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Recently, IVP Academic has stepped up their series game. In the past they’ve released the Christian Worldview Integration series, Contours in Christian Theology, and several commentary series. They continue to publish titles in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, as well as the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology series.

Now, they’ve added the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, and thanks to their generosity, I’ve gotten the first two volumes. In brief, the series “promotes evangelical contributions to systematic theology, seeking fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creatively faithful engagement with Scripture in dialogue with Catholic tradition(s)” (back insert).

The series will be edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, so it is only fitting that they coauthor the inaugural volume, Theology and The Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account. Like any book associated with Vanhoozer, you can see the allusion game is already strong in just the title. In the opening Unscientific Preface to Mere Evangelical Theology, the authors state “we do not pretend to give a universally compelling description of what evangelicals in fact profess and practice. Our intention is rather to offer a normative proposal of what evangelicals ought to profess and practice, if they would be truly evangelical – if they would correspond to the gospel that is according to the Scriptures” (11).

The book that follows offers readers an agenda (part 1) that explains the material and formal principles of evangelical theology (first two chapters, an leaning into Rorty’s mirror analogy). Then, the authors offer an analysis of what the practice of theology ought to look like (chapters 3-6). Here, we see theology is ultimately in search of wisdom, and that not surprisingly given the authors, this includes a good dose of theological exegesis. It also includes theology in a community and with high standards of excellence.

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The next volume published in this series is Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman. As he explains right off the bat in the preface,

This book has two main goals. The first is to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using since the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century with a more biblical one. The second is to explain where the local church fits onto this redrawn map as a political institution or embassy of Christ’s rule (13).

My prayer for this book is that it would give you, the reader, a better understanding of what the Bible says about church as well as how it describes the political map on which the church serves the purposes of Christ’s kingdom. And I pray that it might equip you in the work of building up your local congregation in holiness and love for Christ’s kingly purposes (17).

To accomplish all of this, Leeman starts with two basic questions: what is politics? (chapter 1) and what is an institution? (chapter 2).  Pretty straightforward, but it takes about 100 pages to answer these questions. But it accomplishes goal #1 so Leeman can spend the next four chapters devoted to goal #2. In successive chapters, he covers the politics of creation, fall, new covenant, and kingdom.

It is hard to imagine a more timely book with the upcoming election season upon us. If you are a bit more conversant with political theology than I am, you might want to check out this more in-depth review and response over at Mere Orthodoxy (part 1, part 2, response, questions, joint statement). You might want to just pick up a copy for yourself. Who’s to say?

In both of these cases though, you have solid evangelical contributions to Christian doctrine. As a general rule, if Vanhoozer had a hand in writing something, you probably want to grab it. And when he’s editing a series with Dan Treier, you better put it on your watch list. If you’re invested in the development of evangelical theology, you’re going to want to add both of these titles to your library.

You can see the publisher’s page for both here and here, and get a sneak peek at the newest volume that comes out later this year here.

 

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been a staff writer with a website called Christ and Pop Culture. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me reference it, and perhaps link to articles I’ve written. Recently, my writeup on Unashamed posted (a good companion to The Soul of Shame) and you can get it free for a brief time. You can read my full write up here.

That’s right, by being a member of Christ and Pop Culture, you can support the writers who put out pretty stellar content on the site, and get free books (and other stuff too). You can read more about membership here. In my time doing the write ups, here’s some of the books that were available:

That should give an idea of the track record of books that are offered. Recently, I was working on a write-up for David Dark’s Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, Due to a slight miscommunication, a more full length essay was already commissioned on it, and you should be able to read that here. Before I found that out, IVP had graciously sent me a hard copy of the book, so I felt like I should still post my thoughts on it.

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Dark writes in a meditative style, which makes the book a fairly easy read. However, he is helping readers reflect on their religious practices. Many of these might not seem to be so religious on the surface, and so Dark’s style helps disarm readers and move them toward reflection. In doing so, he shows that if we have entered into relationships with others and with facets of our culture, we have engaged to some extent in religious practices. Culture itself is intimately tied to religion and Dark subtly unmasks the connection. You can get a better feel for what he’s up to in the book by watching this video. Had you been a member before now, you would have just snagged yourself a copy!

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Another book that I received thanks to Crossway before I knew it would be free for members is Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley’s Conscience What It Is, How To Train IT, and Loving Those Who Differ. I liked this book so much that I immediately put it to use in class and decided to require it next year for my 11th grade Bible class. There are several diagrams within that I tried to recreate on the board (which is difficult for a lefty, but I’m a professional at this point). I am told it was helpful to several students as they prepare to navigate going away to college and starting to live by a different set of rules (or at least not having as many rules as previously).

While a short book, I think it does a masterful job of covering a much neglected topic in practical theology. D. A. Carson thought so too and that’s probably why he wrote the foreword. As try to navigate the straits between legalism and licentiousness, a book like this helps to clarify the discussion and offer a way for Christians to think about their Christian liberty and how it relates to those in their community. I would highly recommend this book, and it’s free if you’ve become a Christ and Pop Culture member by now. If not, why keep waiting?

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We all have a story. One thing all of stories unfortunately have in common is incidents of shame. To one degree or another, shame becomes part of virtually all of our stories. For some, it is not an incidental detail in a larger story but the bulk of the story itself.

Along these lines, Curt Thompson introduces his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About Ourselves. He says, “This, then, is a book about the story of shame. The one we tell about it, the one it tells about us, and even more so the one God has been telling about all of us from the beginning. Most important, this book also examines how the story of the Bible offers us a way not only to understand shame but also to effectively put it to death, even if that takes a lifetime to accomplish” (12-13). He continues,

The premise of this book, then, is that shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity. These gifts include any area of endeavor that promotes goodness, beauty and joy in and for the lives of others, whether that be teaching our first graders, loving our spouse well, managing forests, conducting healing prayer services, creating a new medical technology, offering psychotherapy or composing symphonies (13)

From this premise, Thompson, a psychiatrist specializing on the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) and spiritual formation, unfolds the story and definition of shame in the first chapter. In the following two chapters, he draws on his specialization in IPNB to help readers better understand the nature of shame at that level. This leads to a discussion in chapter 4 about our nature as storytelling creatures and chapter 5 then places this within the biblical narrative.

Starting in chapter 6, Thompson presents a path forward. Healing from shame requires vulnerability, and that tends to take place in community with others. He discusses here how the shame that we feel and have internalized often works against us when it comes to actually overcoming it (see for instance the Brene Brown TED talks). Chapter 7 gives readers ways to address their shame using Scripture. Chapter 8 takes this into community and how that can either nurture shame or be catalysts for healing. Chapter 9 finishes with an eschatological touch as Thompson casts vision for how our freedom from shame can lead to joyfully engage our various creative callings.

While I would take a few things here and there with a grain of theological salt, this is a valuable book for those engaged in ministry. You don’t have to be a full-time counselor to encounter people who are burdened by shame. You might even be so yourself. Thompson’s insights from IPNB, as well as the idea that shame can take on a life of its own to be put to demonic means (Thompson prefers personify evil) were my main takeaways from the book. I might have switched chapters 4 and 5 as well, giving the biblical background and foundation first, then expanding the idea of lives as storytelling creatures. On the whole though, this is a well written book that covers an important topic. I’d recommend giving it a read.


Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About OurselvesDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Christians have had an interest in western philosophy for pretty much as long as both existed. If you’re late to the game, you’d probably be surprised that many philosophers, at least post-Augustine, would have considered themselves Christians. The Enlightenment kind of gradually ruined that, but not before some significant thinkers emerged. One of those was Søren Kierkegaard.

When it’s comes to Kierkegaard, it is hard to imagine a philosopher simultaneously receiving as much love and disdain, both from Christian circles. Depending on who you ask, Kierkegaard is either super important and helpful or misguided and to be generally avoided.

Mark Tietjen is aware of these realities and tackles them head on in the first chapter of his recently published Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. This is after a noted philosopher and Kierkegaard scholar (Merold Westphal) has foreworded and commended the book to us. In that first chapter, Tietjen says right off the bat, “My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Søren Kierkegaard is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church” (25).

From here, he briefly sketches Kierkegaard’s life before dealing with questions related to Christian appropriation of philosophy in general and Kierkegaard in particular. He then gives an overview of the general areas of Kierkegaard’s thought and how broad ranging and practical it can be.

The remaining four chapters are the core of the book and deal with Kierkegaard’s general thought on Jesus Christ, the human self, Christian witness, and the life of Christian love. Tietjen illustrates and illumines throughout by exposition from Kierkegaard’s writings. Here readers will be able to determine for themselves the value of Kierkegaard’s writings for us today.

I was particularly drawn to the motif in the subtitle. One may well wonder what being a Christian missionary to Christians entails. In the conclusion, Tietjen draws together the threads for why Kierkegaard would see the task as not only possible but necessary. He then lists out the rationale (161):

  • If there are some who are Christian in name only, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are some who have inherited a perverted form of Christianity and know nothing better, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who value created goods over the Creator, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who struggle to trust in God and his goodness, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who fail to believe God can redeem even the least redeemable person, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who lose hope that God’s kindness, forgiveness, and redemption extend even to them, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who “speak in tongues of angel,” and so on, but have not love, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians

Given what I see in our contemporary culture, it’s not hard to suggest there is a still a need for this kind of role. One might call it a “prophetic” type role, but I like the idea of a Christian missionary to Christians. In some sense, I feel like my calling involves a bit of that, especially as it relates to youth and college culture. Kierkegaard can serve as a model and template for how to pursue this calling.


Mark A Tietjen, Kierkegaard: Christian Missionary to ChristiansDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 173 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new title in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is in want of a place on my bookshelf. On first glance, today might seem better suited for a different kind of post. But, as I read recent events, it’s a call to start taking prayer seriously. With that in mind, I’d really commend this book to you for its analysis of prayer and it’s timeliness.

Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer is J. Gary Millar’s second work in the series. It is also an excellent companion to Tim Keller’s Prayer. Here, as is true in many titles in this series, Millar traces the nature of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. His chapters are divided by traditionally Old Testament divisions (Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings). Before turning to the New Testament, he devotes a chapter to the Psalms. He then offers chapters on the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the later New Testament letters. The afterword ties everything together and applies it to our current evangelical context.

Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord,” hence the title of the book. In the introduction he offers an important clarification about what his work is trying to do (beyond just tracing out the passages most germane to prayer):

Initially the focus will be on showing how “calling on the name of the Yahweh,” or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, “through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name” (18).

Without editorializing too much, that’s exactly what the present moment in our nation (and world) calls for. The gospel trains our hearts to call on God’s name to bring restoration and redemption to a broken world. We are asking God to come through on what he has already promised and we do so in the name of our new covenant Mediator and his Holy Spirit.

It is in that afterword that Millar laments the downturn in evangelical emphasis on prayer. He then offers several reasons that he thinks the church is praying less (233-235):

  1. Life is easy
  2. The communications revolution
  3. The rise of Bible study groups
  4. The availability of good teaching
  5. The dominance of pragmatism
  6. The vacuum created by cynicism

If 3 and 4 seem weird to you, you’ll have to read the book to see why he includes them. Having diagnosed the issue, Millar offers these insights for relearning to pray in light of his biblical theology of prayer:

  1. We pray recognizing our greatest need(s)
  2. We pray realizing that it is always going to be hard work
  3. We pray patiently (while looking for interim answers to big prayers)

He then suggests five no brainer prayers that the New Testament teaches us to believe God will always come through on:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. To know God better
  3. For wisdom
  4. For strength to obey/love/live for God
  5. For the spread of the gospel

Ultimately, we are praying for God to do his covenant work through the gospel (239). I mentioned earlier that this book is a good companions to Keller’s. I think the main reason for that it is this book shows in a fairly exhaustive fashion what the biblical prayers look like and then draws summary conclusions. Keller’s book provides good historical analysis and pastoral how-to. Millar’s book, through extensive biblical quotations (more so than a normal volume of NSBT) shows the logic of prayers in the Bible.

Because of that, this is definitely a book you want to add to your library. Not only that, you ought to read it and apply it. I’m in the process of doing that now and I hope you’d join me in doing the same.


J. Gary Millar, Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of PrayerDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 264  pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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I left off the story on Tuesday in mid 2013. I was working several jobs, Ali was crazy busy at her job, and our involvement at church was waning. We tried to leave, but found no open doors. We pulled back from leading a small group and discipling multiple people and just focused on us that fall. I was still teaching Bible at school, but that was about it. Capacity and morale were both low.

Toward the end of the year, we began praying about the possibility of me just going back to school to finish a Ph.D. A few things fell into place over the fall and by February, I was on the way to Louisville to take the entrance exam for SBTS. I ended up being accepted, and planned to start in the fall of 2014, working on a Ph.D in Christian Philosophy.

Unfortunately, the burnout that had been simmering since the previous summer, and left unaddressed, hit all at once. While we still hadn’t resumed leading a small group, I had still been doing a lot. I hit a wall that summer and just didn’t get much of anything done. I also began having increased anxiety about the Ph.D thing. I deferred until the spring semester hoping some recovery time would make a difference. It didn’t, and I withdrew in December.

At this point, rather than leading a group, we had eased into a coaching role for small group leaders at our church. I had also now been mentored by one of the elders at church for over a year. It was also during this season that I started teaching at SHIFT regularly. Many Friday nights through spring of 2015, I was teaching through Ephesians to a multi-ethnic group of UCF students. At one point, we had thought it might be something I could put more full-time effort into.

However, there was still a bit of disconnect and the timing wasn’t quite there. You’ll notice that Ali has faded into the background of things going on at this point. She had been struggling with working full time and me being unable to secure anything full time. Some of this changed when she was able to chaperone on the fall retreat for the school I teach at in 2014. She had two realizations then. One was that she was an essential reason why I was able to do what I did with the students there. The other was that she had married a youth pastor, he just happened to work at a school. I was the one primarily pursuing ministry, but I was dependent on her to do so.

A byproduct of this was that Ali got to know a few of the girl students really well. As work allowed, she would come by school and try to connect with them more. This continued on into the next school year, the one just completed, when she also chaperoned again. It was also at this point that she began getting together to meet with and mentor a couple of the senior girls.

By April, she was able to go on the senior trip as a chaperone. In part, this was because I was going, but she was going to have to pay for her own airfare. We had gotten a Southwest credit card when we thought I’d be flying back and forth to Louisville for Ph.D work. That fell through as you remember, but we continued to use everyday purchases to build up points, thinking they’d come in handy. When the opportunity came along for Ali to go on the trip, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the airfare otherwise. What had seemed like a dead end was really a setup for something else down the road.

It was on the trip that Ali began to realize that she could have a fruitful and significant impact on many of my students. She is more of a nurturing and counselor type than I am. While my students might like me for the most part, they might not open up to me about certain things that they’d be more comfortable talking to Ali about. This was especially true for the students that were in Ali’s van for the duration of our California road trip. She may have had more impact on them through the conversations they had in the van than I did teaching Bible for four years. But, in a way, I think the two complemented each other.

Before we had gone on the trip, I had offered a proposal to our church, recently renamed One Hope because of its independence from the CrossPointe movement. I hadn’t realized it until last fall, but a big reason it was hard to do much was because of the leadership structure. It’s a story too long for this post, but once we were independent, I could just submit a proposal to the elders for consideration. I did so for a position as campus ministry director and spiritual formation pastor as a way to unite two things I had been doing within the church. Because of financial considerations, the offered had to be tabled, but I was encouraged to pursue support raising and develop the newly created campus ministry director position. In the future, the staff opportunity could be reconsidered.

In light of all this, Ali and I felt that God was leading us to step out in faith and raise support as missionaries to students in east Orlando. That’s essentially what we are because of our connection in at least three worlds: local church, local Christian school, largest undergrad university in America. We would love to be able to do more at church, more at the school, and more on campus to reach and disciple students and young people in general in the 15-25 range. And we’d like to do it together. I don’t think either of us are effective alone as we both are together. But, that means raising enough monthly commitments to eliminate some of my side work, and ideally all of Ali’s work. While she has a secure job, her paycheck is heavily dependent on the generosity of others through tips. God has provided well through the generosity of others that way, and we are praying that he’ll continue to do so through this new avenue.

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.

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As of last month, we’ve been in Orlando 5 years since moving from Dallas. Well technically, Ali was here most of her life. After we got married in 2009, she made the move out west for my last two years at Dallas Seminary and got enough Texas to last a lifetime.

We came from The Village Church, and before moving, looked up local Acts 29 churches. I believe at the time there was only one, CrossPointe, but it had multiple sites. Actually come to find out, it had multiple plants that were somewhat autonomous but still umbilically linked. After meeting with Ryan Walker, the connections pastor at the main campus (and now lead pastor at CrossPointe Downtown), we ended up at CrossPointe Waterford Lakes.

Initially, we wanted to keep a low profile. There were 3 or so small group options in this church of about 70 that met in a gym. We ended up in the one led by the Josiah and Jordan Potter. Josiah was the worship pastor at the time (now family pastor at Lake Nona, via planting Peachtree City) who happened to also be from Tennessee. At that point, it was predominantly young couples, and as providence would have it, one of them included another Dallas grad named Kenny Mauger.

It was also around this time that Ali and I started helping lead worship. When we first came to the church, worship was a primarily acoustic affair with a djembe for good measure. I had a drumset and starting drumming regularly before a better drummer took over and I moved to electric guitar. Eventually, band practices would be in our house during the week.

Later in the fall, some college students started coming to our small group. They gradually started inviting people, and then Passion 2012 happened. The next thing we know, our group has divided to accommodate growth and Ali and I are leading a predominantly college age group that would average about 25-30 through the spring. There are now several young couples in our church that got to know each other in that group and eventually fell in love and married.

I had also during the spring started a ministry internship and ended up teaching a class on systematic theology, among other things. We briefly headed up the youth group, after a commissioning service you can see pictured above. For theological and interpersonal reasons, two of the families left the church right after we started, and all of sudden the youth group was just one family. I began leading a Bible study instead for the oldest boy and a couple of his friends.

This all carried on until the summer, and then we ended up moving to a small house a bit farther from church. We continued leading a group in the fall, and I also started a separate Old Testament Bible study. At this point I had also started teaching Bible at International Community School after a brief (yearlong) stint as the science teacher. Because of our involvement at church though, I was hoping to move into some kind of staff position of at least part time value to supplement and flesh out what teaching paid.

In my mind, this should have been an easy transition, but God had other plans. In spring of 2013, I had a meeting with our pastors to talk about doing a more permanent internship starting that summer. Instead, I was rebuked for failing to provide and for failing to lead well at home. Even though I think in retrospect they would concede they went about this the wrong way, and were actually a bit under informed on the matter, they were right in a Spirit led sort of way. By that I mean that it was something God used to get my attention even though the criticism was not delivered in the context of pastoral care and not based on much information from Ali.

I realized I needed to step up my leadership within my marriage before focusing on doing more ministry. I also needed to do what it took to work more, even if that meant not working at a church. So, toward the end of the spring I began working with Docent Research Group, teaching private music lessons (something I did in Dallas for my main job), and by the summer, working at Starbucks again. I didn’t think I’d be back at the school that fall and was actively interviewing for other jobs, including a youth pastor position at a church in South Carolina.

But again, God had other plans…

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Few things are more American than working when you’re supposed to rest. So, here I am writing this book review on the Fourth of July. But, I guess it’s ok because it’s for Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo’s One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics. At least I can be patriotic, especially since I’ve already unlocked the “get a sunburn by large body of water” achievement for the day. By the time you read this, I’ll be unlocking “eat too many calories in one sitting” via some all you can eat wings.

Now, as far as the book goes, it’s a great little resource, and I do mean litte. Just recently, I have learned that you should pay attention to book dimensions on Amazon. I tend to assume most books are 6×9, which I consider “normal.” This one is 5×7, which means it’s a smaller book, that thankfully has smaller font. And I say that not sarcastically because that means even though it is small and might seem like a Saturday afternoon read (it is, for me at least), it still has substantial content (side note: when are books going to start including word counts so we can gauge the length better?).

That content is divided roughly into two parts. The first 6 chapters lay a theoretical foundation for how to understand politics within a Christian worldview. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture paradigm comes in handy in chapter 2. The following chapter tackles how the gospel functions as a “public truth.” The relationship between church and state is mapped out in the following chapter. The final two in this part move toward the practical, with chapter 5 dealing with our post-Christian country and chapter 6 with what wisdom looks like in public discourse in that space.

It is fitting them that after a brief interlude, Ashford and Pappalardo take up key topics in each of the next 7 chapters. You could probably guess what those topics are, or I can just tell you:

  • Life and death
  • Marriage and sexuality
  • Economics and wealth
  • The environment and ecological stewardship
  • Racial diversity and race relations
  • Immigrants and immigration reform
  • War and peace

Hopefully no surprises in that list. It is hard to imagine a hot button topic (as opposed to a hot pocket) that doesn’t fit one of those categories. Because this is a brief introduction, the chapters can’t be exhaustive. What they can be is helpfully orienting, and then conclude with recommended further readings on the topics, which is what they are and do. The book is closed with a brief example of what we can learn from Augustine when it comes to this sort of thing (spoiler: more than you even know).

This is not the last or final word on how to politic as a Christian American, or even as an American Christian. It is not intended to be. What it is though, is a good first word that you can read for yourself and then give to your friend interested in politics (or tell him to buy it on Amazon). Then you all can have a meaningful discussion on the issues after a solid orientation to the theory and practice of politics. You can avoid the usual clucking of opinions that are merely conjectures masquerading as arguments (hopefully).

While that may sound harsh, I assure you it is intended that way. Politics and religion are two topics that many uninformed people gravitate toward in order to promote their ideas. Thankfully, that doesn’t characterize either author of this book from what I can tell. They are judicious and clear, building sound arguments and contributing to intelligent discourse. They would never do what I do a few sentences ago, which I did as illustration purposes I guess now that I think about it. Anyway, if you’re intrigued by political theater and want to think Christianly about it, go get this little primer and have at it.


Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American PoliticsNashville: B&H Academic, December 2015. 176 pp. Hardcover, $14.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to B&H Academic for the review copy!

recommeded-reading-challies-header

I mentioned last month that May was a mess. June didn’t get too much better in terms of local events that became national events. However, as you can see below, I did a lot of reading. I’ve intentionally tried to read more books outside of my normal patterns (biblical and theological studies) and it has been quite rewarding. As I continue to make progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge, I’m recapturing the joy of reading one book at a time (corny, right?). Also, if you missed it, check out my theological add-on to Challies Challenge.

Here’s what I read in June:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 58 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 79 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 (8 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (13 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (29 BOOKS)

(image via challies)