Category: Books

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

 

 

 

Does the How of Evangelism Really Matter?

Think about the last time you tried to share the gospel. What was going through your head? Were you angling to find an opening to mention Jesus? Or perhaps you were more intentional, looking for an opportunity to lay out a “gospel presentation” over lunch or coffee? This kind of evangelism focuses on what we have to say, not on what others are saying.

This can make our evangelism unbelievable. 

All too often we look to download gospel information instead of considering people’s objections. If we’re honest, we are often content with “name dropping” Jesus in a conversation because our evangelism is more about us and less about them. Saying Jesus’ name to a non-Christian gets us a √. Saying what Jesus did in the first century, on a cross, gets us a √+. This kind of evangelism is more about clearing our evangelical conscience than compassionately sharing the good news with fellow sinners.

This evangelism is unbelievable because it is motivated by unbelief in the gospel. Our hidden belief is that doing evangelism makes us better with God. Or better in front of spiritual peers we esteem.

The Self-Righteous Approach

The Lord certainly uses defective evangelism (Phil. 1:15-18), but that doesn’t mean we should promote it. In fact, the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), watch our life and speech (1 Tim. 4:16), walk with wisdom toward outsiders (Col. 3:4-5), and live with others in a understanding way (Rom. 12:17-18). These texts all add up to tell us how we share the gospel matters.

The gospel can be easily dismissed because of the self-righteous manner of our gospel communication. When I was in college, I often felt guilty if days went by without sharing my faith. I was driven by performance. As a result, I’d end up sharing the righteousness of Christ with others in a self-righteous way. I would think to myself, “If I share the gospel, God will think better of me.” But that actually contradicts the gospel.

God thinks perfectly of us, not because of our right performance, but because of Jesus’ righteousness performance! When we are caught in the performance act, we may come off wooden or uncaring. People need to not only “hear” the gospel but also “feel” it in our speech. Good evangelism results in gospel stereo—Christ-shaped speech and action.

The Sheepish Approach

The gospel can also be dismissed due to the sheepish manner of our evangelism. Sometimes we are indifferent to evangelism because we don’t want to come off as preachy. I was sitting in a Starbucks when a gentlemen asked me what I was doing. I replied, “Working on a sermon.” Oh, great, here it comes. Yep, he replied by waving his hands back and forth, across one another, saying “Don’t preach to me, don’t preach to me!” All accompanied by a nervous chuckle. How would you respond?

I responded by saying, “You don’t have to worry about that.” Really?! I left the poor man with the wrong impression of gospel preaching—that it mounds up not relieves guilt. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus absorbs our guilt and sets us free. That’s just what he needed to hear, just not in a “preachy” way. My sheepish indifference left him stranded in guilt.

People interpret the gospel by how we say the gospel not just what we say.

But it’s not enough to critique self-righteous and sheepish evangelism. We must reconstruct a biblically faithful, culturally sensitive, and personally discerning way forward.

I propose Gospel Metaphors. You can read more about them at UnbelievableGospel.com