We’re All Great Abbreviators

I’ve just finished writing a study guide for three of the craziest letters in the New Testament–1, 2 Peter & Jude. The letters cover stuff like: angels sleeping with humans, gang rape, homosexuality, greed, self-made morality, godly character, doubt, faith, eternal fire, eternal life, angels disputing with demons, the end of the world, and its total renewal.

If 1 Peter exults, “Jesus will return,” and 2 Peter rebuffs the claim, “Jesus won’t return,” then Jude exhorts, “Jesus is just about here.” The crazy content in these letters all revolve around the person and return of Jesus, which to some, sounds even crazier. However, there’s an awful lot of history and evidence for the life and ministry of Jesus, and he gathers praise from people around the world, even across religions. Even if you don’t believe Jesus is returning, you should want him to.

Why? Because he’s bringing redemption with him. He’s a God who finishes what he starts. Peter, Jesus’ close disciple says this whole glorious mess of a world will end in dissolution and renewal. He promises that when Jesus returns the world will become “a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). With Jesus back, justice will move into every neighborhood, shanty town, and back alley.

We are all, in the words of Huxley, “Great Abbreviators.” No one tells the whole truth about the whole world. We abbreviate things from our finite perspective, from our own front porch, step, or stoop. Heck, I’m an abbreviator, which is why I need to hear from someone who has full-length understanding. Someone who views all the steps, stoops, and porches–all the souls and the sciences of this world–and can tell me how it I’m supposed to live.

That’s why I find the Bible so meaningful. It tells me who I am by telling me who God is. It’s not a history of everything, but everything in it is historically oriented. It’s not just vague philosophies or moral codes; it’s about real people and events happening in space and time.

And let’s face it; if you’ve seen Stranger Things you know there’s more to this world than what we can see. And the strange things of this world pull us toward the darkness or to the light, toward the end of the world or its new beginning. If all that’s true, then Bible is an indispensable guide to help us through to where we all want to be, a world submerged in justice and peace. In Jesus’ renewed world.

Almighty

Almighty: Courage, Resistance & Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age

Dan Zak

Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima pushed the threat of nuclear war back onto the public mind, even if only lasting for a week. But reports of North Korea’s development of nuclear capability continues to raise concern. Even our own presidential election could bear on the use of nuclear arms.

Given these events, it might be wise to learn from history. As one not prone to read history, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed (Is that the right word?) Almighty. The book gives an easy-to-read history lesson on the Manhattan Project, while issuing a stern warning about the misuse of nuclear power. But it does so by combining the suspense of a thriller, with the facts of well-researched history.

The opening chapter feels like a scene from a science-fiction movie, as a diverse band of rebels plot the sabotage of a nuclear research facility. As the book unfolds three narrative lines interweave, educating the reader while driving the “plot” forward. As one reviewer points out, almost all the activists are religiously motivated. Religion should certainly motivate concern for the deadliest use of force in history. If you believe that God created humanity and somehow placed his divine stamp on us, nuclear threat is perhaps the greatest social justice issue possible. After all, the impact of a nuclear bomb can eradicate more people that homelessness, sex trafficking, and poverty combined. Of course, disarmament is a not just a religious concern; it is a human concern. Concerned secular citizens seek to subvert nuclear peril through the power of policy-making.

Despite your religious or non-religious status, the possibility of an extinction level event should raise deep philosophical and religious questions. This book forced me to think about my response to this issue. What can I do to help prevent such an event? It also forced me to ponder existential questions: Am I using my life the best way possible? Would I change anything if I knew a nuclear bomb was going to go off in my lifetime?

Almighty reads like a novel but packs the punch of cultural criticism. It raises a warning and calls us to courageous action, an important book on an often forgotten issue.

Thanks to First to Read for an advance copy of this book.

5 Standout Books on the Incarnation

Although I didn’t grow up observing Advent, we instituted the tradition at City Life when we planted the church in 2008. Year after year, I marvel at depth, promise, wonder, complexity of the notion that God would become a baby. It is, as Kierkegaard said, “an absurd idea, the strangest of all happenings.” Over the years I’ve tried to look at this strangest of all happenings from various perspectives: biblical, theological, philosophical, skeptical, and literary. My wonder grows year by year. Here are a five standout books from five categories I’ve found especially helpful:

Biblical

The God Who Became Human, Graham Cole

Theological

The Man Christ Jesus, Bruce Ware

Philosophical

Philosophical Fragments, Soren Kierkegaard

Skeptical

Christ Actually: The Son of God for a Secular Age, James Carroll

Literary

On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien (free)

My Best Books of the Summer (2015)

Here are some of my best books from the summer:

MOST ENTERTAINING FICTION

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

BEST LITERATURE

Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo

BEST SHORT STORIES

Men Without Women, Ernest Hemingway

MOST UNUSUAL SCI-FI

A tie between:

Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess & Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

MOST PROFOUND

Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, C. Stephen Evans & Philosophical Fragments, Soren Kierkegaard

BEST CHARACTER FORMATION

The Road to Character, David Brooks

MOST SPIRITUALLY FORMATIVE

Sermons on the Mount, Martin-Lloyd Jones

BEST ACADEMIC on CULTURE

The Slain God, Larsen

BEST ON APOLOGETICS/EVANGELISM

Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness