Reading Martin Luther King

Yesterday we celebrated the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Radio talk show host Dennis Prager posted the text of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” dated April 16, 1963. King had an amazing way with words, both written and spoken, and the whole text of the letter is worth reading, I was particularly struck by the prophetic nature of the excerpt below in light of the first book on our 2011 reading list.

“…In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

This begs the question “Where are we on this?” What do you think?

Reading List for 2011

This year’s reading list begins with two books that will challenge readers to re-evaluate their understanding of what Christian faith demands of them. Platt’s and Chan’s books are hard-hitting looks at what Christianity has come to be in American culture and the implications for our lives individually and in the church of getting it right. Wright’s book is an opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of who Jesus Christ is from the perspective of the Scriptures that were available to the early church. (See my review of the book here.) Piper challenges us to think about thinking, arguing against the anti-intellectualism that has become a part of our culture, particularly in evangelical Christianity. The shelves of bookstores are full of how to books arguing for techniques for improving our prayer lives, but Packer and Nystrom’s book points to the why, which is so much more important and if understood in light of some the earlier readings will naturally help us with the how. Finally, Stott’s classic work will help clarify the significance of the cross to our lives, faith, and ministry.

  • Jan-Feb: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt
  • Mar-Apr: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
  • May-Jun: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright
  • Jul-Aug: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
  • Sep-Oct: Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by Packer & Nystrom
  • Nov-Dec: The Cross of Christ by John Stott.

Hope you enjoy these recommended books and that reading them will help you take the next step in becoming disciple-making disciples.

Some comments on The Shack

Although it has been out for some time now, I have not yet read William Young’s book The Shack.  A friend of mine, Chris Terry, was recently prompted to read it by two different people, one who liked the book and another who did not.  His response to these folks after reading it is, I think, a good example for us of how we as Christians ought to engage with all forms popular culture.  We need to first appreciate the artistic merit of the work, then look at things we speak positively about before we offer criticism.  I hope you will enjoy reading Chris’ reaction to the book and that it will prompt you to want to read it thoughtfully.

“Fluffy” is the word…even for The Shack.

I really enjoyed reading the book, and found myself reading aloud to [my wife] some segments of the author’s thoughts.  BUT…this book, as a whole is not something that I can wholly agree with or wholly disagree with.  We have a big God, and The Shack only shares a limited view of one dimension…unconditional love.  This book downplays important concepts like Sin and Justice, but more importantly, it pulls most of its imagery from the author’s imagination and little of its content from the Bible.  God is simply too big to be crammed in this little book.  Although the author gives Mack new eyes before revealing a small piece of God, and clearly explains that this image is a small and limited picture of what is to come for the faithful, it still seems very presumptuous to put human limitations on Mack’s experience in the presence of God (although it is all the author could possibly have to work with).

There are some parts of this book that I can dismiss entirely, but my fear is that many people will not be able to discern the bad theology from the good message or from the good fiction.  There are also some points made in this book, that speak to having an intimate relationship with God that could help expose a whole new group of people who are seeking…and that is good.  It is also leading people to confront their anger, their fear, and their broken relationships in ways that could lead toward forgiveness and renewal, while steering people away from an Oprah religion that encourages them to look inside themselves for all the answers…and that is also good.  My hope is that people who are seeking answers do not stop searching for answers after reading The Shack, and that their quest for answers takes them beyond other “fluffy” published materials.

People are the reason this book is so popular.  We need to understand, but not be mired in, the crazy society in which we live (this includes our own Church Families).  It is my observation that our society is intellectually lazy and overly emotional about things that have little impact on our lives.  We, as people, are either seeking further skepticism or seeking God, we are seeking fear and anxiety or we are seeking peace and joy, but either way, most of us are not turning to deep or heady reading for our answers because we are lazy…I know because I’ve been there.  Look at the most popular books and media to see where we invest most of our time, and you will see that on a good day some of us are turning to books like Wild Goose Chase, and The Shack because these books, while better than TV shows and movies, will provide some answers, but will never take us deep enough to fully address our laziness and indifference…they won’t hold us accountable…they are just books consumed in the privacy of our living rooms.  They offer us nothing more than a good inspirational message that makes us feel warm and emotionally “fluffy” for a few days before the message fades.  Sadly, most of us will not find the drive or effort in ourselves or in our leaders to work smartly toward questioning, studying, and proving the truths that are evident in the infallible word of God.  We will turn everything upside down and on its head in order to remain in control of what is easy.  We prove to each other every day that most of our valiant efforts are misguided and misused.  That said, at least William P. Young’s valiant efforts resulted in a best-selling and entertaining book that makes you go hmmmmm.  In summary:

  • We need to move people from just reading best-selling books in the privacy of their living rooms and into His Church.    Hebrews 10: 25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
  • William P. Young’s intentions are noble and are leading us into good discussions, questions, and debates for God’s purposes.  Philippians 1: 15-18 – It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…   But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.
  • We the people…are crazy…and it is worth spending just a little time understanding this…but not judging it.  Ephesians 4: 29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
  • Finally…after reading The Shack…and enjoying many parts of it…I am off to do some heady reading so God can transform and renew my mind for the purposes of discipleship and equipping…a couple of key things on which The Shack will fall short.  Romans 12:2 – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what  God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Another Book List for Growing Your Library

Our friend Jeffrey Breshears has compiled a list of books to enrich your personal library and add depth to your reading.  He has organized his list into seven categories.

  1. Biblical Studies
  2. Christian History
  3. Christian Apologetics
  4. Christian Spirituality
  5. Christian Life and Discipleship
  6. Church Life, and
  7. Eschatology

The books in the Christian Spirituality category reflect his interest in the contemplative aspects of Christian Spirituality.  There is a brief abstract of each book’s content that will guide you in prioritizing your acquisitions.  The list can be viewed at at this link.  Note that he also includes some classic non-Christian works so that we can be familiar with what those who do not share our worldview are using as foundations for their ideas.

These would be a great addition to your Christmas gift list or as gifts for someone who is, or should be, an avid reader.  We think that should apply to every Christian!

A Book Recomendation

One of the purposes we envisioned for this site was making recommendations for building a good library of resources.  Our reading lists have been the main way we have made suggestions for your acquisitions.  Last spring I read a book as a part of a course on the Life and Teachings of Jesus that I highly recommend.  The book is Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  My review of this book can be viewed here.  Though I have not read them, there are two companion volumes that are I expect are equally good, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament and Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament.  Get all three and dive into the Old Testament.

A Timely Topic for Christians

Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO is the home of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, a group dedicaed to the study and extension of the late Christian philosopher’s work.  The theme of this year’s Schaeffer Lectures sponsored by the seminary and the Institute and held this past week was Taking Citizenship Seriously: Christian Responsibility in Today’s Political Context.  The primary speaker was Dr. Jim Skillen, President of the Center for Public Justice.  Specific topics were:

  • Part 1: Presidential Politics in a Post-Everything America (with John Hancock)
  • Part 2: McCain vs. Obama: Christian Electoral Tensions
  • Part 3: Cynicism and Idealism: Redeeming Political Structures
  • Part 4: God Bless America and Global Politics: Where Is Jesus?
  • Part 5: Christian Leadership in Poverty and Family Initiative Reform

As we come down to the conclusion of this years very contentious election season, we as Christians need to be thinking carefully about the issues being raised by the two campaigns from a biblical worldview, and material like this can be useful in preparing us to carry on a reasoned and reasonable dialogue with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Audio files are available free for download, or via Podcast here.  Hope you’ll take the time to listen to these.

A Withering, Insightful Assessment

I ran across an entertaining, withering, insightful series of columns about the state of the church in our culture that I wanted to call to our readers’ (all five or six of them) attention.  The author is Doug Giles, a columnist on the website, author, and pastor.  He is also the creator of a radio program called Clash Radio.  You can read his full Bio here.

The columns are a series titled “The Detergent Church,” a word play on “The Emergent Church,” and in stark contrast to it.  Giles pulls no punches, using some pretty creative labels for both the good and the bad versions of the church.  The structure of the series is his elaboration on his ten point “laundry list” he describes as the way “‘the called out ones’ can be the holy hellfire Detergent Church they’re ‘spose to be.”  He suggests putting on a cup.  You guys will understand.  Here’s the list.

  1. Get men who dig being rowdy back in the pulpit.
  2. Could we have some sound doctrine, por favor?
  3. Preach scary sermons (at least every fourth one).
  4. Get rid of 99.9% of “Christian TV and sappy Christian music.
  5. Quit trying to be relevant and instead become prophetic contrarians, I’m talking contra mundus, mama!
  6. Put a 10-year moratorium on “God wants you rich” sermons (yeah, that’s what we need to hear nowadays, you morons, more sermons about money, money money!).
  7. Embrace apologetics and shun shallow faith.
  8. Evangelize like it’s 1999.
  9. Push lazy Christians to get a life or join a Satanic Church.
  10. Demand that if a Christian gets involved in the arts that their “craft” must scream excellence and not excrement.

Yes it’s edgy, but I think right on target.  Read all four installments at the links below.  I suggest that you print or save the pieces when you get to them.  The web site has been down a good bit and I couldn’t always get to these pieces.  Enjoy!

Never More Necessary …

Well, it’s been awhile since anyone has posted anything, so I thought I’d put up a thought-provoking passage I read recently. To be honest, I haven’t been reading all that much lately; this is actually something I read more than a month ago. We’re in the middle of trying to move in to a house that’s been all but completely renovated, but we’re currently staying with my parents-in-law and it’s left us feeling a little displaced (even though her parents are great). I realize I seem to have a penchant for longer quotes, but I promise if you read the whole passage it will make sense why I have to include it all.  🙂

Anyway, the quote is from Aldous Huxley’s Huxley and God: Essays on Religious Experience. I picked it up off the bargain rack in a bookstore across from Yale University (I was only there on business) and although Mr. Huxley is anything but Christian, he is a deep thinker and careful observer. The following was written in 1941:

… it is upon fashions, cars, and gadgets, upon news and the advertising upon which news exists, that our present industrial and economic system depends for its proper functioning. For, as ex-President Hoover pointed out not long ago, this system cannot work unless the demand for non-necessaries is not merely kept up, but continually expanded; and of course it cannot be kept up and expanded except by incessant appeals to greed, competitiveness, and love of aimless stimulation. Men have always been a prey to distractions, which are the original sin of the mind; but never before today has an attempt been made to organize and exploit distractions, to make of them, because of their economic importance, the core and vital center of human life, to idealize them as the highest manifestations of mental activity. Ours is an age of systematized irrelevances, and the imbecile within us has become one of the Titans, upon whose shoulders rests the weight of the social and economic system. Recollectedness, or the overcoming of distractions, has never been more necessary than now; it has also, we may guess, never been so difficult.

Things really haven’t changed much, it seems …

This is a quote from the The Jugurthine War, written by Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus) about 41 B.C., nine years after he was expelled from the Senate for alleged immorality and approximately six years before he died at the age of fifty-one.

Men have no right to complain that they are naturally feeble and short-lived, or that it is chance and not merit that decides their destiny.  On the contrary, reflection will show that nothing exceeds or surpasses the powers with which nature has endowed mankind, and that it is rather energy they lack than strength or length of days. 

But if the soul is enslaved by base desires and sinks into the corruption of sloth and carnal pleasures, it enjoys a ruinous indulgence for a brief season; then, when idleness has wasted strength, youth, and intelligence, the blame is put on the weakness of our nature, and each man excuses himself for his own shortcomings by imputing his failure to adverse circumstances. If men pursued good things with the same ardor with which they seek what is unedifying and unprofitable — often, indeed, actually dangerous and pernicious — they would control events instead of being controlled by them, and would rise to such heights of greatness and glory that their mortality would put on immortality.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)