Best of the Week – 2017/11/22

Here are a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point  you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Atlantic, “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning” – Caitlin Flanagan recalls how Feminist leaders rallied behind Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexual harassment and assault in the 1990s and argues that the Democratic party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected him and his pattern of behavior.
  • Vox, “Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned” – In light of the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations taking down prominent figures in Hollywood, government, and media, Matthew Yglesias reflects on the Bill Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinski while he was President.
  • NYT, “A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule” – Katelyn Beaty makes her case that the Pence Rule (also the Billy Graham Rule) isn’t actually Christian at all.

Podcast Episodes

Books

  • Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup – a book explaining why those wishing to embrace the inherent dignity of women and of womanhood can and should cherish the Bible which examines many difficult texts in both the Old and New Testaments
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Diet Problems in the Church

The baristas at Starbucks know I’m a pastor. Last week, one of them, making small talk, asked me if I was pumped up for Sunday. I was caught off guard and didn’t really know what to say at first.

As I thought about it, his question made more sense. I regularly see sponsored ads on Facebook for local churches where pastors with slick promo videos pump up would be viewers about the exciting and amazing Sunday that is coming this week…every week.

Of course I look forward to Sunday but not because every Sunday is going to be amazing and exciting.

Ordinary Means of Grace, Not Constant Excitement

Central to Christian worship and therefore to Christian formation, are the Word and sacrament. The reading and preaching of the Word leads the assembled to communion at the Lord’s Table.

The church lives by the bread of heaven, the bread of life, Jesus Christ, heard in the preaching of the Word and tangibly received through physical signs around the Table.

Both the Word and the Table nourish Christians as they respond to God’s word by remembering the body and blood of Christ, enacting and embodying the kingdom through a simple and ordinary meal of bread and wine.

It is through the Word and Table that we are fed, week after week, so that we grow up into godliness, maturity, and wisdom. Just as we need food to survive and grow physically, we need regular nourishment from God’s Word and Table. And in the same way a steady, healthy diet sustains our physical survival and health, so also a consistent, sound diet of Word and Table sustains our lives in Christ.

The American church struggles with severe diet problems, probably because, in part, we expect every meal to amazing and exciting. Rather than serving consistently healthy meals, our churches offer hungry people food that satisfies our worst cravings and leaves us unable to live on mission to starving world.

Church Types

We have candy churches that offer delicious experiences that get people excited and energized but lack the nourishment needed to grow strong.

We have fast food churches built on efficiency, convenience, and predictability that will serve thousands food that tastes good at first only to leave people feeling sick and bloated with self-indulgence.

We have buffet churches that give people all the options they could want to stuff themselves with whatever they choose.

We have extreme diet pill churches where fraudsters promise miraculous results by making false promises that will only destroy.

We have franchise churches with branding and style that works everywhere, with popular dishes shipped in frozen and made to order, lacking local flavor and personal touch.

We have Cracker Barrel churches thick with nostalgia complemented by good home cooking that makes you feel all warm inside longing for a culture that no longer exists, if it ever did.

We have locally sourced vegan churches that serve ethical meals but lack the meat needed to grow.

We have cutting edge, trendy churches for those under 35 where no one knows what they’re eating.

I’m sure you can think of others.

Diet Problems

We have all sorts of churches with diet problems. Just like children who don’t know how to eat need parents consistently providing healthy food, we need churches that responsibly nourish the family of God with simple, balanced, healthy, meals that are usually unexciting. That’s hard to stick to when the neighbors constantly offer the more appealing and exciting junk food at every meal.

Book Review: The Story of the Word

One summer, I was leading a Wednesday night college ministry bible study. There were about 50 students there, and I gave them a group assignment. On a piece of paper, I listed dozens of biblical characters and events and asked each group to put them in chronological order. I was trying to learn whether or not these students understood the overarching story of the bible and how these major characters fit into that story. As each group shared their answers, I wasn’t surprised to learn that, like me prior to seminary, almost none of them had any sense of the larger story of the Bible. They weren’t unique. Many Christians who have grown up in church have a familiarity with the Bible that lacks any sense of the overarching narratival unity of the Bible. After years of pastoral ministry, I am convinced there’s an even bigger problem: most Christians don’t understand how the larger story of the Bible, how all Scripture, is about Jesus Christ. In large part, it’s this problem that The Story of the Word by Trevor Laurence seeks to address.

sotwLaurence’s helpful book sets out to do four things: 1) to make use of Scripture as a means of grace, 2) to familiarize readers with the whole story of the Bible, 3) to train readers to interpret Scripture well, and 4) to help us see how the Bible speaks good news into every aspect of everyday life. This book accomplishes each of those goals effectively in a writing style that is both beautiful and easy to follow.

The book has three parts comprised of forty-five meditations and an interlude between parts two and three. Part one covers the story from creation to Christ. Part two covers the manger to the empty tomb. The interlude collects major themes and characters before Christ and shows how Jesus fulfills them all (this chapter alone is worth the price of the book). Part three unpacks and applies key passages in the New Testament from Christ’s ascension until his return.

Each meditation revolves around one passage of Scripture that serves as a major plot line in the grand story of the Bible and ends with a short prayer. The book works best if the reader starts with the Biblical passage before moving on to the meditation and prayer. It reads like a devotional commentary packed with background information beautifully interwoven with the details of each passage in a way that really helps the reader understand and appreciate what God has been doing in his world throughout history. Laurence’s writing style moves back and forth between connecting each passage to the larger story culminating in Christ and relating it to our lives today. Most chapters along with the biblical passage will take between 15-20 minutes to cover, making this book a wonderful morning devotional read.

Several chapters of The Story of the Word stood out to me as particularly excellent. In chapter 10, Laurence meditates on the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant found in Deuteronomy 28 and 30—not exactly easy reading. But the way he ties this passage to the Garden of Eden, to Israel’s slavery in Egypt, to Christ, and to us turns a difficult and somewhat confusing passage into an accessible, relevant, and edifying text. In chapter 27, Laurence manages to explain what’s happening in the Garden of Gethsemane on multiple levels while addressing the issue of pride and temptation and highlighting the beauty of Jesus’ loving perseverance. In chapter 39, Laurence meditates on the end of Galatians helpfully connecting Paul’s teaching on walking in the Spirit and bearing fruit to the power of the gospel. These chapters are rich examples of what Laurence does through this book, beautifully and practically weaving together gospel-centered interpretations and personal applications in the Christian life.

If there are any weaknesses to the book, they mainly relate to what this book is not. If you pick it up expecting an instruction manual telling you exactly what you need to do today to be faithful, this isn’t the book for you. Laurence is interested in helping us see and imagine the world from within God’s story, not proscribing simple answers to the complexities we face in life.

This book probably isn’t the starting place for those who have no familiarity with the Bible. While it is intended to help the reader see the big story of the Bible, it does depend on the reader having some familiarity with Christian terms, figures, and concepts. Laurence doesn’t take time to defend the faith or make it comprehensible to skeptics, but anyone who is willing to try to understand the Bible on its own terms will benefit.

I really enjoyed slowly reading through this book day by day, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the Bible and its central figure, Jesus Christ.

Best of the Week – 2017/11/07

Here are a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything linked below, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider or enjoy. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Guardian, “Our Minds Can Be Hijacked” – Paul Lewis profiles some of the designers, engineers, and product managers responsible for the development of what some call the social media “attention economy” who are now concerned about the negative unintended psychological and even political consequences.
  • The Atlantic, “Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent” – In the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, actress, writer, and creator Brit Marling reflects on the economic and power dynamics involved in sexual consent and how we’re all complicity in this inhumane system.
  • The Economist, “Why English is such a great language for puns” – This excerpt from the Books and Arts section of the print edition of The Economist explains the emergence of pun parties and competitions and why English is unusually good for puns due to its large vocabulary, constant evolution, mostly ungendered nouns, and rich variety of homophones. I, for one, believe puns deserve prize.

Podcast Episodes

  • Trinity Church Podcast, “Parenting with Authority” & “Food, Feasting, and Fasting” – This is my church’s podcast, and these two episodes focused separately on parenting and fasting.
  • Heavyweight – Jonathan Goldstein’s podcast (currently in production on season 2) tells stories and gets involved with individuals who imagine how life could have been and how it might yet be.

Books

  • No Home Like Place by Leonard Hjalmarson – a difficult book aiming to develop a theology of place grounded in the doctrines of creation, covenant, incarnation, and eschatology which orients Christians toward mission to people in the places they live, work, rest, and play

Best of the Week – 2017/10/22

Here are a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

Podcast Episodes

  • The Harry Potter Podcast, “HPBC Episode 11 – Sorcerer’s Stone Chapter 12” – Eight friends continue their discussion of the first book of the Harry Potter series by taking a long look at the Mirror of Erised.
  • Dirty John – LA Times reporter Christopher Goffard tells the true story of a manipulative con-artist known as Dirty John. [Warning: Disturbing and Adult Content]
  • Trinity Church Podcast, “How to Listen to a Sermon” – This is my church’s new podcast, and this week we discussed how to listen to a sermon by exploring how a sermon is unique but also like many other things to which we need to pay attention.

Books

Best of the Week – 2017/10/11

Here are a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • The Ecclesial Calvinist, “Why I Still Don’t Much Care for Karl Barth” – Dr. William Evans, professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College and minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, briefly evaluates Barth’s theology and suggests Barth’s relationship with his mistress had a role to play in Barth’s implicit universalism.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

Podcast Episodes

  • Pass the Mic, “Pastor Duke Kwon: Speaking the Truth in Love” – Hosts Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns posted a sermon on cross-cultural unity in the body of Christ given by PCA Pastor Duke Kwon at the Leadership Development Resource Weekend, Sept. 1-3, 2017, in St. Louis.
  • Cultivated, “Sho Baraka” – Host Mike Cosper interviews rapper, activist, and founder of the “And” Campaign, Sho Baraka, who tells his story and talks about the controversies he’s faced in his musical career.
  • Trinity Church Podcast, “Formation and Consumerism” – This is my church’s new podcast, and this week we discussed the challenge of Christian formation in a consumer culture.

Books

Best of the Week – 2017/10/02

I’ve started posting a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • WSJ, “Cheap Sex and the Decline of Marriage” – Dr. Mark Regnerus, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, explains that marriage among young people is in decline not because of low wages or a fear of commitment, as some have theorized, but because it’s easier now for men to find sexual satisfaction without the commitment of marriage.
  • NYT, “Speaking Ill of Hugh Hefner” – Ross Douthat offers a biting eulogy (?) of Hugh Hefner, the cultural icon and founder of Playboy, calling us to examine our own sins.
  • NYT, “The Anxiety of John Stuart Mill” – Lecturer of philosophy at St. Andrews University, Dr. Adam Etinson explores the question of whether or not happiness is possible without struggle through the experience and work of John Stuart Mill and other 19th century philosophers and poets.
  • WP, “Want to Clean Up College Athletics? Pay the Players” – History Professor at the University of New Mexico, Ryan Swanson argues that, though it won’t happen, we should be paying college athletes if we want to curb the corruption and scandals plaguing the NCAA.

Podcast Episodes

  • Steadfast with Sandra McCracken, “James and Deanna Smith” – Host Sandra McCracken interviews her friend, philosopher James K.A. Smith of Calvin College, and his wife Deanna about friendship, faith, and formation.
  • Radiolab, “Driverless Dilemma” – Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore an old episode grappling with the age old moral philosophy experiment called ‘the trolley problem,’ and then discuss how this has developed into a real life scenario with the emergence of driverless cars.
  • Radiolab, “Oliver Sipple” – Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tell the tragic story of an ex-marine and closeted homosexual whose life fell apart after he saved then President Gerald Ford from an assassination attempt in 1975.
  • The Theopolis Podcast, “The Sociology of Infant Baptism, Part 1” & “The Sociology of Infant Baptism, Part 2” – Peter Leithart discusses infant baptism from a sociological perspective, exploring infant faith and community formation.
  • Harry Potter Book Club, “Sorcerer’s Stone Chapter 11” – Six friends gather regularly to discuss J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and in this episode, they discuss a chapter in the first book of the series titled “Quidditch” which isn’t about Quidditch at all.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class, “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” – In a throwback episode, former hosts Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty tell the story of the famous Scottish missionary explorer and the Welsh/American journalist who found him still alive in central Africa back in 1871.

Books

  • The Christian Family by Herman Bavinck – a helpful book written a century ago by one of the greatest theologians of the Reformed Tradition which presciently addresses the emerging problems facing Western Civilization