9780830836765

Apologetics is becoming more and more about finesse. Maybe it always has been. Straightforward presentations of facts and figures don’t usually cut it. There’s gotta be an angle.

I think some of this comes down to the audience. If you’re writing apologetics for other Christians, you don’t have to pay as much attention to persuasion. They’re already persuaded, but want to know the underlying foundations of Christianity. On the other hand, if you’re writing for people other than Christians, you have to pay attention to persuasion.

Along these lines, I’d recommend True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World by David Skeel. Thanks to IVP, I was able to read a copy at the beginning of summer. Skeel is S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He’s also an elder at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his book, he takes five key topics, ideas, beauty, suffering and sensation, justice, life and the afterlife, and explains how Christianity offers a better explanation of these given phenomena than materialism does. As he puts it, “My claim is a very simple one: Christianity tells us more about each of these paradoxes than you may think” (15)

While the ideal reader will be fairly intellectual, the tone and style are highly accessible. Perhaps because Skeel is a professor of law by trade, his writing is particularly clear in the midst of sophisticated discussion. It’s a short book but I’d imagine it making for many good pub discussions with an atheist friend or two. Skeel also writes as someone who didn’t grow up in a religious environment. After his curiosity was aroused in college lit classes and he read the Bible for himself that his journey toward Christianity began. Again, as he says, “The sheer beauty of the Bible is what first drew me in, and it’s still what I go back to when I’m asked over a beer late at night why I believe Christianity is true” (86).

All this to say, if you’re looking for a concise, yet compelling presentation of Christianity’s explanatory power, this is your book. I’m tempted to make it a late addition to one of my Bible classes, but I might just save it for book club.

27840614

In a similar vein, and also at the beginning of the summer, I read through John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to The Ten Commandments thanks to BookLook Bloggers. It is a follow up to A Doubter’s Guide to The Bible, and from what I can now tell, part of an on-going series (next book is a A Doubter’s Guide to Church). Dickson seems to be primarily writing for a secular audience and tackles the idea that our ideas of ethics come from Moses and Jesus.

The opening chapter illustrate how pervasive the Ten Commandments are in the world (past and present). Next, Dickson raises the question of why we aspire to be good in the first place. He then offers three keys for understanding the Ten Commandments. These have to do with how Jesus “transposed” the commandments, that they can be divided into two tables (related to God and man), and that they are a “charter of freedom.” From here, Dickson goes command by command to finish out the book. He spends more time on the first five, and notes on the 6th that the remainder are fairly self explanatory (119). This is probably fair, and I’m sure there were certain constraints that kept the page count under 200.

All in all, I think this is great book to pass along to someone interested in ethics, law, justice, and perhaps politics. It is written with skeptics in mind (hence the title), but I would imagine many Christians would benefit from reading it as well. As a side note, I wish it had an index, but I appreciated that in the absence of footnotes, we were given parenthetical citations with publication info rather than endnotes. Combine this with the previous book I talked about and you’ve got a book skeptics book club reading list going.

DisappearingChurch_PRINT.indd

Lastly, thanks to Moody I was able to get a copy of Mark Sayers’ Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience. The subtitle gives you the two parts of the book. In the first, Sayers analyzes our current post-Christian culture and our craving for relevance. He then connects this analysis to an ancient heresy. In this case, it’s gnosticism, which he sees as a “gospel of the self.” In a perceptive chart, he compares ancient and modern versions of gnosticism to what the true gospel actually teaches. To give you an idea what he sees as contemporary gnosticism, here’s that column (65):

  • Your world is inferior [to mine]
  • The mundane is the problem
  • Turn your body into a perfect-looking body
  • Look inward to find the real you
  • Escape the mundane to the amazing life
  • Move toward the perfect life through tips, tweaks, hacks, and the secrets of success
  • You are a seeker, pursuing fulfillment through incredible experiences and pleasure
  • Move past organized religion and find spirituality
  • Move toward fulfillment by breaking past the barriers set by tradition, religion, and others
  • It’s all about you

If you ask me, that’s a pretty good snapshot of contemporary culture. This underlying philosophy gives rise to all kinds of movements and trends. With this description and critique in place, Sayers spends the second half of the book sketching the path of gospel resilience. He deals with rejecting the implicit prosperity gospel, how churches can stop catering to public opinion, and the need to deliver truth among other topics. As is often the case, the solution is only as good as the diagnosis is accurate. I think if Sayers is right about his cultural analysis (and I think he’s on to something), then what he offers in the second half of this book is probably something many church leaders need to interact with. I’ll probably need to ruminate a bit more on it, but I’m also probably gonna pass the book on to my pastor and see what he thinks.

map of us 50 percent

You may remember seeing this picture. It comes from a Business Insider post from 2013. The counties in blue contain roughly one half of the American population. You’ll notice as well that there are three clusters. Well, four if you separate Northern and Southern California. The other ones are first, the one connecting D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Then, there is the Florida cluster. We live in the county that is just inland from the east coast.

More technically, we live on the county line of Orange and Seminole Counties. Orange County is the 5th largest county in that Florida (34th nationally). Within the suburb we live (University), we are surrounded by the three most populated zip codes (32825, 32828, 32765), which have a total population of over 175,000. The first two are part of Alafaya, the largest suburb of Orlando (82,000). To add to that, we have the largest university in the country by undergrad enrollment literally next door (well, not literally, but within a mile). Because of the student population, roughly 1 out of every 3 people in our neck of the woods are college students.

Given all that, it is perhaps interesting that on the Cru at UCF website, there are only 7 churches listed that have connections to Cru. These are churches that Cru feels comfortable referring students to because they trust the teaching of the church and/or someone on staff goes there or has a relationships with someone in leadership at the church. Our church, One Hope, is one of these churches, and I have connections with a couple more. I know of several more than are listed on the website, but they are mostly smaller church plants in the area (or extension sites of other churches).

We often joke that Florida is the only place you have to go north to get to the South. Though it could see it being a reasonable assumption, Florida is not really part of the Bible belt. According to the most recent census data, “Nones” are the most predominant religious category at 57.9%. Evangelical protestants are less than half that at 18.9%. However, non-denoms and Southern Baptists combined have less adherents than the Catholic Church which is the largest single denomination in Orlando (but still only 12.7%). Couple this with the data from Barna’s most Bible-minded cities. I grew up in the epicenter, which is to say the agreed upon Bible belt. On the other hand, Orlando ranks #72 in the list of 100 (3 spots ahead of Seattle). We’re almost in the bottom fourth of the list that includes all those pagan Northeast cities.

What is also over-looked, or just unnoticed, is that Orlando is fairly progressive in terms of ideology. This is especially true of its relationship to the LGBT community. Gay pride was a thing in Orlando back in the 90’s when Disney and Universal still hosted Gay Days. Pride parades are a frequent activity in our downtown area. For the most part, Orlando is a fairly safe place to be openly gay and even celebrated.

Orlando is actually a fairly sexual city all things considered. A few years back, when Men’s Health crowned a city the porn capital (based on consumption), you’d assume Las Vegas would win. Instead, Vegas came in second to Orlando. Florida as a whole came out as the most pornified state based on number of DVD’s purchased, streamed, or rented, adult entertainment stores per city, rate of porn searches, and percentage of households subscribed to cable channels that show softcore porn.

Given all that, you can see how ridiculous it would be to suggest Christians are somehow complicit in the Orlando Pulse Shooting. When almost 2/3 of your population is religiously unaffiliated, it means you live in a fairly secular city. There is nothing about the Christian influence here that would create a culture conducive to hostility toward the LGBT community. It is for the most part, quite the opposite case. Outside commentators simultaneously underestimate how mainstream and accepted the LGBT movement is in Orlando, and overestimate how strong the Christian presence is (The Holy Land Experience notwithstanding).

As a result, we have quite the mission field here in central Florida. We live in a diverse and mostly un-Christian culture. There are thousands upon thousands of young people right in our backyard (not literally). There are questions and hurts in wake of the shooting a couple of weeks back. There are churches reaching out to care and to help. But in the city as a whole, and in our part of east Orlando, we are in the minority. We are striving to be a faithful presence as we hope to reach our city by reaching this generation. To do this, we need your help, and you can read my post from Monday for more about that.

recommeded-reading-challies-header

At this point, the year is almost halfway over, and I’m more than halfway through Tim Challies Reading Challenge. You can see how far I’ve come on Friday. As I’ve been reading, I’ve enjoyed getting out of my usual patterns. But, those patterns were well developed and it took a while for me to master the lay of the land in Christian publishing (that’s right, I said it). There are many great books, authors, and series out there that I imagine the average interested reader might not know about.

So, I thought it might help to create three more add-ons to Challies challenge. 3 because Trinity. Also, beginner, intermediate, advanced. The distinctions are partially related to content, but also length. As an example, Frame’s writings are not that hard to digest, but the books in his series listed are lengthy, to say the least. Also, you’ll notice a certain slant in the named authors. I guess you’ll have to live with my bias in choices. Or, you could make an alternative list and share it with me.

This could be an additional 33, or more realistically, it could be a way to overlap the available biblical and theological books already in Challies list. For instance, I list a few commentaries in here, and one of the items in Challies original list is a commentary on a book of the Bible. This gives you a more specific commentary series to choose from. Make sense?

Here’s the list:

THE BEGINNING THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book with hermeneutics in the title
  • ☐ A commentary in the TNTC series
  • ☐ A survey of historical theology
  • ☐ A commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series
  • ☐ A book in the Theologians on The Christian Life series
  • ☐ A New Testament introduction
  • ☐ A book by Eugene Peterson
  • ☐ A commentary in the TOTC series
  • ☐ A book in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series
  • ☐ A book by Tim Keller
  • ☐ An Old Testament introduction

THE INTERMEDIATE THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by Kevin Vanhoozer
  • ☐ A volume in New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • ☐ A book in IVP’s Contours of Christian Theology
  • ☐ A book on covenant theology
  • ☐ A book on dispensational theology
  • ☐ A book on progressive covenantalism
  • ☐ A whole Bible biblical theology
  • ☐ A book by James K. A. Smith
  • ☐ A book in Baker’s Engaging Culture series
  • ☐ A book by Peter Leithart
  • ☐ A book by a Reformer not named Calvin or Luther

THE ADVANCED THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by John Owen
  • ☐ A book in John Frame’s Theology of Lordship series
  • ☐ A systematic theology
  • ☐ A book by N. T. Wright
  • ☐ A book on Old Testament background
  • ☐ A book on New Testament background
  • ☐ A book by Bruce Waltke
  • ☐ A book by or about Karl Barth
  • ☐ A book using analytic theology
  • ☐ A book by a Dutch guy
  • ☐ An Oxford handbook on a theological topic

13221562_10102594536824758_6272541713707910453_n

Ever since Ali and I moved to Orlando, we’ve been involved with the college students at our church. Since this past September, we have lived within reasonable walking distance of UCF, the largest university in the country by undergrad enrollment.

For scale, I grew up in Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee. UCF is twice as large by undergrad enrollment. While UCF couldn’t fill Neyland Stadium to capacity, they could easily do so for any Major League Baseball stadium. In other words, we’re talking about a big school.

While there are several existing ministries on campus, they are all relatively small compared to the total size of the student body. It is a very fertile mission field with plenty of room for more evangelism and discipleship to be done.
In our five years here, we’ve seen students come to Christ, grow in Christ, and transition to adults with full time jobs living for Christ. It has been a joy to watch,and we hope to see it happen more and more.

Back in the fall, I reached out to our leadership at One Hope Church about developing the college ministry. With their encouragement and endorsement of our elders, I am seeking to formalize and further establish our ministry to college, as well as high school students in East Orlando.

So far this summer, I’ve been working on several projects. First, I am putting together a team within our church to offer mentoring and discipleship to UCF students within our church and that come as classes begin (summer B began today). This will eventually be a way of offering mentors to all of the students we are connected with, not just those that come to our church.

Second, we’ve been leading a summer community group and opening our home in various ways to the students we are seeking to reach and mentor. We’ve had movie nights for recently graduated students I taught and are seeking to figure out how we can use the space we’ve been blessed with more effectively.

Third, we’re in the planning stages for discipleship and Christian education at our church. Given the size and age of our church (and that we’ve recently become independent from a larger church movement), we are in need of a systematic approach to discipleship and mentoring church-wide. As I’m responsible for developing a plan for the 18-25 year olds, it will also mean being involved in initiatives that effect the rest of the church.

Lastly, Ali and I are developing a plan for continued ministry to alumni from the high school that I teach at part time. We want to maintain the relationships we can with those staying here in Florida, especially those students going to UCF and UNF. Right now, we are planning to establish regular gatherings for alumni staying in Orlando and at least a trip once a semester to meet up with those students in Jacksonville (UNF) as well as possibly Gainesville (UF). I was the Bible teacher for this current class of 2016 all four years they were in high school, and I’d like to continue to shepherd well in this important time.

In order for me to have more time for student outreach and for Ali to be more involved than she already has been, we have felt God’s call to step out in faith, pursue full-time ministry, and begin the support raising process. You may notice that many of the things I listed above involve mainly myself. That is because Ali works full-time, and is involved as much as she can be, but has always had a desire to do more. We are seeking to create some flexibility so that she doesn’t have to work full-time and can begin more aggressively discipling and mentoring many of these students God has placed in her life.

While we are looking for people to partner with us in ministry using their time, talents, and treasures, we are mainly in need of the latter at the moment. I opted to not get a summer job so that I could focus on planning for the fall semester and beginning to raise support. This Friday will be the second payday that I miss a check, so we are starting to feel the need in this area.

I am planning to write here more regularly on some of the vision for what we’re doing. In the next few weeks or so, we’ll launch a separate website for the ministry itself. If you would like to be added to our mailing list, you can do that below, either using the form, or by commenting. I am looking forward to sharing more about what God is doing and ask that you pray for us as we pursue what we feel God is leading to do!

recommeded-reading-challies-header

Well, May was a mess and for reasons I’d rather not explain at the moment. But, school’s out and it’s finally summer. I didn’t blog quite as much in May, but I did manage to post my April Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was about the same as last month, but continues to grow more varied. Some of that is the time of year. Some of that is because theology books have started boring me. I’ve started questioning my reading a little more, and may become more ruthless about it to start reading more for enjoyment rather than rote habit (which is honestly how you make it through some books in the biblical and theological categories). If this sounds a bit cranky, you’re probably right. And I should probably explain more of my thinking in a separate post. For now, here’s what I read last month:

Also, as it my custom around this time of year, I re-read some Bill Bryson books (The Lost Continent, Neither Here nor There, A Walk in The Woods). If you’ve never discovered or read anything by him, consider this my strong recommendation.

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 45 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 57 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (8 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (4 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☒ A book recommended by a family member (Batman: The Killing Joke)
  • ☐ A book by or about a missionary
  • ☐ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
  • ☒ A book written by an Anglican (Paul and The Trinity)
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☐ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ☒ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title (Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World)
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☐ A book about church history
  • ☒ A graphic novel (Watchmen)
  • ☐ A book of poetry

THE COMMITTED READER (11 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (22 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

9780567426475

As a general rule, I enjoying reading through, or at least collecting festschriften. If that’s a new word to you (and even if it’s not), I am speaking about a collection of essays presented to a scholar on some significant occasion. This might be a retirement, a special birthday, or a special conference. At any rate, they can often be a good introduction to that particular author’s interests, through the essays provided by their friends and former students.

Theological Theology is just this sort of book, and as the subtitle suggests, it is John Webster being honored (on his 60th birthday no less). Over Panera, Michael Allen called him the premier British theologian writing today (or something to that effect). This essay collection offers readers an overview of Webster’s life and work (the first two chapters), as well as essays from some of the more influential names in theology today.

In a single volume, you’ve got:

  • Stanley Hauerwas on the Holy Spirit
  • Robert Jenson offering some ‘riffs” on Aquinas
  • Matthew Levering’s adapted book chapter on the Gospel (from his book on the doctrine of revelation)
  • Lewis Ayres’ intriguing thoughts on Catholic biblical interpretation
  • Bruce McCormack reconsidering Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher
  • Kevin Vanhoozer on theological interpretation of Scripture
  • Rowan Williams on theology and the plurality of the gospel witness
  • Francis Watson questioning the existence of historical criticism

And those are just some highlights. As far as festschriften go, this one is pretty packed. If you’re into modern theology, you’ll love everything about this book. That is, everything except the price. At the moment, a hard copy of this book will run you close to $150. Had I not gotten a review copy, I certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy it.

However, it’s worth noting you don’t have to buy a book to benefit from it. If you’re currently a seminary student, you could definitely check this out and read a few essays over the weekend or as a way to procrastinate on other work. If you’re a college student really interested in theological studies, your university library will either have a copy or you can get one through inter-library loan. You can also wait it out, knowing that eventually a paperback version might be released that runs under $50.

At the end of the day, I found many of the essays enjoyable and intriguing. But, I don’t see anything in here worth $150. If you can justify spending that kind of money on a book of essays, you might have your priorities out of whack. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy to satisfy my curiosity. But, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be that much worse off and my life is largely unchanged as a result of reading roughly half the essays in here. My mind was fed for a few afternoons and then life moved on.

Honestly, that’s the way it is with many books. You might spazz out about the latest and greatest new release from your favorite theologian/pastor/philosopher. But many of these books are kind of boring to read and largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. We largely overestimate the importance of the literary output in modern theological studies. We forget that most of what is being written and published will be forgotten before our lifetimes even end.


R. David Nelson, Darren Sarisky, and Justin Stratis, Eds., Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John WebsterNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, August 2015. 384 pp. Hardcover, $146.00.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!

9780190214593

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to take an intro to theology class with Robert Jenson? To be honest the thought hadn’t crossed my mind before I requested a review copy of his latest book A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? I was just curious about how it was as an introductory text. What it contains though are lightly edited transcripts from a class he taught at Princeton.

By “lightly edited,” I think we’re talking mainly about readability. At least that’s what I’m guessing when Jenson has a mild lapse and calls David the first king of Israel (21) and the transcript editor, Adam Eitel, left it in there. Beyond that, I didn’t pick up on any substantial issues. It is very conversational, because, well, it’s Jenson, or Jens as his friends apparently call him (19), just talking to you about theology.

Other than making my way through Scott Swain’s book, I don’t have much previous contact with Jenson (so I can’t really call him Jens). After reading this, I’m mildly curious to explore more. If that curiosity ramps up a bit, I can always use the exhaustive bibliography (117-134) to get me started. If you’re curious, this is probably a great place to start. It’s Jenson for beginners without being simplistic. He covers the nature of theology, the story of Israel and Jesus, the Trinity, creation, imago die, sin, salvation, and church. Not much in the way of eschatology, but you do get a chapter on the future of theology in a postmodern world.

This book could be comfortably read in a weekend, but you’d probably spend most of the next week pondering some of the many insights Jenson touches on. One that particularly struck me was his thoughts on Satan:

The existence of a tempter (i.e., Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, the Old Serpent, etc.) is an ongoing conviction not just of Christianity but also of Judaism. And this reflects more than anything else a common experience: there does seem to be somebody out there laughing at us. I was very skeptical about the existence of Satan until I made that observation. The disasters that happen could just be disasters, but we seem to be mocked by them. And that is the main title of Satan throughout the tradition; he is the Mocker, the one out there laughing at us. I do not imagine many of you will have run into C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters [note: he is talking to undergrads at Princeton. Sad right?]. That is the best satanology of the modern period (60).

Several things stick out here. One is that this has a ring of truth to it, when it comes to personal experience. The other is that it gives you an idea about Jenson’s thinking when it comes to the Old Testament (which you also get in an earlier chapter where he recounts Israel’s history). Lastly (though we could go on), here is premier theologian of the 20th/21st centuries recommending imaginative fiction as instructive for a subject in theology.

One final note, this is a smaller book than I anticipated. It also has small font, so the word count is not tremendously reduced. However, I was expecting a standard sized book. Not a huge deal, but serves a good reminder to check the product dimensions every now and then on Amazon. This is not quite “pocket size,” but it’s little. But, as you can see, it packs a punch on insights, and if you’re a student of theology, it’s worth checking out.


Robert W. Jenson, A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? Transcribed, edited, and introduced by Adam Eitel. New York: Oxford University Press, April 2016. 152 pp. Hardcover, $27.95.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy!

25956884

Every now and then I’ll read a book that makes me laugh out loud (i.e. LOL). It’s not often given the books that I tend to read, but when I saw that Sammy Rhodes’ This Is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open The Door to Intimacy and Connection was out, I knew it would do the trick. Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s partnership with BookLook Bloggers, I was able to get a hold of a free copy. I wanted to read it because 1) I enjoyed following Rhodes on Twitter, even as the whole plagiarism thing hit the fan (which he recounts in chapter 10) and 2) I’m an awkward introvert so I knew I’d resonate with a good bit of the book.

This book ends up being part humorous memoir of sorts and part meditation on how awkwardness awakens us to grace. Rhodes has a had a far rougher life than his jokes on Twitter would have let on. He can add “authentic” to his self-description along with “awkward.” It was probably already there and known to those students that he ministers to at The University of South Carolina. But now the wider public can get more of a glimpse.

Whether you primarily knew of Rhodes before the Twitter plagiarism fiasco ignited by Patton Oswalt or because of it, you’d do well to read Rhodes thoughts on it here. He had already come clean in my mind, but this gives you more background about where he was personally during that time and then moves from that to discussion of how being online can be an escape for introverts (or just people) but that it can also come with a price. I don’t think he tries to minimize what happened, and he definitely seems to have learned from it. He presents a kind of cautionary tale for what happens when you unexpectedly get “Twitter famous.”

Especially as summer approaches, I’d recommend taking a break from whatever you normally read and pick up This Is Awkward. I guess that is unless your usual genre of reading is awkward memoirs from introverted campus pastors. If that’s the case, I think you should point me in the direction of more books like this.


26309274

Speaking of campus ministry, I recently went through a book that unlocked several insights for me. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to get a hold of Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom’s Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow. For me, the key takeaway is what the subtitle suggests. Deeply indebted to Joseph Myers’ book The Search to Belong, Harrington and Absalom map out 5 contexts in which discipleship happens. Conveniently, you can also correlate these with relationships Jesus had in the Gospels (58-59):

  • Public (Jesus and the crowds)
  • Social (Jesus and the 70)
  • Personal (Jesus and the 12)
  • Transparent (Jesus and the 3)
  • Divine (Jesus and the Father)

As we seek to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples, we do well to attend to these different contexts. While it may be beneficial to teach people how to have a quiet time, that’s only one context (divine). Likewise, just because someone is in a small group (either personal or transparent context), doesn’t mean they are good to go. Ideally, all of the contexts work together to help mold us into the people that Jesus would want us to be. Within any school or church, all of these contexts should be present and developed in order to be utilized in discipleship.

I mentioned several insights were unlocked, and that covered a couple (pay attention to contexts, let them work together). Another was that I had been approaching discipleship at church and at school in a way that didn’t work within the given contexts. For instance, while we had developed the small groups at school a little more, their focus was primarily on doing Bible studies. But, they all already had a Bible class and heard sermons weekly. They needed a space to process what was going on in life, thus being more personal and transparent, rather than social, which was what it drifted toward when they had a “study” to do. I realized that we should provide a structure and possibly curriculum that is aimed at moving students from the social to the personal to the transparent context in their small groups. Not entirely sure how we’ll approach that yet, but it’s a slight modification we hope to make for next year.

In a similar vein, I realized that what we were doing for small groups at church (at least the ones I was involved in either as a member or a coach) was similar. I think often because of that, I found myself less interested week to week because I already did a lot of theological reading and studying so I wasn’t necessarily eager to do more. To be fair though, I really enjoyed and benefited from the times I was there. But I think the initial expectations were off because of what the group was. Had we spent more time fostering personal connections (and we did in the week that I personally enjoyed the most), I think it would have bound our group a little tighter together, and we could have done so without abandoning discussing the Bible or theology.

All of this is to say that Harrington and Absalom’s work is worth checking out and I found it immediately applicable. It’s helped me re-think discipleship in church and school and I feel like I’m better prepared for some of the things that I’ll hopefully launch later this summer and fall!

9781784980511

Last summer, John Piper spoke at the Co-Mission weekend meetings called Revive in Canterbury, England. This is a church planting movement in greater London. Those messages were expanded roughly three-fold to become Living in The Light: Money, Sex & Power. Even still, it’s a relatively small book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.

Obviously, the subtitle of the book gives you an idea what the subject matter is. What is less obvious is how they are connected. Piper explains,

  • Power is a capacity to pursue what you value
  • Money is a cultural symbol that can be exchanged in pursuit of what you value
  • Sex is one of the pleasures that people value, and the pursuit of it

He then concludes, “Therefore power, money and sex are all God-given means of showing what you value. They are all (like other created reality in the universe) given by God as means of worship – that is, as means of magnifying what is of supreme worth to you” (20).

With this connection made, Piper then turns to Romans 1 to retrieve a diagnostic on the human heart. Since money, sex, and power show what we worship, it is only fitting to use the passage in Romans about disordered worship to shed light on the situation.

In successive chapters, Piper applies his pastoral heart and analytical mind to sex, money, and finally power. He then offers two additional chapters that walk readers through deliverance from improper worship and how to re-orient our approach to this triumvirate. The first is more about taking money, sex, or power out of the center of your universe, whereas the latter is about how to keep them in their proper orbit, to use the metaphor Piper employs.

Because of how significant these subjects are in our culture, this is a book worth checking out. It is relatively short and could be read in a weekend. However, it more than likely introduces readers to what could be a life-time of wrestling with a proper view of money, sex, and power that sees goodness in each (something pointed out in the first chapter), but doesn’t bow to worship any of them. Piper doesn’t offer the final or only word on the topic (one thinks of Paul Tripp’s similar book). But he does offer his own very Piperian take on the topic, and that alone is worth checking out.


John Piper, Living In The Light: Money, Sex & Power. Epsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, May 2016. 144 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to The Good Book Company for the review copy!

9781433542985

While it hasn’t shown up in my recent reviews and reading, I have a long standing interest in apologetics. Specifically, I’m partial to presuppositional apologetics. One strategy within this school of apologetics (though not necessarily limited to it), is assuming the premises of the opposing argument to then tease out how it doesn’t make sense of reality. As you might gather from the title, that’s kind of what Mitch Stokes is up to in How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough. I particularly enjoyed his previous book, A Shot of Faith to The Head and even used it in an apologetics elective that I taught a few years back

Originally an engineer by training, Stokes then studied religion with Nicholas Wolterstorff and philosophy with Alvin Plantinga. To say that Stokes might know a thing or two about the connection between logic, science, and religion is a bit of an understatement. In this book, stokes has chosen to focus on the limits of sense, reason, and science when it comes to applying skepticism with rigorous consistency. He then shows where the atheistic assumptions in these fields lead when it comes to morality. 

The bulk of the book splits time between the nature and limits of science and the bankruptcy of naturalistic (and often-times science based) accounts of morality. What I think Stokes ultimately succeeds in showing is that if you want to take some of the basic premises of materialism (or naturalism if you prefer) seriously, it leads straight to nihilism in the moral realm. If you value consistency, you have to swallow that pill. Atheists might value skepticism, but they need to put their money where their mouth is in matters that are most important.

Stokes writes with a very conversational style, and hopefully in a mode that would make this book gift-able to your non-Christian friend. I say that because that seems to be the intended audience, making this a bit of an anomaly in the Crossway catalog. While you could try to internalize and then regurgitate Stokes’ arguments in your next apologetic discourse, it might serve your conversation partner better if you y’all read the book together and then discussed it.

I am predisposed to agree with Stokes, so I have a hard time seeing his conclusions inescapable. In my view, the path of skepticism necessitates embracing nihilism if you want to remain intellectually honest. Stokes shows that in a way that I don’t think is terribly oft putting, and I hope that it can be used to further apologetic conversations rather than simply giving the faithful more fuel for the fire. Not that those of faith don’t need affirmation that the Christian faith is more coherent in the moral realm. Rather, this particular book seems like it might be better used in outreach even as it encourages believers that might read through it first before passing it on.


Mitch Stokes, How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical EnoughWheaton: Crossway, February 2016. 256 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!