Archives For Nate

Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Zondervan’s Five Solas Series is complete. What’s more, you can get a sweet deal on the bundle from Westminster Bookstore.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading thanks to the generosity of Zondervan. My favorite so far has been Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone. It was the first to be published and I think represents the goals of the series best. God’s Word Alone is a bit lengthy, though to be fair, Matthew Barrett tries to cover quite a bit of ground. But, for comparison sake, you can see how it stacks up against the other titles in the series.

I posted a few thoughts on God’s Glory Alone, and I’m just getting into Christ Alone and Grace Alone. For the former, I’m interested to see how it compares to Stephen Wellum’s also recently published God The Son Incarnate. For the latter, I’m looking forward to Carl Trueman’s exposition of grace, especially after he changed my mind about Luther.

On the whole, I think this is an important series to track with, although it is certainly not for everyone. If you’re interested in issues related to justification and the New Perspective on Paul, you’ll want to grab Faith Alone. If you’re interested in protecting or defending inerrancy, and historical views on the subject, you’ll want to snag God’s Word Alone. If you’d like a more accessible Christology than Wellum’s more thorough volume, then grab Christ Alone. And if you some classic Trueman, grab Grace Alone.

The whole set might not be for everyone, but it is for me, and thankfully Zondervan agreed and I’ll be finishing it out over the summer and preparing to party like it’s 1517 come October.

This month, I feel like I did a decent job of diversifying my reading. That trend will probably continue going into the summer, although May is gonna be a little crazy.

I added 13 books this month, which is back closer to January and February, with 12 of the 13 hitting categories in the challenge. That also means I hit 50 for the year. Most of these I read cover to cover this month, but a few (you’ll notice them) are much longer and it just happened that I finished them in April.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (a book about current events)

Here’s what I already wrote on Rod Dreher’s book.

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (a book about theology)

This was another part of my pre-Easter reading. I’ve got a post in the works about how this fills in a significant lacuna in another semi-controversial book that just came out. I’ll keep it ambiguous until then.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (a book about history)

I don’t often read brief histories of humankind. Much less do I read radical gay vegan takes on it, that go where only Nietzsche and Foucault dreamed of going. Yuval Noah Harari is probably a presuppositional apologetist’s best friend because he starts with atheism and then consistently traces out how it would apply to the human species and their cultural products and practices. I need to trace that out more, and hope to do so soon.

The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Courses (a book recommended by a friend)

You may notice an uptick in beer related reading, but I’m not quite ready to explain why. Let’s just say it is actual research, and also attempting to understand one of life’s simple pleasures.

An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans

If Michael Bird writes a book, I’ll probably read it and tell you about it. I need to do a more formal review of this one, so I’ll wait and tell you more then!

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (a book of your choice)

I spent the better part of Easter weekend finishing this up and it is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend wrestling with Fleming Rutledge’s work. While it is a theology book, it is conversational in tone and culturally saavy in references and anecdotes. In other words, this isn’t your typical 600 page theology book. I wouldn’t say I quite agree with everything she wrote, and this post from Andrew Wilson explains a good bit why.

Know Why You Believe (a book about apologetics)

I’ve got a review of this third volume in the KNOW series from Zondervan in the works. It also made for a great read during Easter weekend.

The Triunity of God (Vol. 4 in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) (a book you have started but never finished)

This represents finishing Richard Muller’s massive study in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. I can’t really summarize my thoughts here, but I can let you know that an updated version of this series is coming out soon(ish) that will include two new volumes. If you’ve thought about getting them, wait until then (because $500 on Amazon is not worth it)

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (a book your pastor recommends)

When I graduated Dallas in 2011, I got Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics. I would wish that everyone who fancies themselves a theologian would take the time to work through these volumes. Maybe not drag it out as much as I did, but if you read one multi-volume systematic, make it this one.

Paul and His Recent Interpreters (a book you own but have never read)

This was originally going to be part of N. T. Wright’s fourth volume in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series (otherwise known as PFG). But, it became its own volume and came out later. I got a review copy from Fortress, so I’m going to share more in a seperate post.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a book about Christian living)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, if you’re a member, you can get it for free!

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (a book for teens)

Once again, I’ll have more to say on this one in a review. But for now, it has become a late addition to my textbooks for next year but it was written by an 18 year old girl and it makes good on the promise in the subtitle.

Reality Is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (a book of your choice)

I’m not sure I can actually explain where I’m at on this one. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a popular level physics book. On the other hand, I had a hard time understanding it and people tell me I’m smart. I think it might be because of how much of a paradigm shift it is (time and space don’t exist the way you think they do). But, as I’m about to embark on an Interstellar re-watch, I’ll have more thoughts down the road I imagine.

If there’s one thing I do on this blog consistently, it’s start blog series with reckless abandon and then never come back to them. However, I intend to pick back up the book reviewing one, as well as the seminary one. I don’t think there’s any more recently orphaned ones (besides an on-going story about a trip to California that now has a Part 2), and so another a new one doesn’t complicate things too much.

This one has been rummaging around in my mind since at least this time last year. When I was younger, I listened to a tape series called Adventures in Odyssey (cue nostalgia for some of you). This series is something like “adventures in ecclesiology.” Probably lamer to be honest. But, I couldn’t think of a better title.

Everything kind of started when I left for college (not surprising right?). Up to that point, I had been at the same church since 3rd grade. That I can remember, I had only been part of one other church before that. During the two years I was at Word of Life, you really couldn’t regularly attend a church. Well, you could, but it took more effort than I was willing to put in. I did enjoy two churches in Florida, and exactly zero in New York.

My first, how you might say, “awkward” experience with a church was at one of those Florida churches. It wasn’t actually even during my time at school in Florida, but on a trip back through to see friends and go to a concert in Ybor. That Sunday, I went to the one church because that’s where the guy I was staying with went. I had gone several times while I was in school because my buddy Steven and I had recorded an album for the current (at the time) worship pastor.

This particular Sunday involved me being a bystander while a pastor broke up with his church. While I don’t know the history of the church, I think the guy had planted it, and at the very least had been the pastor of the church plant for several years at that point. His message, and I’m using that word loosely, was basically, it’s not you, it’s me. He explained why he was leaving, and then from what I understood, moved to North Carolina and started working at Barnes & Noble.

Had I been a member of this church, it might have been more devastating than awkward. I think everyone had been blindsided. Luckily, that worship pastor I mentioned was able to step up and start preaching and now he’s the lead pastor (and has been for over 10 years, longer than the previous guy). While that is a good thing, I am guessing the original pastor peacing out wounded quite a few people and it took the church some time to heal. I am also guessing that he was experiencing pretty significant burnout, and so hopefully he has healed as well.

This story, while relatively minor in my own personal history, opened up a new perspective on the local church. Up to the time I left for college, I had a pretty bland Bible belt Baptist church experience. I have no complaints, because I think I went to a pretty healthy church. It probably had its issues, but I wasn’t necessarily in the know. The church is different from when I left it, but, the pastor I grew up with is still the pastor of the church. Other staff have shuffled in and out, but he’s still going strong.

This particular experience at the church in Florida was perhaps a firsthand entrance into church drama. It was the first time I saw a pastor lose pastoral credibility right in front of my eyes. Much of what happened that day might have been solved by better accountability. At the same time, I’m sure it wouldn’t have fixed everything and I’m not privy to all the underlying details. I know what he publicly presented to his church, but I don’t know the back-end workings.

In the end, it may have been what helped develop my conviction that pastors who haven’t been vetted by a really solid seminary probably shouldn’t be planting churches. A corollary to this is that pastors who couldn’t get hired by a local church didn’t need to strike off and form their own. I certainly left Dallas with those convictions, in part after seeing everything you have to go through to get a ministerial seal of approval from a serious seminary. But, as I have also seen firsthand, just because someone has a seminary degree and seal of approval, it doesn’t mean they will be a good pastor.

These things are tricky aren’t they?

All of this serves as a kind of introduction to my way of processing my personal history with the local church, which has certainly had ups and downs. I’ve witnessed church issues and no doubt caused a few myself (we’ll get to that). My sample size is admittedly small, but I’ve read widely in both the history of the church and the recent history of evangelicalism. I’ve also never been on staff at church and I’m going on staff with a parachurch ministry. That obviously skews my perspective a bit.

I’m not here to trash the church, in general or particular. I’m just trying to think through a healthy relationship with the local church in general (especially as it pertains to young adults) and in particular (as it pertains to our recent church search that was set in motion this time last year). I’m also trying to think through what activities the local church should be spending more time on, and what parachurch ministries (especially college campus ones) can and should focus on doing. I’d also like to touch on how something like the Benedict Option fits into all of this, but it might take a while to get there. But, if you’re along for the ride, we’ll get there eventually.

If you’ve never heard of The Benedict Option, you’re probably not alone. You may have heard of Benedict of Nursia (modern day Norcia in Italy), but didn’t know he offered an option for living in a post-Christian nation. Well, Rod Dreher thinks he does, and after numerous articles, finally published a book on it.

In some sense, it is not a new concept. Much of the discussion dates back to a quote from Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue. As Christopher Cleveland does a superb job of explaining, theologians have been talking about this for 35 years. But, as with many academic theological discussions, the general public remained blissfully ignorant.

With Dreher’s book in print now, the discussion is much more publicized. He writes not as an academic, but as an informed lay person who is a good writer (good enough to make a living doing it). Having been somewhat watching the discussion from afar, I decided a trip to California was a great time to actually read the book (see above)

Rather than summarize it myself, I’d suggest you read Jake Meador’s review at Mere Orthodoxy. He provides the best summary that could function like a Cliff Notes if you need it to do so. For an extensive critical interaction, see James K. A. Smith’s review. I would tend to agree with his assessment that much of what Dreher offers sounds like fundamentalism minus the rapture. But, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Smith’s a review a “total takedown,” and would like to point out, he has his own axe to grind with contemporary Christian approaches to culture.

In terms of other interactions, intriguing but off the mark is The Atlantic’s article on the book, which provides an outside perspective on the whole discussion. Much better in terms of thoughtful critique are Alan Jacobs, Rusty Reno, and Greg Peters. From Peters’ perspective, the book “doesn’t raise the tenor of faithful Christian living so much as trivialize the monastic vocation.” He also points out that the real Benedict Option is to, well, be a Benedictine monk, an option still open to many. And, note also his conclusion which points out several historical inaccuracies.

As far as my opinion on all of this, I don’t completely buy it. I tend to follow Carl Trueman here, who on his blurb on the back says “This is the kind of book I am going to use to get the thoughtful people in my congregation reading and discussing.” In his Mortification of Spin podcast a few weeks back, he interviewed Archbishop Charles Chaput about his book Strangers in a Strange Land, which he commends more than The Benedict Option. While written by a Catholic Archbishop, the book has much to offer Protestants to think trough about living within this post-Christian nation. Also of note is Baptist Russell Moore’s excellent book Onward (which is only $3.31 on Amazon right now!). He also blurbed this book, but you can tell that it is more for it to be a conversation starter.

In the end, I think the value of Dreher’s book is that it throws a provocative option out there. I don’t think it is viable and certainly isn’t exegetically warranted (as in it is the “biblical” option, whatever that might mean). But, if you think it is wrong, you have to honestly think about what a better option might be. And if you’re interested in doing that, grab this book, Onward, and Strangers in a Strange Land (my next read), and let’s start a book club.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now posted on 3 consecutive NIV Study Bibles from Zondervan. First, it was the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Then it was the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Now, it’s the Faithlife Study Bible.

If you’re not familiar (and even if you are), Faithlife is the parent company of Logos Bible Software. As such, this is a resource that has been available on Logos for a while, but not in print. Actually, the idea goes back to 2011. Since then, the notes have been edited and expanded by a team of collaborators, so much so that there are not authors listed for the notes like most study Bibles. There are major articles by specific authors, but the notes are truly a team effort more so than other study Bibles.

In addition, there is a strong visual element to this study Bible. Not that other study Bibles don’t have graphics and/or illustrations. But, it seems to be more of a focus here. You can get a feel for that by browsing the sample that is offered here (also see the infographics offered here).

As you browse that sample, you’ll notice on pages 34-35 that there is an article on How to Study The Bible. While it might seem germane to point out, the purpose of a study Bible is to help people study the Bible. The problem that is often encountered is that people don’t just naturally know how to study the Bible (probably because we don’t always teach how people to study books well in general). While the Faithlife Study Bible provides answers to questions readers will have, it also hopes to help shape readers into study-ers, as they learn how to take their study into their own hands.

From what I’ve gathered, it seems like the Faithlife Study Bible fits somewhere between the aformentioned ones. It retains a good bit of cultural background info (maybe more so than a typical study Bible), but that’s not the main focus. On the other hand, it aims to provide good introductory articles, as well as a side articles on topics important to theology, biblical studies, and even discipleship. It manages to do so with being too bulky, or overwhelming the reader with information. In short, it might be one of the best introductory study Bibles you could give to someone. While I think I’ll always be partial to the ESV Study Bible, I’m going to be checking this one out a little more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months to see if my initial impressions prove true, and if it just might sway me to change by loyalty.

In the meantime, check it out for yourself, and enjoy the video below with Q&A on the book with Michael Bird!

In June of 2014 I hit a wall. Not literally, but my life came to a halt. As a teacher, I had the summer off. But it was all I could do to get out of bed each day and try to summon the energy for productivity.

If you can relate to that feeling at all, you might want to check out David Murray’s Reset. I was able to read it and do a write-up for Christ and Pop Culture and you can read the rest of what I said there.

I noted it in passing in the write-up, but this book is primarily for men, and primarily for men in ministry. Murray’s wife is a family physician and there is a follow-up for women (Refresh) coming out soon (as in October).

I also noted that while he is writing to men, it is mostly common sense advice that applies to everyone. We live in a burnout culture, and if you don’t believe me, you should read this. You’ll learn fun facts, such as, how many people have experienced it, what the most likely occupations are to experience it, and how long a typical season lasted (mine lasted about 6 months and included a trip to the ER).

I thought the second chapter was the most valuable. There, Murray lists warning signs to keep in mind. Those lists are available here. If, in the course of reading through them, you realize you have a problem, I’d recommend picking up this book by Murray. You can watch the video here to get a bit more of his heart behind writing. The book is either under $10 if you get it on Amazon, or it’s free if you become a Christ and Pop Culture member. I’ve benefited from Murray’s writing and ministry in the past few years and hope you can do the same!

Unlike most months, I did a fair amount of re-reading in order to polish up my ETS paper. In light of that, I only finished 9 new books. I know right? Really slacking off here. Some of these I’ll comment on in more detail later. Also, I left off the categories this time because I think I only read more theology books so I probably didn’t any new category unless we want to get creative with some of the N. T. Wright books (like categorizing them as young adult fiction or something similarly savage).

I’m actually in California right now, draining a Trenta cold brew as quick as I can to make up for jet lag and something less than four hours of sleep. By the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere around downtown San Fransisco, helping keep track of a bunch of high school seniors. Or driving to Yosemite. Depends on when you read.

UPDATE: I added categories to the books below

Anyway, here’s the 9 books (total of 37 for the year) I’ve gotten to in the 2017 Reading Challenge:

Summa Philosophica (a book of your choice)

This is the first Peter Kreeft book I read in a while, and it was quite enjoyable. As an intro to important philosophical questions and a different style of argumentation, it’s a great book. Highly recommend!

The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle (a book about the Bible)

SPCK sent me this for review and it was super helpful to read right before ETS. I’ll have more to say about in a formal review, but it is basically N. T. Wright saying N. T. Wright things in response to select reviews of his massive book on Paul. It also serves as a good intro to some of his main lines of thought on Paul, and might be the place to start with Wright if you haven’t wrestled with him.

Prophet, Priest, and King: The Roles of Christ in the Bible and Our Roles Today (a book about theology)

P&R sent this along for review, so I’ll save most of my comments. The threefold offices of Christ deserve more study and attention and this book by Richard Belcher is a good place to start.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation (a book of your choice)

This is the first volume in a new series by Christian Focus called Reformed Exegetical and Dogmatic Studies (R.E.D.S.). J. V. Fesko outlines the historical understanding of the doctrine of imputation before a section on exegesis from the Old and New Testaments and then a final dogmatic formulation that is sensitive to modern discussions on the historical Adam. I won’t spoil the whole thing, but he doesn’t break new ground from a traditional Reformed perspective.

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (a book with one word title)

I’ll have a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture soonish since it is going to be a member’s offering. If you haven’t become a member yet, you should do so you can read it!

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (a book of your choice)

This book was interesting to read in tandem with Fesko’s. I like Matthew Bates’ writing style, and his proposal here gives me some pause on issues I’ve been reflecting on for a while. I’ll probably do some more extensive writing about it since I noticed a lacuna in his seemingly thorough presentation of the gospel (I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with active obedience of Christ).

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (a book over 400 pages)

I don’t think I’ll have anything to say about this that goes beyond Michael Horton’s review or Dane Ortlund’s reflections. It is in some sense a classic book by Wright. Well written and provocative, it is has a good deal of false dichotomies and writes polemically against unclear opponents. If you’re new to Wright, I wouldn’t start here.

John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 3 (a book of your choice)

I’ve almost reading everything John Frame has written. Almost. There are several gems in this one. Good stuff on Van Til, not being a jerk in seminary, you know typical Frame. I’ll have a more complete write-up soon for a new series I’m starting.

Reformed Dogmatics: Christology (a book more than 100 years old)

On the plane ride over here, I caught up on some of my Logos reading plans and happened to finish this one up. I’m now getting into the volume on soteriology, which I kind of wish I had tapped into during the research earlier this month. But, no matter, Vos is worth digging into, even if it is not the most riveting layout of the material (Q/A format).

It was mid morning under a gray Kentucky sky. While almost spring it looked an awful lot like winter to me. I put on Copeland’s In Motion, one of my favorite albums from my college days. Around the time it came out, I have a very distinct memory of listening to it on a very different road trip along much of the same road.

The year was 2005. It was also spring break if I remember right. I was driving back form Chicago after seeing my girlfriend at the time who went to Moody Bible Institute. I had recently been accepted as well, but didn’t quite grasp that we were going to break up in about a month while I was standing in LaGuardia waiting to board a plane to Argentina. Good thing it was over the phone. And so I moved back to Knoxville in the fall instead of Chicago, ended up completing my degree through Liberty.

That trip ended up being the first and only time I did the Knoxville-Chicago road trip. Which is probably good because Indiana is supremely boring. Back to Friday though when I was listening to Aaron Marsh exhort Amanda to pin her wings down (if you know this reference, I’m glad we’re friends). This was the first road trip to Louisville since April of 2014 when I came up for Together 4 The Gospel (T4G) and to meet with my doctoral adviser for the program in Christian Philosophy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We had a great talk about postmodern philosophy, aesthetics, and presuppositional apologetics. Neither he nor I knew I would withdraw from the program before the year was out, but it was good time nonetheless. Along the way, I met up with Richard Clark and he agreed to let me write for Christ and Pop Culture, which I still do (and you should check out)

This time around, I presented a paper for regional ETS and had a much overdue catch up with my friend Todd. On the drive back, my mind was processing through it all. You know, all the road trips. All the journeys, some of which seem to be dead ends.

And it made me think that I needed to start writing down about the road that lead to here. Here currently being Knoxville, but by the time you read this, if it is shortly after posting, I’ll be on another road trip back to Florida. If it is no longer March 21st when you read it, I’ll be somewhere in Orlando, probably spending the rest of my spring break reading or writing. But if it’s after March 29th, I’ll be somewhere in California, keeping track of an assortment of high school seniors.

I get around, if you hadn’t picked up on that yet.

But in all that getting around, I’ve learned some important lessons. Some about myself, some about God, and some about the world we find ourselves. I also learned how to link those things together.

I’m also entering into a new season with Ali, we were actually both going to be able to devote much our time to ministry. It’s what we’ve both wanted and what we both trained for. Ali went to Liberty as well, but never finished. She did get a job at Panera and so happened to be working there when I stopped in during a road trip. If I had gone to Moody like I planned, that road trip wouldn’t have happened. If she hadn’t gone to Liberty, withdrawn but not moved back, she wouldn’t have been in Lynchburg. And we probably would have never started talking and then it would have made getting married a little over two years later a bit difficult to say the least.

And if I hadn’t gotten into that Ph.D program at Southern, gotten a Southwest card thinking I’d be flying to Louisville a lot, we wouldn’t have had the miles saved up when the opportunity to chaperone last year’s senior trip came around. Without that re-entry into a week of student ministry, Ali might not have felt the call re-ignited, and we wouldn’t have started raising support last fall. If God hadn’t moved people to be generous, we wouldn’t have raised enough money for her to quit Panera (after almost 11 years!) back in January.

While there are several different threads in the story I want to tease out, I think this gives it all a good theme. We’re all arriving somewhere, and the journey is part of the process. Rather than trusting the process, we trust the God who providentially guides our steps. Road trips are usually when I have time to reflect on all of this, but are also a pivotal part of the journey. Most of my important decisions have happened on road trips or shortly after. And all my important relationships are nurtured by them.

With that in mind, I want to use my road trips as a means to unpack several parts of the story of how Ali and I got here. Here as in raising support for full-time ministry this fall, but not knowing exactly how we’re gonna pay our bills in June. Here as in trusting God to step into ministry opportunities that weren’t necessarily what we planned or expected when we were younger and more idealistic. But opportunities and paths that make perfect sense once you’ve been down enough dead ends. And that’s the kind of stories I want to tell.

About 4 years ago I thought I was done. At the time, it had been five years since my critical review during a Trinitarianism class at Dallas (you can still see the cage stage). The book had been picked at from every angle, including this genius collection of reviews. But now that they decided to make a movie, we find ourselves talking about The Shack again.

At this point, I think I’ve said everything I need to about the book itself. Here, you can read the page by page breakdown in my review, but you probably don’t need to do that. With the popularity of The Shack back in the public square, I think it’s helpful to think through why it’s popular as well as divisive. People either love it, hate it, or haven’t heard of it. Maybe a small minority are in some kind of ambivalent category.

Maybe.

The book provides an occasion for looking into two issues. The first is why I think people like books that are less than orthodox in theological content. The other is why you may have a hard time convincing someone to look at the book differently after they’ve decided they like it. Let’s take those in turn, as I draw on some old posts.

If a person likes, no scratch that, loves a book, it comes down to this: people like books because that impact them in some significant way. People will recommend books that they simply enjoyed reading, but they will enthusiastically recommend books that impacted them personally. Often they may feel like God used the book to teach them something new, and here’s the other thing to keep in mind: He very well might have.

For a more specific take on this, consider Paul Maxwell’s thoughts. He offers one reason the book is so powerful when he says,

For those who have ears to hear, this story is a meaningful exploration of the traumatized male psyche coming face to face with a God who feels very much like his own abusive father. Ideal or not, more Christians can relate to this than would publicly admit it.

You should read his whole take/review of the movie because I think it’s an important and interesting minority report. He gives reasons why it might be useful, but never urges you to go against your inclinations or your conscience if it is already set.

In any case, if you happened to have the particular experience that Paul highlights, you would probably like The Shack in a much more intensive way than a casual reader who didn’t relate. A person will like a book in a significantly different way when it impacts them at the spiritual level (i.e. they felt like God worked through it to show them something), than if they just thought it was doctrinally accurate or practically helpful in the abstract. Very often then, I think people like a book like The Shack because it helped them personally, and in this case it has to do with questions about pain and suffering and the goodness of God.

There are unfortunate other cases where I think this can be an example of postmodern ethics sneaking in the backdoor of evangelical practice. What I mean by that is that the quality of a book is judged by its usefulness, which can be a pragmatic approach to truth and value. A purely pragmatic approach wouldn’t care whether a book is unorthodox by objective measures, so long as it is personally useful. Truth and goodness are in the mind of the reader in this case. Nietzsche would be so proud.

If that’s the case, the persuasion just got infinitely trickier. Now, you’re not only trying to convince someone the book is bad, you’re having to dismantle their latent worldview in the process. In those situations, the reason they like the book may have little to do with the book itself and more to do with a faulty approach to knowledge and ethics. Fix that and the book problem gets better. Leave it alone and nothing will ultimately change. [Side note: I think many critiques just assume this is the problem with why people liked the book and so use words like discernment in the title, expressing the need to educate the heretical inclinations out of people]

Assuming the reason someone likes a book like The Shack is more benign, it is still not easy to convince someone their view of a book is wrong. And that might not even be the best way to go about things to begin with. While not as radical as a paradigm shift, you are asking someone to dismantle an emotionally laden belief about a book. As such, you need four factors in place (I’m adapting something from this old post if you want source info):

  1. There must be dissatisfaction with their current opinion
  2. The new perspective/opinion must be make sense
  3. The new perspective must also resonate emotionally
  4. The new perspective must seem to be a more fruitful way to view things

Obviously this means you’ve got your work cut out for you at the persuasive level. It is hard to get past that first point unless you take a question based approach, which most people don’t initially do. Then, you’ve got to present the alternative in a way that resonates emotionally, which isn’t often the strong suit of the critics of a book like The Shack. You end up seeming like an insensitive jerk just because you care about orthodox theology. [Side note: You may actually be an insensitive jerk and so should address that log before dealing with the speck of poor reading choices.]

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be that way. Exhibit A: Tim Keller. It would be interesting to see how well The Shack did if people could have read Keller’s book on suffering around the same time. It also has narrative elements (that were maybe prompted by The Shack), but presents a much more robust and orthodox theology of pain and suffering. If we lament books like The Shack being prominent, part of the solution is for the orthodox guys to try to be more engaging writers and write for the person in the pew and not the pastor or professor. And thankfully, that’s exactly what Keller seems to be doing (endnotes aside, since those essays are for people like me I think).

Ultimately, I think we need more keen theological minds working on bringing engaging theology to the masses. Otherwise, we are stuck with books like The Shack being prominent. They fill a vacuum and are more easily understood than the bulk of books being written by theologians today. Rather than try to persuade someone that their opinion of a book like The Shack is wrong, I’d like to be able to offer a better reading alternative and open up a dialogue (to be cliche for a moment). While I spoke in generalities above about why someone might like the book, it is always better to understand why a particular person liked a particular book and then engage that person face to face if possible.

But I suppose, like Mack, one can dream at least…

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I last made it to an ETS regional. Actually, looking at the timeline, I think I go every three years because my first one was in 2011. I also have presented at each one (you can read the previous papers here), and continue that tradition this year.

I re-worked a paper from my Romans class at Dallas. It need some revision and updating, both for newer resources and evolution in thought. The result is called New Perspectives on Paul: Reconciling Wright, Schreiner, and Thielman on Justification. Here is the intro:

The purpose of this paper is to offer an epistemological framework that is suitable for harmonizing differing positions on the nature of justification. The focus here is first, on introducing the framework, and then second, on demonstrating its usefulness in some recent dialogue, namely, the plenary addresses from the 2010 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Rather than a rigorous exegetical defense, this is a proposal using a tool of epistemology to attempt to solve a theological difficulty. While all the different perspectives are not completely resolvable, the three presented at the 2010 annual meeting just might be.

I don’t pretend to think it solves all the problems associated with interpreting Paul’s theology. I do however think that John Frame’s triperspectivalism is a useful tool for navigating the different emphases and integrating various conclusions into a coherent whole. As to whether anyone agrees, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.