Category: Books

Hope for Dizzying Times

A friend recently confessed political views in her church are so tense and divided, she can’t bring up politics with her fellow Christians. A member in my own church asked me if it was okay to not call himself an evangelical at work because he’s concerned people will draw the wrong conclusions. Many people I talk to are reluctant to evangelize for fear of losing their jobs. It’s been a dizzying year, asking it easy to feel disoriented within our own society, churches, and even with God.

Dizzying Times

Although the details were different, the Apostle Peter wrote to people facing similar challenges. He sent a couple of letters to Christians from across five diverse regions who were experiencing cultural disorientation. His letters are saturated in wisdom for times like ours. Perhaps the most important piece is this: cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

Cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

It’s easy to slip into hoping people will accept us or our views. We often go to considerable lengths to make sure people think being Christian doesn’t mean being weird, “You should come on Sunday, there are a lot of really cool people there.” Or we may avoid gospel conversations altogether. But shouldn’t being holy make us stick out a bit in an unholy culture? When cultural relevance becomes dear, we compromise our hope. Peter steers clear of this impulse to soften Christianity with the hope of cultural acceptance.

He also steers clear of cultural dominance, a posture more assertive and critical, more prone to attack or withdraw than to appease. When our hope slips into cultural dominance, we tend to get heated in political conversations, rant on social media, and subtly hope the government will become more like us. Sensing this temptation, Peter writes: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pet. 3:9). He heads off a domineering, tit-for-tat attitude with an exhortation to bless those who call us names or show us evil.

Recentering Hope

So how do we move toward blessing others amidst the confusion?

Whenever we get lost, we’re told to find a landmark, a star, a street name, something familiar and fixed, and work our way home from there. To re-center, we must fixate on God’s call to be exiles of hope.

Biblical hope is neither passive nor aggressive; it does not strive for cultural relevance or dominance. Instead, it operates on a different plane. It steps out of the cultural moment, refuses to be defined by it, and tries to view everything from the “eternal moment.” Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4).

Peter expresses hope sometimes in an event, other times in an age, but always in a person: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus came from the future into the present, bringing some of heaven with him, to secure a resurrected future for us. In Jesus, life climbed out of death . . . and we climb out with him, with hope for a whole new world. So how does re-centering around this hope alter the way we respond to those around us?

The Difference of Hope

Immediately, Peter says our hope affects how we suffer: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). When our hope is recentered in the risen Christ, we can rejoice in trials of all shapes and sizes. If the conversation gets tense around politics, we need not grow angry and embittered because we share a joyful inheritance in Christ’s future and just rule. However, we shouldn’t avoid uncomfortable debate either, knowing that our hope compels us to bring some of heaven to earth now. Viewing our work from the eternal moment, we can risk disapproval by sharing hope for a just world in Jesus, while also laboring towards one.

A version of this post originally appeared at Crossway Books as a part of a Knowing the Bible series, for which I recently wrote the 1-2 Peter & Jude study.

10 Books I Really Enjoyed in 2017

About Grace, Anthony Doerr – This author won the Pulitzer for his book, All the Light We Cannot See, which is easily my favorite novel of the past five years. About Grace is Doerr’s first novel and traces the story of a hydrologist who occasionally has visions about negative things before they happen, but explores the much deeper idea of the longing for reconciled relationships.

Silence, Endo – Such a powerful novel rooted in the history of Jesuit missions to Japan. Endo explores the differences between Japanese and Western culture, the line between contextualization and syncretism, the difficulty of faith in suffering, the question of apostasy, and the voice of God.

Liberating Black Theology, Anthony Bradley – With resurgent race discussions, this book is a helpful analysis where earlier African-American Christians went wrong in trying to address the topic of race. Bradley comes to the subject with expertise, experience, and clarity.

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography, Gary Wills – Confessions has long be a devotional favorite. I have read a lot of Augustine but not enough about his life. Wills brings some fresh insight into often misread passages in Confessions, can turn a phrase, and keep the reader engaged all the way through. It was a delight to read.

The Culture of NarcissmChristopher Lasch – Although this book is several decades old, its critique of modern culture still has incredible relevance. The culture of narcism has not only oversold the appearance of Self, but undersold virtue and the danger of the grandiose, therapeutic Self. Great insight and language for diagnosing our present the late modern identity crisis.

Exit West, Mohair Hamid – This novel gave me fresh empathy for refugees through an interesting plot device, magical doors that allowed the refugees to go to another country to find refuge and hope. The central couple faces their fare share of challenges, not the least the unending search for refuge and satisfaction. Disclaimer: I had to skip through some scenes.

Making Sense of God, Tim Keller – A stunning guide to the undercurrent philosophies that create doubt and skepticism toward God, religion, and faith. In his characteristic style, Keller sympathizes with skeptics, understands where our skepticism comes from, and graciously dismantles the many dichotomies and conflicts underneath secularized predispositions toward Christianity.

A Theology in Outline, Robert Jensen – A fresh look at classic, systematic theology with the insight of the late Robert Jensen. Short, pithy and inspiring. Take for instance his suggestion that to be made in God’s image is to be a praying animal, dependent not upon food and water but the will of God.

The Purity of Heart to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard – The title along will send yo thinking. Kierkegaard has become a favorite companion over the last five years. He challenges aberrations of grace and “gospel-centered” with the call to a lived doctrine. We cannot truly understand a doctrine until we’ve lived it. This book challenges us to cultivate the patience of willing something eternal, something we all need more of in a fast and big data age.

Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich – The soul and struggle of Russia revealed. Alexievich won the Nobel for Literature and it shows. The book cobbles together interviews from hundreds of Russians on their experience of Stalin era and post-Stalin life, but does so with literary flair. The stories are riveting and heart-breaking, checking our Western consumer comfort at the door.

3 Recommended Books on Burnout

In light of my recent article at Lifeway Leadership, here are a few books I recommend reading if you feel exhausted by ministry, lackluster about the church, or distant from Jesus:

On The Brink – This book blends empathy, challenge, and biblical exhortation very well. An excellent help to anyone who feels “on the brink” or wants to better understand what pastors, in particular, often face.

Leading on Empty – This book combines science with sage advice. It contains some great best practices from an experienced pastor.

Near Unto God – A life-giving devotional by Abraham Kuyper. His brief devotional entries are packed with spiritual insight and stir religious affection.

 

Recommended Books on 2 Peter & Jude

This summer I wrote a study guide for 2 Peter & Jude. These are prophetic book letters for our time. It became clear to me that the straight forward truths, difficult texts, and glorious promises in these letters are just what our church needs to hear. So, we’re preaching through these two letters this Fall. Here are a few resources I’d recommend if you want to know the letters better.

The Message of 2 Peter & Jude – This is written by some of the most well-known British preachers. In fact, Dick Lucas had considerable influence on Tim Keller. This commentary is exegetically rich, well-footnoted, but also sensitive to culture and application.

Acknowledging the Divine Benefactor – This is a unique commentary more suited for the academic. It stands out in its sensitivities to Hellenistic backgrounds. The premise is intriguing, that 2 Peter follows a Greek form of paying homage to a benefactor. Peter may be adapting this form to encourage believers to honor Jesus Christ as their divine benefactor by living a life of virtue.

1, 2 Peter & Jude (Schreiner) – This is my favorite all round commentary on 2 Peter/Jude for its clarity and succinctness yet attention to detail.

*Jude & 2 Peter (Bauckham) – I’ve read a lot of Richard Bauckham over the years and studied under one of his proteges. He’s creative, textually rigorous, a fantastic biblical theologian, and learned in backgrounds. However, this commentary is a bit exhausting and I can’t stand the layout of Word commentaries.