Category: Apologetics

Interesting Books I’m Reading this Month

Summer lists are rolling out, so I thought I’d throw out some titles I’m enjoying this month. Last week, I posted books on 1 Corinthians, so I won’t relist those here.

Original Sin

This is a cultural history of human nature, not humanity’s first sin, as Alan Jacobs emphasizes. It’s a fascinating read. So far he’s culling from Greek mythology, Bibilcal stories, anthropological case studies, and theology.

Sabbath as Resistance

Americans can’t read and reflect enough on the sabbath. Once a cultural fixation, the sabbath has largely left the Christian field of view. Bruggeman argues that it is “the most difficult and most important” of the Ten Commandments. The Preface is worth the book, where he makes a distinction between the Adamic man–who creates through work, and the Mosaic man–who cultivates reflection and worship through inaction and devotion.

Most of us have an “under-developed” Mosaic man, sucked into production and consumption by work and play, we no longer know how to resist the flow of consumerism and capitalism, and are losing our distinctive, sabbath identity as Christians.

Most of us have an “under-developed” Mosaic man, sucked into production and consumption by work and play, we no longer know how to resist the flow of consumerism and capitalist, and are losing our distinctive, sabbath identity as Christians. Church attendance, alone, is a sign enough of that, but the signs run much deeper and further.

Apostles of Reason

Based on the recommendations, I’m expecting a lot out of this analysis of the 20th century culture wars and how American Evangelicalism is really a struggle for authority in a faith that advocates both faith and reason.

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment

George Marsden is back at it, drawing ideological conclusions as he deftly sweeps in and out of decades of American history. Probably the shorter version of Apostles of Reason, but I’ll have to read that to find out for sure. I liked his observation about how America jettisons God in the 50s and 60s, while keeping God’s values of human freedom, self-determination, and equal rights. If you boot God, its harder to make a case for these values.

Jettison God and it’s hard to keep God’s values of human freedom, self-determination, and equal rights.

Soul Keeping

This book is an entirely different pace than the rest of the titles above, but touches on similar themes to Bruggeman and Jacobs. It’s very accessible exploration on the meaning of the soul, how we’ve neglected it, and what to do about it. Lots of Dallas Willard and story-telling in here. The closing description of Peter’s harbinger in the Gospel of John has stuck with me: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

When you’re young, you go where you want to, but when you’re old, you learn to go where God wants you to, and you embrace the cross-shaped life.

Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity

I really enjoy the balance, clarity, and pull of Gordon Smith’s writing. His book, Transforming Conversion, was great. Here he argues maturity is a vital dimension of the church’s teaching that often goes neglected. He writes:

“Congregations that do not pursue with passion and vigor a dynamic maturity in Christ are surely as fraudulent as a hospital that is not passionate and vigorous in its pursuit of healing and holiness.”

Stew on that one for a while.


Books & Engaging Culture thru Missional Communities

I had a nice time with some church leaders in our area this evening. They invited me to talk to them on the topic of cultural engagement. I’ll note the resources I referred to under each heading. The talk unfolded along three lines of thought.

What is Culture and Why Care About it?

This is a mash up of Ken Meyers and my own Anthropological training. In his insightful book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (its much better than it sounds), Meyers says culture is “What we make of the world.” It’s a double entendre. Culture is ideas and products, assessments and artifacts.

Developing a brief biblical theology of culture, I cited Mark Noll’s commentary on evangelicals from The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind:

For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts — all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory — may be, in fact, sinful

Paradigms for Engaging Culture

Here I pointed the foundational work of Richard Neihbur’s Christ & Culture, but advocated a simpler and more flexible paradigm from the lesser known Lamin Sanneh, an African missiolgist who teaches a Princeton. In his Translating the Message, Sanneh suggest three-fold approach that is not sequential but overlapping and flexible:

  • QUARANTINE – holy seclusion from the world through spiritual disciplines and moral decision-making. What we quarantine from may change over time and we mature as Christians in matters of conscience (e.g. Acts 15 versus 1 Cor 8 on the matter of food sacrificed to idols).
  • SYNCRETISM - Syncretism refers to those theological and ethical issues that are no longer normative but are open to conscience, emphasizing holiness and responsibility in the world. It is the first step in contextualization.
  • REFORM - Reform is a prophetic stance that attempts to keep one foot the kingdom of the world and another foot in the kingdom of heaven.  The result is not a condemnation of culture (though that is one possibility), but instead it focuses on the continual reformation of ethics and behavior thus celebrating, condemning, and critiquing culture while anchored in the text.

These can be simplified into REJECT, RECEIVE, REDEEM but using these terms loses some of Sanneh’s nuance.

Missional Community Questions 

1 PEOPLE: What people is God sending you to? Where do they live and hang out? How could we re-orient our lives to be with them. Go to community spots, where people gather in your area: parks, gyms, bars, libraries. You can’t engage people you’ve never met.

2 LANGUAGE: What “language” do they speak? Are these people young families, business professionals, hipsters, etc. Read their Literature. Watch their films. Learn their language, where values are embedded. Language is the passageway to the heart.

3 VALUE: What is most important to them? Success, money, relationships, independence. Ask 2nd  Level questions about people’s history. Most of only know people from a recent period forward. Know their past and how it has formed them. Ask 3rd Level which inquires into the why of their hopes, fears, dreams, concerns. It slices vertically into their horizontal history to understand them more.

4 GOSPEL: How is the Gospel good news to them? How does it address their values? How is the Gospel better than what they value most right now. Build bridges to what they values and apply the gospel specifically to broken or inordinate values.

5 NEEDS: What are their needs? How does Jesus meet those needs? How can we be a part of meeting their needs in a way “shows” the Gospel.