

Take this example (one of my favourites from the book):

When I was in Sunday School as a kid, my teacher put a big poster on the wall that was shaped in a circle like a target. She had us write names of people we knew who weren't Christians on little pieces of paper, and she pinned the names to the outer circle of the target. She said our goal, by the end of the year, was to move those names from the outer ring of the circle, which represented their distance from knowing Jesus, to the inner ring, which represented them having come into a relationship with Jesus. I thought the strategy was beautiful because it gave us a goal, a visual.

I didn't know any people who weren't Christians, but I was a child with a fertile imagination so I made up some names; Thad Thatcher was one and William Wonka was another. My teacher didn't believe me which I took as an insult, but nonetheless, the class was excited the very next week when both Thad and William had become Christians in a dramatic conversion experience that included the dismantling of a large satanic cult and underground drug ring. There was also levitation involved.

After I stopped laughing (and making Carmen read it!), I finished the chapter. He goes on to talk about a booth he and some friends set up on a college campus during a festival that sounds very much like Michigan's "Hash Bash"... I'll not give it away, because you should read it for yourself. But this chapter (11) was one of the most convicting things I've read in quite some time. Would that all Christians would truly "come out of the closet" (as Miller writes) as authentic and sincere followers of Christ.

As for the criticism I hear now and again that the theology of the book is weak ... it's not a theology book! Challies' review, for example, followed along the "bad theology makes for a tainted book" approach. I generally appreciate his insights, but in this case (as is often the case) he went too far. The book is basically Miller's memoirs on faith and practice. Sure, he'll say some theologically-tinted things you may or may not like. But that's OK, folks. I completely disagree with the theology criticism of Challies (and others).

If you're anything like me, this book will resonate with you in a very real way. I hope it will do more than that. I hope it will challenge both of us to live our faith in a more meaningful, moment-by-moment way before a culture that is interested in Jesus but not American Christianity.


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Friday, December 14, 2007

Difficulty reading

I'm not sure why, but for the last few months I've had a hard time motivating myself to read much. It's not like me, and I don't like it.

All that changed in the last few days. I'm back to my normal self. I just finished Blue Like Jazz (loved it! - more on that later) and feel like I'm back in the swing of things. I just started Schaeffer's True Spirituality last night.

So tell me, what's on your reading list at the moment?


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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

I find myself iced in today, something I'm not really accustomed it. Snow? Sure. But too much ice? This is simply not normal for this part of the country. Worse still, today is Sunday. We dared not make the trek to our church services.

But all is not lost. We're taking the day off as a family. Munchies for meals; fun and games; trimming the tree. (The boys and I got our tree yesterday but we've not decorated it yet.)

So far, my list of accomplishments include:

Not showering.
Building a fire (we heat with wood).
Not showering.
Eating breakfast.
Not showering.
Playing Crusader with Noah.
Not showering.
Playing Scrabble with Noah and Bekah.
Not showering.
Eating lunch.

It's been a full day already! As you can see, I've clearly not had time to shower yet and the chances look slim for the rest of the day ...

If, like me, you're iced in with family take the time to enjoy it!


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Friday, December 7, 2007

What do these three have in common?

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the practical effects of our theology this year. It seems like every time I turn around, I'm finding some new area of my own thinking to challenge. Certainly my readings in the world of the emerging church has contributed to this, but it's more than that. I feel like I'm finally seeing the fusion of academic theology and Christian practice in a way I really haven't before.

That leads me to today's topic: What do these three groups have in common?

Signs and wonder Pentecostals
Baptismal regeneration advocates
'God controls the womb' advocates

I suppose I should first define these three groups a bit more closely.

By "signs and wonder Pentecostals", I mean those folk that believe in modern-day resurrections, slaying in the Spirit, holy laughter, super Apostles and the like.

By "baptismal regeneration advocates", I mean those folk (whether Disciples of Christ or otherwise) that believe a person must be water baptized in order to be regenerated (ie, 'saved').

By "God controls the womb advocates", I mean those folk that believe God directly intervenes to control each and every pregnancy that occurs on the planet, and that one should therefore avoid birth control and have as many children as humanly possible.


Okay, so what do these three groups have in common?

Doesn't seem like much, eh? Honestly, these three groups of folk are virtually never in the same company. They tend to represent very different streams of Christian thought. You might find someone that embodies two of these positions, but probably not someone that believes them all.

So have you guessed yet? The common thread between these three (and plenty of other) positions is ...

failure to properly understand narrative Scriptures.

What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean that the Bible must be taken in the way in which it was intended. When the Bible is written as teaching material, you take it "literally" as teaching material. When it is written as inspirational material, you take it "literally" as inspirational material. When it's prophetic, you take it "literally" as prophetic.

And when it's narrative, you take it "literally" as narrative.

Specifically, here's what I mean:

Signs and wonder folk take narrative accounts in the book of Acts and attempt to make the didactic (that is, teaching) texts. But the narrative accounts of miraculous events in Acts are just that - narrative accounts. They're stories written to prove a point, not to teach us about normative behaviour. The point of Acts? That God is working in the world through His growing Church.

Baptismal regeneration folk do the same thing - they take narrative texts (again, from Acts) that describe baptism and attempt to make them prescribe baptismal teachings.

God-controls-the-womb folk do the same thing, only this time they tend to use narrative accounts of the OT that talk about God controlling the womb of this or that woman. They then apply that specific story (ie, a narrative event) to all of humanity and thereby make it a teaching text.

Genre is critically important to understanding the Bible, folks! Without grasping the "why was it written" of any given text, how on earth are we supposed to draw proper conclusions about faith and practice?

We can't.

Honestly, at the theological level these three positions are little different than the lunatic on the street corner who says we shouldn't have TVs because Jesus didn't! Of the folk that say electric guitars are an abomination in the church because the early church didn't use them (though, apparently, they had organs - there's anachronism if ever there was!). We laugh at these two groups, but the fundamental way of thinking about the Bible is similar.

Using good hermeneutics matters, folks. It matters a lot.


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Thursday, December 6, 2007

What's wrong with kids these days?

You hear that question seemingly all the time in culture today. Turn on an AM talk show and the topic is likely to come up somehow. Listen very long to the older generation at any given local church and you'll hear it. Spend time on conservative blogs and you'll read of the woes of "modern kids".

Everyone's got their ideas, and I suppose I'm no different than everyone in that respect. But I don't think I have the answer to this question, just some thoughts...

Before I even start into my thoughts, I want to point out that in many ways there's nothing more "wrong" with today's kids than any other generation. The problems are different, to be sure. But in the same way that today's kids can be stereotyped as self-absorbed and undisciplined, so too can the previous generation's be stereotyped as drug and sex obsessed. Stereotypes exist because there's a certain amount of truth to them, but they never tell the whole story. Keep that in mind whenever you discuss "what's wrong with today's kids".

I have just one observation I offer up for your thought. I think (because I can't prove) that this may be the first generation of parents in America that don't want to grow up. Today's 20- or 30-something parent seems much more likely to devalue what in the past would've been called discipline and sacrifice. This generation of parents seems much more interested in reliving their childhood, or in "never growing up" at all.

You can see this phenomenon in culture all over the place. Here are a few examples:

1. Halloween - it was always a kids' holiday in the past. It was about cheap plastic masks with rubber bands on the back that pulled your hair. It was about fake blood and hockey masks. It was candy, more candy, and a little more candy. Now? Halloween has entered an arena previously occupied only by Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, and Father's Day - Halloween is now the sixth largest retail holiday of the year. And it's not because more kids are buying costumes; young adults (18-24) make up a very large portion of the increase in business over the last 5-10 years. We don't want to grow up.

2. The success of so many bawdy situation comedies. Not that long ago, what passed for entertainment was generally above-board when it came to comedy. Innuendos were abundant, for sure. But the childish over-the-top nature of today's comedy is just that - childish. We don't want to grow up.

3. The cultural acceptance of the "slacker". Once upon a time, no self-respecting man would choose to live with mom and dad into his late twenties. No self-respecting man would want to live with mom and dad a moment past high school! But now? The image of a 28 year old guy living in mom's basement is so common place that it's ceased to be shocking. We don't want to grow up.

4. The booming market for "men's toys" - whether power sports, extreme sports, high-end fishing and hunting gear, video games marketed specifically to 20-somethings, or otherwise. There's no shortage of diversions to keep should-be-men from becoming actual men. We don't want to grow up.

I'm not saying that these four trends are absolutely and/or only linked to the poor state of parenting today. But I do think they're tell-tale signs of a generation of parents much more comfortable being their child's friend, not her/his parent.

Don't hear me letting kids off the hook - they bear individual responsibility for their actions, too. But when we're trying to figure out "what's wrong with kids these days" we need look no further than the homes they come from and the sorry state of their "friends"; oops! ... I mean, their parents.


[Note: I don't think for one moment that I've "arrived" as a parent, or that I'm now above wrestling with these tendencies myself. I'm a 30-something parent, and one that sometimes looks uncomfortably like those I've just taken to task.]

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Presidential politics, part 1

I finally feel like I have to say something about the upcoming presidential election. Frankly, I had hoped to avoid the topic until after the first of the year. But I read something today that pushed me over the edge...

[Note: I'm calling this "part 1" not in anticipation of another specific follow-up post, but merely because I know I'll end up posting more on this broad subject later.]

Let me state my point simply and clearly up front:

I can't vote for Mitt Romney.

Yes, it's because he's a Mormon. No, it's not what you think. Let me explain.

I don't much care whether a given candidate is a Baptist (Huckabee), a Methodist (Clinton), or whatever denomination. I also don't think it's critical (though it certainly would be preferable) to elect a Christian as president. If you boil it down enough, one of the most basic things I'm looking for in a president is good judgement. Some people have it; some people don't. It's a skill that can certainly be improved with practice, but it must be present in healthy quantities in a president.

I just read an article (about Huckabee) in which the authors (a couple of women from the AP) state "He [Huckabee] also resisted wading into theology when pressed to explain why some evangelicals don't view the Mormon faith as a Christian denomination". Some evangelicals?! Some?!

Are you kidding me? I don't know of anyone within the broad camp known as Evangelicalism that would call Mormonism a "Christian denomination". There's a reason for that:

Mormonism is a cult.

So we come to why I can't vote for a Mormon, whether his name is Romney or otherwise. Anyone who's judgement is so impaired as to believe the things that Mormons believe cannot be trusted to govern these United States of America. If you haven't done your homework on this subject, you need to. Try CRI; it's an excellent (and free) source of information about many cults. For those that know nothing about Mormonism, let me at least get you started with a few of the many curious (to put it nicely) things that Mormonism teaches:

Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers.

The Negro race resulted when certain angels refused to chose sides between Satan and Jesus.

America was once covered in cities and populated by peoples that you've never heard of (Nephites and Lamanites, among others).

To really be a special Mormon, you have to wear magic underwear.

Incidentally, the last link (re: underwear) is to a blog set up specifically to educate people about Mormonism and Romney. It's new to me, but at first glance seems to be accurate. See particularly his Top Ten Extreme Beliefs page.

So ... it's not that Romney isn't a Christian. It's definitely not that he isn't my brand of Christian. It's not that his faith is "spooky" or "weird". It's that I can't vote for a candidate who's judgement is so impaired as to not be able to see Mormonism for what it is.

I'd sooner vote for an honest agnostic - one who admits they just don't know whether there is a God or not - with good judgement than a Mormon.

As I sit here, I still have no idea who'll I'll be voting for. But I know for sure some of those I won't support. Romney tops that list.


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Monday, December 3, 2007

My home church

As most of my regular readers know, I'm presently on a (now six-month long) journey to find a church I can serve as a pastor. In the meantime, my family has been attending a very fine church in Leo, Indiana - Church of the Good Shepherd. They recently completely updated their website, so I thought I'd note the link for you. They have many good resources available on the site, including tons of sermons and teachings.

Let me know what you think, eh?


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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Saturday Buffet

My apologies for having missed the Saturday Buffett recently - I was out of state!

Anyway, some of these links are now more than a week old. But I still think they're worth the read (if you haven't already stumbled across them elsewhere)...

First, a very interesting story about incredibly high twin birth-rates in Nigeria - and yams may be the explanation!

On a sad note, it appears another Jehovah's Witness has died from refusing a blood transfusion. I keep telling people that good hermeneutics are critically important; this is a more graphic example of why.

To add just a little bit to the Sean Taylor murder story, read this. Pay close attention and you'll find this example of well-intended but bad theology:

"It's a tremendously sad and unnecessary event. He was a wonderful, humble, talented young man, and had a huge life in front of him. Obviously God had other plans."

So I'm supposed to blame God for Taylor's death? ...

[Note: the story has been updated repeatedly on Fox's website; the quote above is from the original article but has been removed from more recent versions.]

Now for a bit of good news: US abortions rates are the lowest since 1974! Before you get too excited, I remind you that we're still aborting 2,300 babies per day in America ... but at least things are improving.

To add my two cents to the whole Golden Compass story: it appears the director fully intends to retain the much more hostile atheism in the next two films. Though he denies it, this sounds like a pretty clear case of baiting kids and families with the first film to get them to swallow the next one easier. It's a strategy as old as time, no?

Finally, just when you thought the good old 'worship wars' were dying down... the Pope decides to go back to the old ways.

Enjoy the first weekend of December, folks!


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