Christianity Today’s Grappling with the God of Two Testaments

I subscribe to Christianity Today and recently my subscription arrived in the mail. I was immediately taken with the cover consisting of an intermixing of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (Old Testament) and Luke 6:27-31 (New Testament):
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies,” I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel do good to those who hate you, when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Bless those who curse you, now go, attack the Amalekites pray for those who mistreat you. And totally destroy everything that belongs to them. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Do not spare them; if someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Put to death men and women, children and infants, give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

A powerful and visual contrast of the apparently conflicting messages of the Old and New Testaments. Christianity Today endeavors to provide an explanation and reconciliation of the profound differences apparent in the OT and NT article in this edition (July / August 2013).

Their endeavor consists of a brief and honest note from CT editor Mark Galli. This is followed by Mark Buchanan’s pastoral response entitled “Can We Trust the God of Genocide?” Then Phillip Cary argues “Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God” and Christopher J. H. Wright’s article “Learning to Love Leviticus” and sidebar “Sex in Leviticus.”

I was saddened that CT didn’t take the opportunity to cover this topic even more extensively – I would have loved to see the entire magazine dedicated to the subject for this issue. Still, the articles are fairly interesting.

Mark Galli’s Editorial

I appreciate Galli’s honesty in acknowledging that there are really difficult passages that trouble Christians. He also provides us with several titles for further research on the topic including Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?, David T. Lamb’s God Behaving Badly, and Eric A. Seibert’s The Violence of Scripture.

Can We Trust the God of Genocide?

Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.
Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.

Mark Buchanan offers a ‘pastoral’ response to the troubling texts involving genocide in the Old Testament. A ‘pastoral’ perspective as I commonly understand it is one which spends more time expressing empathy for the emotional components present in individuals’ difficulties with Scripture rather than a more intellectual/philosophical approach (at least, that is what I mean when I attempt to explain something in a ‘pastoral’ manner).

He aptly notes the difficulty we face, “What’s not easy is explaining what appear to be deliberate acts of divine cruelty. God’s virulent rage. His hair-trigger vindictiveness. His apoplectic jealousy. Why would God make women and children pay for the sins of despots or the apostasy of priests? God’s behavior at times appears to the skeptic, and even to the devout, as mere rancor, raw spite. There are passages in Scripture that make God look like a cosmic bully throwing a colossal tantrum.”

He suggests this raises the question “Can the Bible be trusted?” Which is really a more personal question, “Can the God of the Bible be trusted?” And finally, the real heart of the question, “Jesus, is that really you?”[1]

Buchanan provides an interesting analysis of Hosea 13:16 and its relation to John and James desiring to call fire down from heaven – and this along with his explanation of the problem are probably the strongest portions of the article.

From here on, I found the article less satisfying. Buchanan argues that, “But he’s the same God. Indeed, here’s a surprise: The road is even steeper now, the judgment of God sterner, and the cost of refusal greater…Jesus opens a new way to the same God. But Jesus, rather than lessening the stakes, heightens them. His blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, or any other’s, but his message is only an intensified version of what God has always said: Do not refuse me when I am talking to you.”

Buchanan does find the key to our interpretive paradox, “My pastoral instinct is that this all resolves at the Cross. All talk of God must filter there. All views of God must refract there. All theology must converge there. At the Cross, God’s own wrath falls on God. The God of the Old Covenant meets himself in the Christ of the New Covenant, and in a way superior to everything that has come before, he enacts a deep and lasting reconciliation.”

But he then suggests, “But here’s the strangeness of it: The Cross is mostly God’s defiance of himself. God erects a nail house against his own wrath. What the Cross defies, what the Cross defeats, what the Cross pushes back, is as much the wrath of heaven as it is the power of hell.”

I found the nail house to be a distracting illustration – but more importantly, I find this picture of the meaning of the cross as God’s defiance of himself as inadequate. It is perhaps a natural corollary of  penal-substitutionary atonement, which I believe in but also believe is inadequate to describe the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice (thus why the NT writers use so many different analogies and terms to describe what Christ accomplished).

I’ve written somewhat of a pastoral/personal reflection which focuses on the cross here.

Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God

Of all the articles present in CT on this topic, I was most disappointed by Phillip Cary’s article. While it provides a good explanation of herem (the Hebrew term for genocide) and hesed (a Hebrew term for lovingkindness). Cary’s article might be summed in this statement, “How then shall we read the Canaanite genocide? I would say: as Canaanites, prone to lead Israel astray, yet blessed by the faith of Abraham. This is a faith shared by Rahab in her lovingkindness toward Israel, and offered to Gentiles in Jesus Christ who is, as his genealogy attests, the son of Rahab as well as the son of David (Matt. 1:5–6).”

In my humble opinion, Cary punts the ball. He argues that the genocidal commands of God should result in us being thankful we have been spared rather than upset that God would command such genocide. But I’m not sure (okay, I’m certain) that being the recipient of a genocidal command in any way changes the morality of the genocide.

I understand what Cary is saying, I just wish he had taken us a little farther down the road.

Learning to Love Leviticus

The article and sidebar (“Sex in Leviticus”) by Christopher J. H. Wright are my favorites on this topic. Wright provides an interesting, reasonable, and understandable explanation of how the OT applies to our lives now. Statements such as this are representative of his sentiment, “To imagine that ‘living biblically’ means trying to keep as many ancient rules as possible just because they are in the Bible misses the point of the law in the first place. Old Testament law was not just about rules but also about relationship with God, founded on God’s grace and redemption, and motivated by the mission of living as the people of God in the world, so that the world should come to know the living God.”

Wright’s explanation of why we no longer follow the sacrificial and dietary laws of the OT are especially helpful. He concludes with a series of questions we can utilize when trying to connect the ancient laws of Israel with our current context which are insightful and extremely practical.

Overall, his article reminds me of Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton’s Old Testament Today: A Journey from original Meaning to Contemporary Significance – which I’d highly recommend as being a more extensive guide to understanding the OT.

Wright’s sidebar on love (hetero/homo) is interesting, controversial, and far too short. He takes the traditional position on homosexuality (it is sinful) based on Genesis 2:24 but qualifies by noting, “that the Bible has far more to say about all forms of disordered heterosexual sexual activity, including nonmarital and extramarital, than its prohibition of same-sex intercourse.”

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, CT provided a good introduction to the topic. I think there are a few things CT could have done to strengthen their coverage of the topic besides those noted above, specifically:

  1. Where was the historical perspective from Mark Noll? This could have provided an overview of other understandings of the atonement (ransom theory, Christus Victor, moral influence, satisfaction, and penal substitution) as well as traditional understandings of the cohesiveness between the OT and NT (for example, some inkling of the allegorical understandings of the early church fathers).
  2. Where was the more liberal perspective? If not providing it from a liberal author, at least a summary of this perspective would have been helpful (John Shelby Spong as an example).
  3. While the articles regularly mention that there are difficult passages in the NT on a similar level to those in the OT, there could have been article specifically dedicated to this topic. I’d especially like to see something looking at Jesus as portrayed in Revelation in contrast to Jesus in the Gospel and in comparison to the OT difficulty passages.
  1. [1]Which reminds me of Malcolm Boyd’s Are You Running with Me, Jesus? Whether this allusion is intentional on Buchanan’s part, I don’t know.

The Problem of Evil

Introduction

I’ve experienced my fair share of heartache and suffering in this world…but I do not consider myself to have suffered anywhere near what others have suffered and I feel disoriented, sick, and weak when I even think of some of the ways in which individuals suffer. I think of a small child being taken into a dark room by a parent and there forced to engage in painful, strange, and disturbing acts. This occurs not just once – but repeatedly. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

Or I think of the children who are sold into sexual slavery. Prostituted from infancy on – pushed into the arms of sick individuals who hurt them and use them over and over and over again. A constant stream of faces that do things that are practically unspeakable.

The fundamental questions that arises in the midst of all this evil is, “Where is God?” If God exists, if God is good, if God is powerful – why does He not intervene?

I’ve heard and read many of the logical and philosophical answers offered by Christians to explain the existence of evil, but I have none to be satisfactory. There have been times when I have nearly abandoned my faith. Not because I stopped believing in God, but because I didn’t know how I could believe that He was good.

I do not think that we can provide a satisfactory philosophical answer to the question of evil. No equation can stand against the realities of evil in our world. Yet, I still believe in a good, even more, a perfect God. How? For what it is worth I want to share how I believe.

Before I do, let me note that it is not that I do not struggle with the problem of evil. Sometimes I am a man in the midst of an ocean of evil and pain and I am drowning. I can’t see my way out and no logical explanation will suffice. But I have found that this answer – at least for me – is enough to keep me from drowning. It does not dry up the ocean and I still slip below the surface with frequency, but it is something to hold onto – with bloody finger nails that scrape into hope with all their might.

So, here it goes…

Life Raft

God the Father 05
God the Father 05 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

When evil, pain, and suffering overwhelm me. When I find myself drowning, hopeless and lost I center my mind upon the cross. I transport in my mind’s eye back to that day as Christ hung upon the cross. I look upon his blood drenched and naked body. I sit at the feet of the cross and let his blood splash onto my head and face and as I sit there on that horrible, horrific day, I experience something – love and joint experience.

I can’t explain why we suffer. I can’t even explain why Jesus had to suffer. Yes, yes, I know all the proper theological answers – but there is an experiential aspect, a fogginess to it all, that leaves me feeling as if my understanding is only partial. That God has yet to unveil to me the depths of His mind on this matter.

What I do know is that as I sit at the foot of the cross with my agony and with the agony of the world bearing down upon my mind and shoulders, His blood drips onto me and I know. Jesus is God. God is suffering. God has chosen to enter into suffering with me.

While I have been tempted at times to think that God was a sadist – enjoying inflicting pain on others, I have never been tempted to think that God is a masochist – receiving pleasure from suffering Himself. So, here is God and He is suffering with me. He does not explain to me why suffering is necessary, why evil must run rampant, but He also is willing to enter into that suffering and allow that evil to ravage His mind and body as it does ours.

This in and of itself could be enough. That God chose to suffer as we suffered, but I do not see God suffering only during the cross, nor only during His earthly life – I see God suffering today, yesterday, and forever – until evil has been stomped into the ground, never to arise again.

Sometimes I feel despair for those I love. I ask God to heal them, to save them, to help them and they remain in the midst of their suffering. Then the reality comes to me, “I love them more than you do.” I don’t understand why He allows them to suffer – but I know that His heart aches more deeply and thoroughly than mine ever can.

What does all this mean? That God, from the beginning of time till the end, has chosen to suffer. He suffers not only my pain and your pain, but each of the billions of humans on this earth’s pain – and I think, the pain of the animals and of everything that has life and breath.

So What?

This belief allows me to be actively pursuing the good for myself and others. I know that God desires the good for us, yet at the same time I do not feel responsible when I cannot make the good happen. I know that God is in control and that whatever suffering we must face as a result will be suffered with Him. That the tears on my face, on your face  – are matched by the tears of the Father.

I’m Afraid

I’m still afraid at times. I know when the evil comes it throws me against the wall, tears my heart out, rips my intestines and ties them in knots, squeezes my heart till it bleeds, crushes my brain till is splatters. I see others suffering and I am thrown into desperation. I want so badly to make a real difference. I want so badly to help. Yet so often I am incapable. And I always know that as I am in the midst of the ocean my bloody fingers are only holding onto that old wooden cross – the symbol of a God that suffers – with the barest of strength.

Sometimes I lose my grip and begin to drown…and when I am not in that moment, I know, I know, that the Savior will come for me. That He will catch me and bring me back. He loves me more than I love myself. He loves you more than you love yourself.

Notes

Cairn University’s Church Leaders’ Conference.

Overview

Cairn University held its first annual Church Leaders’ Conference today and I attended along with three parishioners – John Broglin, Kevin Miller, and Augusto Fiallo. We left together from CCC at 8:30 am and arrived a few minutes later at Cairn University. The conference was being held in Chatlos Chapel, a few Biblical Learning Center classrooms, and the lobby outside of the chapel.

Synopsis

Morning

Photo of Dr. Kent Hughes from Preach The Word. IMHO, Kent doesn't look like this anymore, he is clean-shaven and his hair is completely grey.
Photo of Dr. Kent Hughes from Preach The Word. IMHO, Kent doesn’t look like this anymore, he is clean-shaven and his hair is completely grey.

It took only a moment or two to register – picking up lanyards with name tags, a Cairn bag with a few items within, and our first book for the day. Then it was over to the continental breakfast spread – donuts, mixed fruits, danishes, banana bread, and so on along with a number of hot and cold beverage options.

I was very satisfied with the breakfast – though I wish we’d been invited into Chatlos Chapel while eating so that we could have sat at the tables they had setup and which we would eat at for lunch.

At 9 am everyone filed into Chatlos Chapel and Benjamin Harding (with accompaniment) led us in musical worship. It was encouraging to stand amongst eighty or so other pastors and lift our voices in union to the Lord.

Jonathan Master briefly introduced our speaker, R. Kent Hughes, a well-known pastor and author, and the main selling point for me in deciding to attend the conference. Hughes gave an hour long sermon focusing on 2 Corinthians and discussing the nature of suffering and its value for exemplifying Christ in the midst of suffering.

We took a brief break from 10:30 am – 10:45 am and then chose to attend one of several parallel sessions. The options were “Given Over to Death for Jesus’ Sake: Ministry in the Midst of Physical Suffering” by Pastor Matt Ristuccia, “Christ’s Model for Handling Destructive Criticism” by Pastor John Stange, and “The Necessity of Godly Sincerity” by Dr. Jonathan Master. I attended Ristuccia’s session and was blessed to discuss how we can continue to exemplify Christ even in the midst of significant health problems – seeing I have my fair share. John attended Master’s session and reported back positively, Kevin and Augusto attended Stange’s session and also had positive things to say. So, all three sessions seemed to be of high quality.

Afternoon

Now it was time for lunch. This lasted from 12 pm till 12:50 pm. It consisted primarily of sandwiches (tuna fish, chicken), I think some salad (I didn’t have any), maybe some mixed fruits (I think I ate some…), and some dessert pieces (brownies, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal cookies). Once again, a satisfying meal and a good time for us to catch up with one another on how the sessions had progressed.

At 1 pm Hughes began the section half of his message which lasted until 2:30 pm and focused on his personal spiritual biography and some of the lessons he had learned in the midst of it. For some reason, throughout the day I was feeling particularly fatigued, so I may have missed some points, but here are a few highlights from Hughes’ second half that I found either insightful or humorous.

  • “She may be wrong but she is never in doubt.” (speaking of his wife, who had played a significant role in encouraging him to continue in the ministry at a difficult time, and with the assurance to us that his wife was “okay” with him saying this)
  • “God is a servant.” (urging us to contemplate how God’s decision to be a servant affects the way we think, live, and minister)
  • “Success is serving with a foot-washing heart.” (no commentary needed)
  • “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I know what the heart of a good man is like and its terrible.” (quoting, I think, Ivan Turgenev)
  • “You can do more after you pray, but you cannot do anything until you pray.” (quoting John Bunyan)
  • “At this moment God…loses all reality…  Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.” (quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
  • “There is no success apart from holiness.” (emphasizing that numbers and other achievements in a ministerial context are worthless apart from personal holiness)
  • “This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the power offices of the upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA, but by being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.” (quoting John Piper, explaining that the churches of the past with their CEO style and marketing techniques are bygone, but that the new / emerging church has its own professionalism to beware of…to not mistake for authenticity and truth and holiness)
  • Hughes suggested that this new type of church might be described as a mixture of “Bonhoeffer, Bono, and Mother Teresa.” Both of these statements were very thought provoking for me.
  • “Success is weakness.” (as we rely on Christ, as we live in Christ, we succeed – faithfulness is our call, not to determine the results)

I enjoyed the second session (above) better than the first session, and probably the highlight was at the end when Hughes opened it up for QA.

At 3 pm the conference was over and we headed out. I was well-satisfied. It had cost me $25, but I’d received two good meals, heard several hours of encouraging teaching, been amongst ministry peers, and received a nifty number of items to boot, the most important being Preach the Word (edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson), Preaching the Word: 2 Corinthians Power in Weakness by R. Kent Hughes (a commentary), and Kent and Barbara Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. All look like fascinating reads and probably are worth more than the cost of the conference. Smaller items included the Cairn bag and a Cairn coffee mug.

Overall

This was a good conference, especially for a first conference. I plan on returning next year and applaud Cairn’s endeavors to reach out to pastors. I also appreciated the gentle way in which Cairn promoted itself. Literature was available on the table, information about the graduate degree program (including auditing free courses) was included in the goody bag, and Todd Williams made a very brief appearance to discuss the University and its desire to interact with pastors. This was all good – it felt like Cairn genuinely was interested in us as pastors and not simply in using us to garner additional students.

Recommendations for Improvement

Still, everything can get better, so I will make a few small suggestions regarding what I’d personally like to see regarding future instances of the conference:

  1. While the title of the conference was “Church Leaders’ Conference” I felt a bit like it was really a “Pastor’s Conference.” I think anyone could benefit from the material and the presentations, but that it was focused particularly on pastors. That is fine, but I’d encourage more specific naming if that is the direction Cairn is heading, or more diversified material if it wants to attract other church leaders (e.g. elders and various other volunteer leaders).
    1. I’d also like to see a much larger representation from the female gender if it remains a “Church Leaders’ Conference” – I believe only two women were in attendance. This is another area where clarification of the desired constituency of the conference would be desirable – for example, if it is a “church leaders” conference I’d want to bring my nursery directory, children’s ministry director, secretarial volunteers, and so on – all of which are staffed by women.
  2. I’d like to see breakfast moved into Chatlos Chapel just like lunch was, giving us the opportunity to sit while eating.
  3. I’d love to see some vendors there and have some time to walk through displays, etc. from various vendors that have products and services that would help the church – whether this be a bookseller, custom printer, counseling outsourcing, church management software, or so on. Of course, most likely, the biggest section would be books…and from my personal experience, most pastors LOVE books.
  4. I’d love to see some activities or other methods for encouraging the pastors to interact with one another more and to learn more about one another’s ministries. Understanding the challenges and successes of other ministers can be a great encouragement. Perhaps a “forum” of sorts in which individuals could share very briefly (5 mins.) their experiences to provide a very “quick-fire” approach to allowing a number of folks to share.
    1. The topics which are most common or which attract the most interest might make for good sessions for the next year’s conference.
  5. I’d recommend not having one speaker for 2.5 hours, but instead have another breakout session with various options – perhaps including a session by the main speaker. The main speaker could then close up the entire day with perhaps a 30 min. conclusion. I wouldn’t want to be speaking for 2.5 hrs!

Be Jealous!

I’m exceptionally excited about two of the books I received. First there is Preach the Word which contains essays by Paul House, Leland Ryken, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Duane Litfin, J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, and Philip Ryken – to name just those I am familiar with.

The second is Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome – something which I think is so important for every minister of the gospel and for the entire church congregation to understand and apply.

Book Review: Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture (Jeffrey D. Arthurs)

I received a copy of Jeffrey D. Arthurs’ Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word as part of Kregel Academic & Ministry Blog Tour Service which provides free copies of new releases to bloggers in exchange for a review of the book. I have just finished this small volume – a paperback of 137 pages.

Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture
While there are some weaknesses to this volume, I would recommend it to every pastor and intend to give it to folks in the congregation who serve as readers. Read on for my fuller thoughts on the work and some snippets from the book.

One of the powerful quotes in the book actually is from Lee Eclov, Senior Pastor at Village Church in Lincolnshire, Illinois, who while recommending the book writes:

“We drain away the power of the Word with its unpracticed, and uninspired public reading. We put more thought into the announcements than we do the reading of the Word; we invest hours in music rehearsals but read the Bible without so much as a once-through. But imagine a Scripture reading that was fresh as rain, as weighty as stone tables, as surgical as a blade, and as welcoming as a Father’s letter to a long-lost child.”

Arthurs repeats this concept in his introduction:

“The Word of God is bread for our souls, and we are fed when we hear the Word well read. Unfortunately, when it is not read well, listeners do not ingest it. Scripture reading is often the low point of an already lethargic service. Surveys of church members rank the public reading of Scripture as one of the dullest portions of the gathering.” (pg. 11)

Chapter 1. Building an Appetite

In the first chapter Arthurs attempts to convince us that the significant and public reading of Scripture is an important and missing portion of many of our church services – and he accomplishes this task admirably.

He boldly confronts our lack of Scripture reading in “bible-believing” churches stating, “In many churches, public reading of the Bible is little more than homiletical throat-clearing before the sermon.” (pg. 14) He notes the significant benefits the church is missing out on, “When the Bible is read well, it can minister as deeply as a Spirit-empowered sermon. Hearing the Word read without commentary reminds us that God inspired the Word and now illumines those who hear it.”

Arthurs then provides several logical arguments for the importance of public Scripture reading:

  1. The Bible says to read it publicly (1 Tim. 4:13).
  2. God transforms us through the reading of His Word, His Word is powerful (Jer. 23:9, 29; Isa. 55:10-11; Heb. 5:12-13, and his list goes on!).
  3. We join in the tradition of what the people of God have always done (Ex. 24:3-4,7; Deut. 31:10-13; Josh. 8:30-35; Ex. 23:14-17).
  4. The Bible is meant to be read aloud.
  5. Hearing the Word of God is different from reading it silently.

Chapter 2. Setting the Table

In this chapter we are taken through the basic steps of preparing our Scripture reading – and yes, Arthurs insists, Scripture reading should include preparation!

  1. Understand what the Scripture reader’s responsibilities are.
  2. Understand what the Scripture reader’s responsibilities are not.
  3. Prepare oneself spiritually.
  4. Prepare oneself mentally.
  5. Prepare oneself emotionally.
  6. Prepare the script.
  7. Prepare the setting.

And yes, Arthurs provides lots of feedback on how specifically to accomplish each of these steps.

Chapter 3. Inviting the Guests

Arthurs understands that making Scripture reading a major portion of the service may cause significant unrest within a congregation – and so this chapter provides guidance on bringing Scripture reading gradually into the service. His steps include:

  • Start with the leadership.
  • Cast the vision to the congregation.
  • Create a reading team.
  • Make something that is better than what they have.

Chapter 4. Serving the Meal (Communicating Through What We Look Like)

Ready to feel a bit overwhelmed? Okay, you (and I) probably are already a bit overwhelmed. We are coming to a deep recognition of our incompetence in public reading, but its about to get worse. In this chapter Arthurs addresses distracting mannerisms we use unconsciously, the proper use of gestures, posture, movement, facial expressions, eye contact, and “proxemics” (that is, the use of proximity to the audience).

Chapter 5. Serving the Meal (Communicating with the Voice)

“To read well is a rare accomplishment. It is much more common to excel in singing, or in public speaking. Good preachers are numerous, compared with good readers.” – John Broadus, pg. 90.

In this chapter Arthurs provides instruction on projection, phrasing, pauses, pace, pitch, and punch. If you haven’t been overwhelmed to this point, you will be now.

Chapter 6. Adding Some Spice (Creative Methods)

I love this chapter – it provides all sorts of tips on how to innovate one’s public reading including:

  • Reading passages unrelated to the sermon.
  • Using Scripture throughout the service.
  • Responsive readings.
  • Using readers who embody the text.
  • Have services that consist solely of songs and scriptures.
  • Give listeners a response to be spoken at specific points in the text.
  • Create a thematic reading that uses multiple texts to address a single topic.
  • Read twice using different translations.
  • Read the previous week(s) passages when preaching an entire book.
  • Conclude the sermon by re-reading the passage preached upon.
  • Providing a brief introduction.
  • Commenting briefly on the text as you read it.
  • Encourage private reading during the week which is then joined with public reading in the service.
  • Present a passage from memory.
  • Use proxemics.
  • Recite and memorize a verse each week.
  • Hold a “Bible Marathon.” – That is, use multiple readers and read a significant portion of Scripture (e.g. the Pentateuch, the Gospels).
  • Incorporate unscripted Scripture recitations on a specific theme or topic – allowing the congregation to provide Scriptures they love that apply to the topic.
  • Project the text onto a screen.
  • Use music – e.g. for interludes (“Selah”) during a reading of the Psalms.
  • Use visual arts – e.g. mimes or painting.
  • Experiment with lighting (more, less, different kinds).
  • Utilize sound effects – e.g. crickets during a night scene, rushing waters during a scene by a river.
  • Mime the text or use sign language.

Chapter 7. Adding Some Spice (Group Reading)

Arthurs final chapter tackles how to read the text as a group. He writes in part:

“Create the script to bring out the ideas and emotions of the text. For example, after you have identified the climax of the passage, you could voice that section by having the entire group say the line in unison with full voice. If your study of the passage reveals a contrast of ideas, you could split the readers in two, giving a line to each side. If the text is full of pathos, begin with the whole group in unison, but then drop voices one at a time, slowing the rate until the final reader almost whispers.” (pp. 118-19)

The most innovative idea though is certainly the juxtaposing of the Scriptures with contemporary strands. Arthurs writes,

“The script begins with the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 and then extends that line through church history to show that the long line of stalwart saints continues to this day. I once heard a group of teenagers read Proverbs 6 and 7 on sexual purity, inserting titles from magazine articles.” (pg. 120)

Sample Scripts

The book concludes with several example scripts which can be utilized to form one’s own ideas.

DVD

The book includes a DVD, which is nicely produced, and includes several different segments on it. I believe there are two teaching segments (I did not watch them, I hate watching video) and then there is a solo reading and two group readings. These were helpful to visualize the concepts he had recommended throughout the book – though especially with the group readings I would have done things differently – but to each his own.

Weaknesses

There are only a few weaknesses in this book:

  • The book opens one’s eyes to the potential of public Scripture reading, but it is also overwhelming. It might have been better to write a beginner’s book and then an advanced book. I am concerned that giving this to some congregants will make them feel incapable of public reading. I know for myself, even reading books on preaching, I sometimes go back to watching a sermon (yes, even though I hate watching video) of some famous preacher and seeing how few of the techniques are actually put into practice helps me feel somewhat competent again.
  • Throughout the book the author references web urls, sometimes extremely long ones – one in particular in several lines long. This is unfortunate and unwieldy. I would recommend in future editions using a URL shortener like bitly to make short, usable links. If you happen upon the super long link, instead of trying to type it in just go to the Wikipedia article on the referenced author.
  • The final weakness I hope will be rectified in a future edition, namely, the lack of an online community to foster discussion about this topic. It would be a great opportunity for Arthurs to have a forum in which folks could share their methods, a place to upload and post scripts, links to videos of folks who are actively utilizing the methods, and so on. This would also simplify the URL issue in the book – URL’s could be posted on a links page on the site and the footnotes could reference to visit the site rather than directly referencing the URLs. This would also be helpful b/c web sites are notoriously transient – and what may provide info. one day will not the next (vanishing into the ether). A website is much easier to update with new links than a book – which can only be published in a new edition.

Conclusion

This book should reside on every pastor’s shelf. It isn’t the best book I have ever read, but it is the best book I have ever read on the topic. I hope that Arthurs will continue to refine this work and publish a second and perhaps a third edition and that Kregel will support such an endeavor. I believe Arthurs could create the standard textbook for practicing pastors as well as seminaries on the topic.

The History Channel’s The Bible Mini-Series (Part 2)

Introduction

300px-Samson_in_the_Treadmill
Last week I wrote a review of The History Channel’s The Bible Mini-Series, Part 1. If you’ve read the review you’ll know that I wasn’t a huge fan of the series thus far due to (a) its being too ambitious in covering too great of a time span, (b) the lack of multidimensional characters, (c) the over-focus on fight scenes, (d) the odd mixture of literal biblical interpretation with completely fictional elements, and (e) the poor casting of some secondary characters.

So what about week two? Did the issues continue in this episode? Where there new issues? Happily, the second episode made significant strides in rectifying several of the shortcomings seen in the first episode – namely, it focused in on a more limited time span which in turn allowed for slightly better multidimensional character development. It also utilized better casting for secondary characters and the fight scenes became a more measured portion of the entire narrative. I also didn’t notice the blatant mixture of strict literalism with oddly fictionalized elements.

Thus the second episode was significantly better than the first, but still significantly below what I had hoped for before viewing any of the series. I am optimistic that the series will continue to improve in quality as the time spans continue to shrink, but I also feel pessimistic about the potential for a moving portrayal of the life of Christ and/or the Acts of the Apostles. This is not because these narratives lack in the material to make good television, but because I rarely have seen a portrayal of these narratives which has managed to move beyond the mediocre, wooden, and tedious (ironic, given the power of the material!).

The Siege of Jericho

I don’t have any significant complaints about the Siege of Jericho or the portrayal of Rahab, other than wooden dialogue and the general lack of being swept up in powerful emotions in the portrayal of these epic stories (for comparison, one might watch Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit and compare the emotional experience to that felt during The Bible – at least for me, the former have a much greater impact than the latter).

I did wonder to myself about marching around the city. Did the people of Jericho just allow the Israelites to walk around the city? Or did they fire at the Israelites? Send out sorties to attack and break their ranks? Or did the Israelites walk so far outside the city walls that they were out of range? I visualize the people of Jericho shooting arrows, throwing rocks, and attacking via cavalry sorties. If so, this would have been a great test of the Israelites faith. As they walked around the city day after day, suffering causalities, they must have thought, “Why are we wasting our time and our people walking around the city? We will be too weak by the time we actually attack the city to overcome it!”

This is also only one of a few scenes thus far in which a woman (Rahab) is portrayed in a positive light (I suppose one might consider Moses’ adoptive mother a positive female character in Part 1).

Samson and Delilah

This narrative was told in an okay manner. I think Samson’s African heritage may have been a subtle nod to the correlations between Israelite enslavement by the Philistines and African enslavement by Americans/Europeans. While historically unlikely that Samson was black, it may go towards furthering the narrative further in the future as I imagine they will emphasize the inclusive nature of Christianity and the tearing down of ethnic and social barriers that Jesus implemented.

Again, I found the dialogue fairly wooden and the primary female characters weak (Samson’s mother) or downright evil (Delilah). I did however greatly enjoy the narrators overture that, “Samson was given great strength to cast out the Philistines but he was distracted.” (as Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman) This was a genius line that added some levity to the story.

The secondary characters looked more like hardened soldiers in this episode, although they seemed completely one dimensional evil villains.

King Saul

Here is where I thought things improved significantly. The cast (both primary and secondary characters) looked much more the part than in early narrative segments. Time was spent on the narratives which allowed us to develop some affinity for the characters. King Saul is a multidimensional character who honestly struggles to obey God’s will, and one feels empathy for him when he is rejected by God.

King David

One can hardly separate the narrative of David from that of Saul, they overlap in so many areas and as with the overlap in story so there is overlap in quality. The time spent on the story is more appropriate, the characters are more multidimensional, and at times the dialogue is almost inspired. I especially enjoyed the combination of David’s Psalm 23 with his advance against Goliath.

I found the portrayal of David’s relationship with Bathsheba interesting. Ever heard the saying, “No means no”? In other words, one is raped or sexually assaulted if one says no and the person persists? This is what frequently happens with date rape, etc. Individuals reject the advances but the other individual continues to pressure and eventually the original individual gives in. They are thus not necessarily physically compelled, but they have been emotionally or psychologically compelled – their personal will being overwhelmed by the aggressor.

In this portrayal of David, it is clear that David’s advances upon Bathsheba are unwanted and would have qualified as date rape. While in the end she acquiesces to David’s advances, her initial attempts at rejecting him indicate clearly her heart and will’s desire, which is overwhelmed by undue pressure by David.

I don’t think I had ever thought of this scenario as being a rape before – always having thought of it as consensual…but if it was a rape, this would throw significant light on the later rape of Tamar and even Absalom’s actions with David’s wives (neither of which are portrayed in this series).

For those holding discussions after the series this might be a worthwhile discussion. Too often folks feel as if they have to be physically compelled into a sexual act for that act to be a crime against them – but the truth is that the act of overpowering another’s will is a crime against them. On an emotional level we see this when “brainwashing” occurs – an individual’s will is subsumed into the will of a leader, e.g. of a cult.

Narrative Threads

There are two narrative threads that flow throughout the series thus far – intentional or otherwise. The first has to do with the significant characters who follow God (e.g. Abraham, Saul, Samson) – they are told to perform acts of which they are unsure, they act sometimes in a way that seems unthinking, they are torn by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness of God’s part, and so on. In this manner, the relationship between God and his followers is mysterious and frustrating…

The second thread is the peripheral character of women to the series. Women are constantly used by the male characters or influence the male characters by speech rather than action. This does reflect, to some extent, the character of the ancient mindset regarding women, but I get the feeling that the women are weak characters, unable to act or think for themselves, whereas while the ancient cultural context may have deemed them as such they oftentimes showed themselves to rise above these low cultural views, challenging the men to step up and stop being such cowards (e.g. Rahab, Deborah, Abigail).

I Dream

I must admit that a while back as I was reading through the Scriptures regarding King David my mind’s eye was filled with the epic nature of the story and I felt a yearning to see a TV series made which would address this topic in detail over several years. I don’t think I have the technical skills for such an undertaking…but just in case anyone out there is thinking about properly funding such a series, may I make a few suggestions?

I’d recommend Paul Scheuring, Jon Turteltaub, and Jonathan E. Steinberg to head up the film crew. For cast I think Kim Coates would make a dynamic and powerful King David and Ian McShane should retake the role of King Saul. Jesse Spencer would make a dashing Prince Jonathan. Scott Wilson could play one of several wise prophets.

Katey Sagal and Mary Steenburgen both would make great leading ladies and Sarah Wayne Callies, Lisa Edelstein, Olivia Wilde, and Clea Duvall would be excellent choices as well.

Mark Boone Junior, Omar Epps, Idris Ebla, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, Common, Tommy Flanagan, Robert Knepper, William Fichtner, Lennie James, Mickey Rourke, Lance Reddick, Vincent D’Onofrio, Stephen Lang, Mandy Patinkin, Rockmond Dunbar, Gabriel Byrne, Jeff Goldblum, Walton Goggins, David Meunier, David Morse, and Don Cheadle would all be excellent choices – some for David’s Mighty Men, others for commanders of the various enemies David faces throughout his reign.

The budget for such a series would need to be significant – as it would need an ensemble cast to hold things together. Scheuring, Turteltaub, and Steinberg should head up the film crew for their ability to enter into the minds of their characters and to create connective tissue between episodes. The series should have a definite arc, concluding after a predetermined period of time to avoid “jumping the shark.” But I digress…

For Further Reading

The History Channel’s The Bible Mini-Series (Part 1).

Lot Flees as Sodom and Gomorrah Burn
Lot Flees as Sodom and Gomorrah Burn (Gen. 19:1-20,24-36) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t have cable – so I don’t watch a lot of The History Channel. I do respect some of the programming that comes out of the channel, but my limited exposure to its “documentaries” on Biblical/Christian topics has raised serious concerns about their accuracy and fairness in dealing with this subject matter. That said, when I initially heard about The Bible mini-series coming out on The History Channel I wasn’t particularly interested – expecting more of the usual. But then YouVersion, an extremely popular bible web / smartphone application began pushing it – and I have respect for the folks at YouVersion and LifeChurch…and the accolades began to roll in from there – I received promotional emails from Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and Christian Cinema and apparently Rick Warren and Jim Daly (Focus on the Family) among others jumped on board as well – Warren even acting in an active consultant role to the mini-series.

So, when friends offered to host us to watch The Bible miniseries I said yes and settled in for the first two hours. The food and company was great – but the mini-series, well, I was unimpressed. I’ll keep watching b/c I want to continue to see how they unfold the story and also b/c the conversation we have during the show is profitable and entertaining – but I’m not continuing b/c I am enamored with the show nor do I expect to be (though I’d love to be surprised!).

Too Ambitious

When I heard about a mini-series covering the Bible one of my first thoughts was, “How are they going to tie it together?” The Bible was written over hundreds of years, covering a time span of thousands, and contains numerous stories of varying character. This is probably the greatest failing and the greatest success of the mini-series thus far. It was a bit too ambitious to attempt to undertake the entire Bible all at once, and at the same time they did manage to stitch the narrative thus far together. I’m most impressed by the way they recounted some stories within stories – e.g. the story of Creation being told by Noah in the midst of the flood.

But attempting to tackle so many stories so quickly results in one huge downfall: you never become emotionally connected to the characters…and by the end of the first two hours I walked away thinking, “If I didn’t know the God portrayed in the Bible…I’d think this God is a real jerk.” Now I’m hoping that they will bring everything together and show in retrospect how God was working in all these situations – but at this point it feels too slipshod to be redeemable and I am afraid folks will walk away thinking that the God of the Old Testament at least was a sadist.

Flat Characters

Due to the pace of the narrative the characters are exceptionally flat. Eve is just the means by which Adam is persuaded to eat the forbidden fruit. Lot’s wife is a nag, manipulative, and selfish. Sarah is hesitant and self-centered. Abraham is crazily following this strange God.

Lets Kill More People

There are so many great stories surrounding Abraham and Sarah, but so much time is wasted on a relatively minor incident in which Abraham rescues Lot from enemy armies. While large portions of the narrative (and character development) are skipped over, there is plenty of time to watch Abraham and his servants hack the enemy to pieces.

Later we’ll see the same thing when the angels enter into Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot’s family. In an entirely extra-biblical take, the angel’s fight their way out of the city. Now, I’m not complaining about the extra-biblical aspect, but that this supplants much more important narrative – especially character-development narrative.

Biblical or Extra…But What?

Another item that really frustrated me was the way in which the film mixed the biblical with the non-biblical. Now, I’m not a strict, “thou must use the KJV and must stick exactly to the storyline” kind of guy, but I felt that the melding of the biblical with the fictional was strangely done. There are many parts where the speech is directly from the Scriptures, but then there are other parts that are entirely invented – especially the scenes with the angels in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m okay with ninja angels, but, shouldn’t the rest of the film reflect a similar aesthetic? It doesn’t, so it feels choppy – part bible quoting, part ninja.

Casting?

The last issue I’d like to raise is the cast. Some are okay, but many seem obviously out of place and I can’t understand the choice. I don’t mean their acting is poor, but rather why so many secondary characters obviously overweight and out-of-shape? This was a time when food was oftentimes scarce. I found this especially disconcerting in combat scenes when soft, round-faced men were portrayed as elite warriors.

The Vikings

I watched the first two episodes of Vikings, History Channel’s other new series which is running immediately after the Bible – and here I saw a production of the quality I would have liked to have seen in The Bible mini-series. The character development is present, the actors are realistic, though the story is much darker and the gore more explicit.

It reminds me of the film Gettysburg and its successor Gods and Generals. While Gettysburg was a multi-hour epic covering a span of three days, Gods and Generals attempted to cover two years in a shorter film. Gettysburg is a classic, Gods and Generals is forgotten. Why? Mainly b/c the lack of character development and story which occurs when you try to compress a story so greatly.

Bibliography

Book Review: Communicating the Gospel (William Barclay).

Resurrection of Christ
Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a teenager I discovered William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentaries series and I have remained a fan of his ever since. I have all of his commentaries on the New Testament and numerous of his other writings. Barclay has had a profound impact on both my thought and my character.

Barclay lived from 1907-1978 and in addition to writing many books he served as a pastor, spoke on BBC radio and television, and was a Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow. Barclay considered himself a “liberal evangelical” – moving from fundamentalist moves earlier in life to more liberal views as life progressed. There are many facets of Barclay’s theology with which I cannot agree – and I am hesitant to recommend his books to new Christians because of the various theological heresies he embraces.

This is one reason why one of my long-term dreams is to write a new series of commentaries (on the entire bible) that will act in a similar manner to Barclay’s commentaries but from an orthodox evangelical view. That said, I still read Barclay and learn much from him and thinks he has much to teach us as well. I would not recommend him as a first book for the new believer – at least not without a more seasoned believer providing insight and commentary throughout the reading – but I find him practically indispensable as a preacher and teacher.

In any case, I recently picked up his book entitled Communicating the Gospel which clocks in at a slim 106 pages and consists of several lectures he gave at the Laird Lectures and the last a lecture given to “a joint audience of Protestants and Roman Catholics in a series of lectures arranged by the Extra-Mural Department of the University.” (xi)

Communicating the Gospel consists of four chapters:

  • Communicating the Gospel in the Prophets
  • Communicating the Gospel in the Apostles
  • Communicating the Gospel Today
  • The Gospel in Tradition

Communicating the Gospel in the Prophets

This first chapter I found invaluable. Barclay provides invaluable insights into the Old Testament Prophetic understanding of the gospel. He helps us dive into the worldview of the ancient prophets. For example on pg. 2 he writes,

“To the prophets, nature was the instrument of the action of God. Disobedience to God brought the blight and the mildew and the locust to ruin their crops, the pestilence and disaster (Amos 4. 10-12).”

And continues on pg. 3, “But the principle which is all-important is this–to the Jewish mind there was no such thing as secondary causes. Everything was traceable to the direct action of God.”

Barclay challenges our meek and mild Jesus when he writes on pg. 5, “The main weapon which the prophets used against idolatry was scorn. They drew, always with vividness, and sometimes with Homeric laughter, the contrast between the dead idol and the living God.”

On pg. 8 he highlights the recurrent problem of the Israelite people – “The people wanted a religious syncretism in which they could worship Jahweh and at the same time maintain their contact with the fertility gods and goddesses and their worship.”

He writes to us about the Day of the Lord – which can be equated with the New Testament affirmations regarding the End Times noting, “The belief in the Day of the Lord is not the result of pessimism, based on the belief in a godless world; it is the result of that optimism which believes in the ultimate victory of God.” (pg. 19)

But don’t expect just information transfer from Barclay – as always he takes knowledge and transforms it into a call for action. The challenges facing the Old Testament peoples are the same challenges we face today he says and then goes on to explicitly show us how we as well are tempted in the ways they were – even if we don’t have wooden or stone idols.

Communicating the Gospel in the Apostles

This is another excellent chapter. Let me provide just a little glimpse by outlining what Barclay believed was the Gospel as taught by the Apostles:

  1. “The new age has dawned, and it has dawned through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (pg. 35)
    1. Life changed forever for children.
    2. Life changed forever for women.
    3. Life changed forever for the laborer.
    4. Life changed forever for the sinner.
  2. “The life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all that he was and did, all that happened to him, are the direct fulfilment of prophecy.” (pg. 40)
  3. “…the declaration that Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God and that he would come again to judge the quick and the dead.” (pg. 43)
  4. “…an invitation and a promise. It is an invitation in view of all this to repent, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (pg. 46)

He summarizes this on pg. 48,

“This, then, was the gospel which the apostolic preaching proclaimed. The new age has dawned; God has acted directly in the life and the dead and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. All this is the fulfilment of prophecy and the very conception of prophecy implies a plan and a purpose which are being steadily worked out in the world. This Jesus who lived and died and rose again will come again; he will come to the individual heart, and in the end he will triumph over all the world. There comes the demand for repentance, for a new attitude to life and to living, and the promise of forgiveness for the past and strength for the future. And finally there comes the threat that, if a man will not accept life, then he has accepted death.”

Note: Barclay’s understanding of prophecy is fascinating and liberal. Yet many who struggle with faith may also find some comfort in Barclay’s honest struggles to understand the use of prophecy in the NT.

Communicating the Gospel Today

This chapter is good, but not quite indispensable. Here, the writing is in part limited by its age – the issues Barclay is addressing (e.g. contemporary translations of Scripture) are not nearly the issues today as they were then.

Still, he starts off strong by stating, “I take it that all here will be agreed that the task of the Christian Church in this, as in any other, age is to communicate to men the truth of God as we find it in the word of God.” (pg. 49)

He then outlines what he believes are the necessary steps to effectively communicating the gospel contemporaneously:

  1. “…we must approach it as literature. It is the fact that anyone who has not read the Bible is simply from the literary point of view not properly educated.” (pg. 50)
    1. Thus we should read it in long sections.
    2. We need contemporary translations.
    3. We should use the best textual sources available.
  2. “…approach…must be the linguistic approach…one of the essential approaches to the New Testament is the study of the meaning of its words.” (pg. 56) He provides us with several word studies to demonstrate this importance: “meek” (praotes), “earnest” (arrabon), Abba, and “comforter” (parakletos).
  3. “…approach which is necessary is the historical approach. Everything happens against a background in history, and to know that background often adds very greatly to the meaning of the incident.” (pg. 60) Here he provides us with fascinating insights into John 2:13-17, 7:37, 8:12; Matthew 21:12,13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; and Revelation 3:15-18.
  4. “…approach necessary to communication the New Testament is the psychological approach. The psychological approach involves the investigation of, not only what people did, but why they did it.” (pg. 67) He uses here the example of Judas and his motivations for betraying Jesus.

In conclusion Barclay states, “Here is the reason for the study of the New Testament, not that we should know the history or the linguistics or anything else, but that we should know him of whom it tells; for we can never communicate Jesus Christ to others, until we know him ourselves.” (pg. 71)

The Gospel in Tradition

This is probably the least interesting of the chapters from a quick reading perspective, but filled with useful information from an academic and apologetic perspective. In this chapter Barclay attempts to explain the varying understandings of the relationship between tradition and Scripture as seen by Catholics and Protestants and does so in large part by comparing and contrasting the thoughts of Christians in the early church. One will find a veritable treasure of quotations from such minds as Tyndale and Erasmus, Gregory Nazianzen, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Athenagoras.

There are some fascinating sections on how one should read the Scriptures form an ancient perspective – e.g. which books to read first, which books one should not read until adulthood, and whether one should read with a teacher present or no.

Concluding Thoughts

This book is a worthwhile read. It is written in a readable manner that those who have read Barclay elsewhere will find familiar and comfortable. How do I reconcile my respect for William Barclay with his errant teachings? I’m not sure. Some good articles have been written on the topic including Alton H. McEachern’s William Barclay, Remarkable Communicator and Wayne Jackson’s The Enigmatic William Barclay. I suppose, perhaps, I feel about William Barclay as John Piper feels about C.S. Lewis…not that I am comparing my abilities to those of Piper!

Book Review: The Choosing to Forgive Workbook (Author: Frank Minirth, Les Carter)

Doctors Frank Minirth and Les Carter are Christian counselors who have written an excellent book on forgiveness entitled The Choosing to Forgive Workbook. This workbook is informational as well as application oriented. It includes numerous questions and checklists to help one work through the process of forgiveness and think well about what it means to forgive.

I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly and working through the questions and checklists. I think it is a great resource for anyone struggling with forgiveness and also makes a great resource for pastors to give out to congregants who are struggling with forgiveness.

The authors outline twelve steps to forgiveness, which they explore in detail throughout the book:

  • Step 1. Openly recognize wrong deeds to be wrong deeds.
  • Step 2. Recognize that your anger is not only normal, but necessary.
  • Step 3. Realize how ongoing bitterness will ultimately hurt you.
  • Step 4. Learn from your problems by establishing better boundaries.
  • Step 5. Refuse to be in the inferior position and resist the desire to be superior.
  • Step 6. Avoid the futility of judgments, letting God be the ultimate judge.
  • Step 7. Allow yourself permission to grieve.
  • Step 8. Confront the injuring party if appropriate.
  • Step 9. Find emotional freedom as you let go of the illusion of control.
  • Step 10. Choose forgiveness because it is part of your life’s mission.
  • Step 11. Come to terms with others’ wrong deeds by recognizing your own need for forgiveness.
  • Step 12. Become a source of encouragement to other hurting people.

Here are a few choice quotes I jotted down:

  • “Even if you can point to your own failings, you will still need permission to admit the depth of your anger or hurt or disillusionment. To do so is not a denial of your own faults. Rather, you can recognize that your feelings about someone else’s mistreatment are a separate and distinct issue that deserves attention. Forgiveness can occur only as you first let yourself admit the extent of your hardship.” – pg. 5.
  • “By clinging too strongly to a victim status you are certain to remain stuck in a troubled way of life. You will find balance, though, when you realize you are, indeed, a victim but are not obliged to live forevermore in defeat and futility.” – pg. 7.
  • “Choosing to forgive will not be authentic until you first allow yourself to wrestle with the question of why you should forgive.” – pg. 14.
  • “You’re setting yourself up for failure if you assume that you’ll be able to be as complete as God is in the forgiveness process.” – pg. 24.
  • “When trying to forgive, many people make the mistake of assuming that all anger should be removed. That is neither possible nor desirable. Bitter anger…needs to be resolved, but some anger may remain and that can be okay.” – pg. 25.
  • “Your desire for vengeance may need to be removed. Perhaps you will even need to accept the fact that wrongdoers may go unpunished. Forgiveness will help you in such instances. But your forgiveness will not require you to let go of your values. Hold on to them. Yes, you may need to monitor the intensity of the emotion accompanying those values, but let’s not throw morality away.” – pg. 35.
  • “Inherent in our definition of forgiveness is the willingness to leave ultimate justice to God. Forgiveness does not require you to suppress your feelings, to shrug at the wrongs dealt to you, or to become allies with your antagonist. But forgiveness does require that you hand over the ultimate consequences of another’s wrongdoing to God.” – pp. 52-53.
  • “While you cannot change the attitudes and feelings others have toward you, your task can be to monitor your own behavior to determine if you are unwittingly enabling others to persist in their insensitivity.” – pg. 63.
  • “While all humans are inferior to God’s standard of perfection, no human was ever intended by the Creator to be held in higher or lower esteem to another human. God’s plan is for equality among individuals. While we each differ with respect to skills and achievements and gifts, we each hold a similar core value in His eyes. The apostle Peter struggled with feelings of superiority over the centurion Cornelius. But finally as God showed how He loved them both Peter concluded, ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34).” – pg. 90.
  • “…you may be operating on the assumption that the sooner you can pronounce forgiveness, the less you’ll have to deal with the lingering effects of the wrongful deed. In truth…this reasoning only increases your emotional healing time since you are only storing up emotions that grow more intense and more negative with time.” – pg. 124.
  • “There are also two good reasons to confront: (1) To establish self-respect through an improved understanding of your needs, or (2) To potentially restore (or establish) a relationship.” – pg. 148.
  • “You’re never going to forgive if you cling to the wish that you could make them believe correctly as you do. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should drop your convictions. That would be irresponsible. But I am suggesting that you not be stuck in an emotional dungeon that results from falsely thinking that somehow you might be able to control their decisions. Forgiveness begins as you recognize their freedom to be who they are, even if they choose the wrong path.” – pp. 170-171.
  • “Don’t assume that your struggle makes you abnormal. Rarely is forgiveness the easiest or most natural path to take, particularly when the offending person is unrepentant.” – pg. 187.
  • “At the core of every personality is the characteristic of pride, the preoccupation with one’s own desires and preferences.” – pg. 209.
  • “Your heartfelt gratitude for the mercy of God will be the single most important ingredient in your journey to offer forgiveness toward others. As you claim that mercy, you will want to give it to others. If you feel you have no need for mercy, you likely will not feel compelled to offer to to those who have wronged you.” – pg. 222.

O.C. Supertones – Little Man (Song)

It has been a few years now since ska was on the scene…longer for those who are younger than I, shorter for those who surpass me in years. In any case, today I was thinking about the Supertones song “Little Man.” I’d preached a sermon on Galatians 3 which reminds us of the greatness of God and the smallness of ourselves…so I came home this evening and stumbled upon the music video…thought I’d share.

Review: Crazy for God by Francis Schaeffer (Memoir).

Francis Schaeffer
Francis Schaeffer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the leading evangelical theologians and philosophers of contemporary times was Francis Schaeffer. His son, Frank Schaeffer, was once a leader in the evangelical movement along with his father Francis but has since distanced himself from the evangelical movement. Crazy for God is Schaeffer’s raw memoir of life as a Schaeffer. The volume is sure to offend many on a number of levels:

  • There is a steady stream of strong profanities throughout the work, mainly as utilized by Frank.
  • There is a steady focus on Frank’s sexual escapades – which were frequent – and a hefty focus on his obsession with ogling the opposite gender.
  • Frank portrays his mother (Edith) as controlling, perfectionistic, demeaning, and self-centered. Not a flattering portrait for one of the leading female evangelical figures.
  • Frank portays his father (Francis) as depressed, physically abusive, suicidal, demeaning of fellow evangelical leaders, and questioning of his own faith.

Some will be disappointed by Francis Schaeffer’s breaks with traditional evangelicism while others will be elated. For example, Schaeffer believed that homosexuality was a physiological/biological issue rather than primarily a sin issue. While he didn’t support homosexual relations he also didn’t believe that salvation would cure one of homosexuality.

He also was privately frustrated with the actions of numerous well-known evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Depending on where you sit, this is either a positive or negative to Schaeffer’s ledger.

I’d recommend the volume as a worthwhile read to anyone who is serious about honestly evaluating their life. The work can be either overwhelmingly depressing or an opportunity to consider the junctures at which evangelicalism has gone astray, and more importantly, how we as individuals are perhaps perpetuating sin in our midst that fosters hatred toward the gospel.

Not that this was why Frank wrote the book – nor what one will necessarily draw from the book. Rather, one has to be intentional in reading the volume to use it for positive purposes – for it certainly can push us into a cynical perspective which I think offers little hope or opportunity for the future of the gospel.

For those who choose to read the volume, here are a few guiding thoughts that I found helpful while reading the book and hope may be of use to you as well:

Frank Has Deep Wounds.

Frank doesn’t hide the wounds he has received throughout his life – many at the hands of his parents (figuratively). As someone who has been deeply injured at times by others I could empathize with Frank’s woundedness…but also recognized the ways in which my woundedness affects what I say and write and how Frank’s woundedness likely affected his writings.

When we are deeply hurt it is the hurt that bubbles over and spills around. As time passes we gain perspective and the ability to reflect and bubble over some of the better aspects of broken relationships – but the hurt is what has the deepest well and seems to flow unceasing.

Frank’s portrayal of his father demonstrates both a deep love and respect for him as well as a deep injury. It provides keen insight into who Francis Schaeffer was but also fails to portray Schaeffer as he was. I think Frank acknowledges this within his book and interviews following the book. He is portraying his subjective experiences, which provide insight into the complete reality – but must be considered one component in creating a complete portrait.

Hope in God, Not Man.

Frank’s book can make one feel like evangelicalism is all a sham. Similar exposes can do the same in almost any sector – political, religious, and so on. Yet the issue exposed here is not God’s failure, but rather God’s faithfulness to a broken people. Crazy for God in many ways reflects the same story as is found in Scripture. Who was the man after God’s own heart? King David. Yet, compared to David, Schaeffer looks like a saint!

That said, the deeper theological issue which concerns us is why the believer’s life is not more transformed by God. Why do we continue to struggle with the depression, the anger, the self-centeredness, the pride even after we are saved? Is the Spirit of God impotent? I suspect that the answer to this question for now is faith. I would like to answer it and believe developing theories in systems theory and so on provide remarkable insight, but that our human intelligence is incapable of understanding the manifold and infinite ways in which God is intimately involved in and working through His creation…but I have faith that God is not impotent, that He is able, and that He is moving.

Self-Deprecation as Excuse.

Some years ago I began sharing more openly a number of my struggles – including that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Major Depressive Episodes and Dysthymia. At first I felt proud (and received with cheery heart applause) that I was courageous enough to share my weaknesses. As time passed I realized that while the better part of me was sharing to provide transparency, to encourage others that to struggle is not to be worthless, that there is hope, and so on that on the lower part of me there was the desire to excuse and explain my failures. To push my weaknesses off as not my own.

There is something self-preserving about explaining why we are the way we are. I think it is oftentimes healthy. There is no use pretending we can live up to others expectations. Schaeffer’s book has a good bit of self-depreciation and blatant honesty thrown in. As with everyone, I am sure he struggles between the higher and lower calls of his nature.