Category: Gospel and Culture

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.

My Top 5 Movies of 2017

It was a great year for film. Narrowing down to a top five was difficult, and I still haven’t seen Phantom Thread, Mudbound, The Shape of Water. I’m including a variety of genres. I am not saying these will all win Oscars, but what I am saying is I liked them a lot, and why.

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Wind River – This film immerses the viewer in an unfamiliar landscape, the frozen tundra of an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a bleak context for an awful crime. The wintry elements almost act like another character, as sexual assault, the power of male friendship in grief, acute pain of loss, and the zeal for justice fuse for a powerful viewing experience, especially if you have daughters. I cried three times.

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Colossal – One of the most creative films I’ve seen in a while, Colossal explores deep human longing through Hathaway’s unknowing ability to control a monster ravaging Seoul, with her motions. It imitates her! Is this a projection of her dark side, a sign there is a power behind our every action, or something else? It’s funny too.

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3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – When I saw the trailer, I thought, “There’s no way I’m seeing that movie.” I went out of deference to my brother on his birthday, and I ended up getting a gift! Wow, I know this film is taking some critical heat, but I thought it was incredible. The story-telling is Cohenesque and the humor hard-hitting. Knockout performances by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. The abrupt shift from tragedy to humor, makes you question your laugh, but think about the point. The film exposes something narrow and deeply selfish about what we often perceive to be personal injustice.

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Bladerunner – Granted, I am a sci-fi fan and loved the first Bladerunner. The film explores what it means to be human from three main vantage points, while giving the viewer stunning landscapes, surreal futuristic urban activity, and intriguing plot line. But it is slow.

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The Florida Project – Heartbreaking depiction of post-urban poor mother living in a motel with her daughter. Bria Vinaite best actress? This film will flatten you emotionally, by putting you in touch with heartache and sorrow of a desperate mother.

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.

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