Friday, October 30, 2015

Myth Busted: Why Younger Generations Are Not Leaving Your Church

In their book Essential Church?, authors Thom and Sam Rainer, based on their research, bust a major myth about dropouts among young people. That myth is that young people prefer bigger churches with larger budgets and nice facilities. That is not the case. They write:
Our research revealed an amazing fact: the younger generation is not leaving their church to attend a bigger, brighter, fancier, snazzier, louder, and hipper congregation. They may end up attending these churches, but it is not because the megachurch is pulling them into their attractive gravitational field. In fact, in all three parts of our research, we heard almost nothing from teens and young adults desiring to go to a high-impact, high-quality megachurch. Of all the major reasons eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds leave their church, a lack of polish was not one of them.

. . .

These worries and arguments are unfounded. The younger generation does not leave their church because of a desire to attend a higher quality worship service. We have no doubt that churches, small or large, that create an atmosphere of excellence do attract people. But other churches in the area are not declining as a result of another church's excellence. Students leave churches because of inadequacies and unhealthiness within their churches, not because another church is healthier, bigger, and better. (131)

All Around the Web - October 30, 2015

WORLD Magazine - Video details methods for aborted baby harvest

Denny Burk - Planned Parenthood doctor admits to felony

Thom Rainer - Six Reasons Why Pastors and Church Leaders Must Be More Courageous Today

NPR - All Your Questions About Seventh-Day Adventism And Ben Carson Answered

Erik Raymond - Beware of the Selfie-Preacher

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Theology Part 3

We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Why Beowulf Matters
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 2We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 3

We come now to discuss the monsters of Beowulf. As was discussed in the survey of the narrative, there are three monsters: Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. The monsters offer convenient breaks in the story. One of the difficulties of putting the story to film is connecting the three monsters. The first two are clearly related (Grendel's mother kills in revenge) where as the jump between the Herot to decades later the fight against the dragon makes life difficult for the script writer.

With that said, we need to explore these monsters in some detail. First, we should highlight the emphasis the writer(s) put on the ancestry of Grendel and his mother. Both are descendants of Cain - the first murderer. More than that, he is the first to commit fratricide - the murder of one's brother - a theme that runs through Beowulf as we will see. One significance of this lineage regards their curse. Just as Cain was cursed of God following Abel's murder so too are all of his descendants.

Grendel is the first monster introduced in the text. We are given very little description of him. This is why there is such a variety of depictions of him in books, literature, film, and paintings. What we do know derives from implications of his actions. He is strong - strong enough to rip the doors off of the Herot with ease. He is large enough to eat a man whole. He has claws (or maybe just thick, sharp nails) used to tear men to pieces. Beowulf later carries Grendel's severed head by the hair clearing implying he had hair. We also know that machinery did little thwart him. Beowulf's men use their iron swords to fight off the demon to no avail. Beowulf, on the other hand, uses his bare hands to fight "the field from hell."

As we would expect, this "bold demon" is an outsider. Being cursed of God because of his forefather, Grendel is not welcome at the great mead hall. He hates this. He hates the Danes. He hates celebration. He hates worship.

Lines 86-102 are important here:
Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
To hear the din of the loud banquet
Every day in the hall, the harp being struck
And the clear song of a skilled poet
Telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,
How the Almighty had made the earth
A gleaming plain girdled with waters;
In His splendour He set the sun and moon
To be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men,
And filled the broad lap of the world
With branches and leaves; and quickened life
In every other thing that moved.
So times were pleasant for the people there
Until finally one, a fiend out of Hell,
Began to work his evil in the world.
Grendel was the name of this grim demon (translated by Seamus Heaney)

Tolkien translates the above as follows:
Even thus did the men of that company live in mirth and happiness, until one began to work deeds of wrong, a fiend of hell. Grendel was that grim creature called, the ill-famed haunter of the marches of the land, who kept the moors, the fastness of the fens, and, unhappy one, inhabited long while the troll-kind’s home; for the Maker had proscribed him with the race of Cain.That bloodshed, for that Cain slew Abel, the Eternal Lord avenged: no joy had he of that violent deed, but God drove him for that crime far from mankind. Of him all evil broods were born, ogres and goblins and haunting shapes of hell, and the giants too, that long time warred with God - for that he gave them their reward.

Then went Grendel forth when night was come to spy on that lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes after the ale-drinking had ordered their abode in it; and he found therein a lordly company after their feasting sleeping, sorrow they knew not, the unhappy fate of men. That accursed thing, ravenous and grim, swift was ready; thirty knights he seized upon their couch. Thence back he got him gloating over his prey, faring homeward with his glut of murder to seek his lairs. (16)

I like how Ruth Johnston Staver summarizes it in her book A Companion to Beowulf:
When he hears the poet in the hall praising God's act of Creation, he suffers. Miserably angry at the joy of Heorot's community, he must spy on them and take his private revenge for what seems not to be even his business. Why should Grendel, an unknown creature of the moor and swamp, take offense at Hrothgar's thanes and drinking and hearing cheerful songs? Grendel's motivation, though stated clearly, raises more questions than it answers. (31)
Yet that question is significant. Why would celebratory worship bother Grendel so much? Clearly it is theological. If Grendel was nothing more than a cannibal or a carnivore then no explanation would need to be given. Monsters need no motivation other than being monsters. Yet Grendel's violence is always predicated upon the same circumstances. This becomes clear to the Danes as they cease to celebrate in Herot (not the mention the violence and slaughter of their countrymen turns such celebration to mourning). Grendel's rampage reverses the joy of the Danes to fear. They have met a foe they cannot defeat and he has a name.

Grendel represents the bloodthirsty society he attacks. What Grendel does to the Danes is, in many ways, no different than what the Danes do among themselves. Strip away the celebratory worship and the reader is confronted with a culture built around violence and blood. Consider the evidence of violence and murder among the Danes:
  • Unferth killed his brother - an act of fraticide. 
  • Efor killed the Swedish king, Ongentho, and is then given Higlac’s daughter as a reward. 
  • Hathcyn, son of Hrethel. Takes the Geatish throne after accidentally committing fraticide against his elder brother Herbald. Later he is killed by Ongentho, the Swedish king, in a war in which Ongentho is killed by a second band of Geats, led by Higlac. Catch all of that?
  • Hathlaf, Wulfing warrior, killed by Edgetho. 
  • Herdred, Geatish king later killed by Onela of the Swedes. 
  • Hnaf, Danish king, was killed by Finn who later married Hnaf's sister. 
  • Hrothulf - "Son of Halga, nephew of Hrothgar. He kills Hrothgar’s first son and legal heir, Hrethric, and assumes the throne after Hrothgar’s death." (source
  • Onela, Swedish king who killed one of his nephews. His other nephew killed Onela and ruled in his stead.
  • Ongentho, Swedish king and father of Onela. He killed Hathcyn and then was later killed by Higlac-led group of Geats
I have no doubt I am missing other examples. But the above proves my point. What is striking is that in this society, perhaps no greater sin was that of killing your own kin, yet it fills the entire narrative. Death is a major theme of Beowulf and its not just the monsters with human blood on their hands.

The question, then, is this: what separates Grendel from the society he torments? Grendel, I want to argue, is like a mirror. The murder and fratricide prevalent in the text is accepted as part of that society, yet when Grendel enters into the Herot - a place he is not welcomed - suddenly the violence is unjustified.

This theme is described in better detail by Doug Wilson:
Grendel corresponds in many ways to the society that he hates. He is a fratricide, and kin-slaying in that ancient world, whether we are talking  about kin by blood or kin by law, is tragically common. We see this in how Unferth is welcome at Hrothgar's court even though he took the blood of his own relatives (588-590). We see this in the Lay of Finn, where Hildeburh lost both brother and son, who were on opposing sides of a blood feud (1117-1120). We see it in Beowulf's prediction of what will happen to the attempt at peace-weaving with Freawaru (2059-2064). We see it in how Beowulf and his father came to Heorot when Beowulf was a boy - Hrothgar paid the wergild sot hat Ecgtheow would not be held responsible for one of his slayings (472). We see it in Wealhtheow's concern that her sons will be killed by their cousin Hrothulf (1182-1185), just as one of them actually was. So Grendel is descended from a man who took the life of his brother. So? How does this set him apart? Who cares about that around these parts? (Beowulf, 122)
He then adds:
In the victory part right afterwards [after the death of both Grendel and his mother], Wealhtheow is righteously maneuvering in order to protect her two sons from their cousin (1190-1194). She seats Beowulf between Hrethric and Hrothund, in order that he might protect them from whom? From Grendel? Someone might object that Grendel is dead. Not really. (124)
We will have more to say about this in our survey of Grendel's mother. In the end, however, is a simple point. The one's at war with God and his people are not monsters living outside in the dark. It is us, the one's engaging in so-called worship inside the Herot.

For more:
"Beowulf": A Review
A Shrewd Apologetic: Doug Wilson's Take on Beowulf
Beowulf: Resources and Links
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary

All Around the Web - October 29, 2015

 Russell Moore -  Why I Am a Christian

The Gospel Coalition - 20 Quotes from Albert Mohler’s New Book on the Sexual Revolution

Tim Challies - We Cannot Be Silent

Kevin DeYoung - Choosing the Right Seminary

The Cripplegate - A Quiz for Reformation Day

Crossway - How to Be Present With Your Family As a Pastor

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Pastor's Weekly Schedule

In a previous post I highlighted what a pastor does during the week. Here I want to provide actual schedules pastors follow.

In his book Letter to Timothy John Bisagno offers the following daily schedule:
5:00 AM - Prayer
6:00 AM - Personal devotional Bible reading
6:30 AM - Breakfast
7:00 AM - Exercise
7:30 AM - Study
10:30 AM - Dress
11:30 AM - Arrive at the office for staff luncheons, meetings, office work, dictation, phone calls, etc.
4:00 PM - Hospital visitation and other visits
6:00 PM - Dinner
A couple of thoughts about the above schedule. First, I largely like it. Secondly, this is a 12 hour a day schedule. For those surprised that pastors work during the week, this will come as a shock. Thirdly, Bisagno seems to study at home and not at the church office. That is strange to me. I combine my office hours with administrative tasks and sermon preparation. Nevertheless 3 hours a day in study seems reasonable. Fourthly, a lot of churches who think a pastor's primary job is to visit will be surprised to see he dedicates only 2 hours a day to the task.

My general schedule is more simple than this. I arrive at the office at least thirty minutes before anyone else as a general principle. It give the impression that their time is important to me and it gives me a few minutes of private time before the day gets started.

From the time I arrive until lunch each morning is office hours. This is my time to work with staff on any administrative needs. I also spend this time in study. The afternoons are either for visiting, meetings, ministries, or finalizing sermons. My goal each day is to spend time in the office and in the community - a balance that is often difficult to achieve.

All Around the Web - October 27, 2015

RC Sproul - What is the Gospel?

The Gospel Coalition - We Cannot Be Silent

The Cripplegate - Forty Winks? Soul Sleep vs the Bible

Daily Caller - 1 In 2 Working Americans Make Less Than $30,000 A Year

Inc - 75 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Dumb

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Brief Comment on Duetero-Isaiah Hypothesis from Doug Wilson

For those familiar with Isaiah-studies, the Deutero-Isaiah hypothesis is assumed among most scholars especially among modern and liberal scholars. Due to the change in content and language, to deny the existence of two separate authors is likened to denying the Holocaust, global warming, or heliocentricism.

With that said, Doug Wilson offered the following brief comment regarding Duetero-Isaiah I felt worth passing along here:
Those who divide up the book in order to parcel it out to different authors are being overly precise and pedantic, and do not know how the versatile minds of geniuses work. They could deconstruct a nursery rhyme into an amalgam of the Humptyist school of thought, resting of course in tension with the Dumptyists, who were the outsiders, disgruntled members of the school of the prophets.
On the surface, I have no idea what he is talking about, yet it is beautiful. A second reading, however, makes it evident what Wilson is saying. Wilson's point is actually pretty powerful. Modern scholarship has a tendency to strain a gnat at a point to lose the point of a documents purpose. Wilson (and I think he may  be write) suggests the Deutero-Isaiah might be doing the same thing with the great prophet. In their need to discover some secret meaning or uncover something new, scholars can "deconstruct a nursery rhyme into an amalgam."

"Essential Church?" by Thom & Sam Rainer: A Review

Most churches are dwindling. Most denominations are not growing. The population in the United States is exploding, recently surpassing the three hundred million mark. But the church is losing ground. We are in a steep state of decline.

The American church is dying. (8)

Since beginning my latest ministry position I have read more books on church growth and ministry-help. One that has been on my list for some time is Thom and Sam Rainer's book Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.

There are two great emphasis among ministers and ministry experts: 1) church planting and 2) church revitalization. What the Rainer family offers us is valuable insight into the latter category. Many pastors enter churches needing to bring revitalization. This is a helpful resource in that regard.

Like many of Thom Rainer's books, the content is driven by research and polling information. The authors ask why people dropout of the church - particularly among those between the ages of 18 and 26. The top reasons are highlighted throughout the book. That list is:
  1. Simply wanted a break from church.
  2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
  3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
  4. Work responsibilities prevent me from attending.
  5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
  6. Became too busy tough still wanted to attend.
  7. Didn't fell connected to the people in my church.
  8. Disagreed with the church's stance on political or social issues.
  9. Choose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
  10. Was only going to church to please others. (3-4)
What the writers want to promote is an essential church. The way in which we reach this age group (70% of them dropout) is to become essential. Is the church necessary or optional. If it is optional then revitalization will not happen.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book. Their plan to become an essential church is repeated: simplify, deepen, expect, and multiply. For the most part there isn't anything new here yet we need to be reminded of it regularly.

So if your looking for a helpful book for revitalization, this is a helpful one.

All Around the Web - October 26, 2015

The Crimson - The Elephant in the Room: Conservatives at Harvard

World Magazine - Albert Mohler: Far side Christians

Faith and Theology - A tweet for every volume of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics

Inc. - Here's What Really Happened at That Company That Set a $70,000 Minimum Wage

Hollywood Reporter - 'Star Wars: Force Awakens' Trailer Viewed 112 Million Times in 24 Hours

Friday, October 23, 2015

Rainers: Seven Signs of a Dying Church

In their book Essential Church?, authors Thom Rainer and Sam Rainer offer seven signs of dying churches. They are:
1. Doctrine Dilution - "Teaching anything less than the absolute truths in Scripture will make the younger generation feel betrayed when they learned that a large gap exists between what the Bible really says and what they were taught in church." (16-17)

2. Loss of Evangelistic Passion - "Dying churches have little evangelistic passion." (17)

3. Failure to be Relevant -". . . there is nothing more relevant to a lost world than the saving grace of Jesus Christ. . . . Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for fifty years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with that old culture" (17-18)

4. Few Outwardly focused Ministries - "[D]ying churches gorge themselves on closed study groups and churchwide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community. . . . [I]t must reach into the community with outwardly focused ministries." (18)

5. Conflict Over Personal Preferences - "When the church focuses on trivial matters, the greater gospel message is left on the sidelines." (18)

6. The Priority of Comfort - "Dying churches are comfortable with their ministries. . . .Churches that flourish get outside comfort zones and reach into areas that are uncharted for them." (19)

7. Biblical Illiteracy - "One of the major sins of a dying church is the neglect of theological teaching." (19)

All Around the Web - October 23, 2015

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition)

The Gospel Coalition - Theological Triage and the Doctrine of Creation

Canon and Culture - On Human Dignity, Compassion, and Physician-Assisted Suicide

Thom Rainer - Seven Great and Seven Bad Experiences of First-time Church Guests

Cold-Case Christianity - Why Doesn’t Mark Say Anything About Jesus’ Birth?

Canon Fodder - What is the Earliest Complete List of the Canon of the New Testament?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Christianity and the Small Screen: FBI Files

When I was a teenager I would regularly watch The FBI Files on the Discovery Channel. I loved the show. I have always had an interest in true crime stories and am particularly interested in how authorities "crack the case." Being that these stories actually happened, I always found myself intrigued.

Years later, while exploring various shows on Netflix I saw they offered 30 episodes of the FBI Files. The full show is seven seasons and number well over 100 episodes. So what Netflix offers is but a fraction. Nevertheless, these thirty episodes offer a good sample of the overall tone of the show and is worth commenting on.

One of the effects on me after watching the show was anxiety. The FBI Files portrays everyday families in safe neighbors getting abducted, robbed, and murdered. Strangers, romantic partners, family members, and friends are all guilty culprits in the show. The show frequently portrays the victims of the crime as the most innocent people on the earth.

This caused me to double check our security system at our house and lock doors every night. I even noticed myself staring down people who walked by our house throughout the day. I don't want to sound like I was on edge, but realizing that right now as you read this people are suffering at the hands of others. This leads to two thoughts.

First, the security we enjoy is a blessing but is not absolute. Innocent people suffer. At any moment our lives can change dramatically. Whether it be the result of some heinous crime often portrayed on The FBI Files or through some other crisis, security is not absolute. If you are reading this in the safety of your home without fear of danger, you are lucky indeed. As such we have much to be thankful for.

Scripture is clear that the state's primary role is to protect its citizens. One of the ways Caesar does this is through law enforcement. It is striking how often the FBI agents would speak of the victims and their families in affectionate terms - almost as if they had known them all their lives. The show highlights the genuine concern on the part of law enforcement of stopping at nothing to keep their communities safe. We are safe tonight because people put their lives in the line to keep us safe. Let us be thankful for them.

Secondly, this world is dark and full of wicked people. Christianity affirms the Fall of humanity. In us is a wicked creature. The FBI Files feature criminals with various motivations behind their crimes. None of them are justified. All of their crimes were evil. Yet such a show would not exist if it were not so common. We live in a very wicked world where wicked men and women murder, torture, abduct, rape, and harm others.

If you deny the doctrine of sin or believe that inside the heart of every person is goodness, then a show like this will suggest otherwise. Humans do great things yet we can just as easily commit horrendous acts of injustice against the innocent.

It is here we must emphasize Jesus. He entered into our dark world as the Light. In our darkness we crucified the Light but his resurrection ensured that Light has and will win.

In the end, I pray that the church is present in each moment of tragedy whether portrayed on a TV documentary show or not. The gospel brings comfort and provides answers for those trapped in crime or the victims of it. It is our job to take the Light into the darkest corners. Let us be sure we are doing that.

Below is an episode of The FBI Files. This one regards the hunt for the Unibomber.

For more:
Christianity and the Small Screen: "Smallville"
Christianity and the Small Screen: Fox's "House, M. D."
Christianity and the Small Screen: NBC's "Crisis"
Christianity and the Small Screen: FBI Files 

All Around the Web - October 22, 2015

The Federalists - We Can’t Protect Sexual Orientation Because It Doesn’t Mean Anything

Trevin Wax - Ben Carson wouldn’t vote for Muslim president because he takes religion seriously (COMMENTARY)

Justin Taylor - C. S. Lewis on the Theology and Practice of Worship

Thom Rainer - Six Reasons Church Leaders Should Use Periscope

Mental Floss - How All 50 States Got Their Names

Denny Burk - Success is faithfulness… even when it’s hard

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

From Lewis's Pen: Heaven drew earth up into it

From Letters to Malcomb:
One must be careful not to put this in a way which would blur the distinction between the creation of a man and the Incarnation of God. Could one, as a mere model, put it thus? In creation God makes--invents--a person and 'utters'-- injects--him into the realm of Nature. In the Incarnation, God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being. So that 'He came down from Heaven' can almost be transposed into 'Heaven drew earth up into it,' and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? (70-71)

All Around the Web - October 21, 2015

Telegraph - Children 'becoming hunchbacks' due to addiction to smart phones

Russell Moore - Questions & Ethics: Should I Get My 12 Year Old a Smartphone?

Christian Science Monitor - Why religion still matters

The Gospel Coalition - 3 Questions to Detect Sports Idolatry

Jason Allen - Five Words to Improve Every Sermon

Facts and Trends - Americans, Even Nonreligious, See Evidence for Creator

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Return of the King. To mark the occasion, I am reposting my reviews of the Middle-Earth trilogy and its prequel.

I have finished a re-reading of the Lord of the Rings. I read them first college some years ago shortly after the movies had been released and now with the distance of time and the return of Middle-Earth to the big screen through the Hobbit, I thought I would read the beloved classic trilogy again. The challenge of reviewing this books ought to be obvious. What else is there to say regarding these classics? To make it worse, what is there for me to say regarding these classics? I am no literary critic nor an expert on literature or Tolkien. I am just a fan.

But in regards to The Return of the King there are a few things that I noticed. First, the title itself has been pointed out as rather inadequate. Is the story in this trilogy about the king of Gondor or about destroying the ring? My first exposure to this trilogy was the movies and when I saw the title of the third film I read it as, "The Return of Ring." That made more sense to me. Frodo and Sam are taking the ring to Mount Doom, where the ring was forged, to destroy it. It was later that I realized, and the picture of Aragorn on the poster made it obvious, that the title was about a king, not about a ring. This makes little sense to me. I know that Tolkien did not care for the title himself, but it still remains strange to me.

This leads to one thing that I do enjoy about the trilogy that is seen most clearly in this third book. There are many stories that make up this story. The main story is Frodo and the Ring. But beyond that we see a Ranger become King and how that came to be. Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White. Faramire uniting the two main realms of men - Gondor and Rohan. Theodine clearly wants to die as one of the great kings of men and does so in the end. Golum is destroyed by his lust. It seems that most of the main characters have two quests. The first, which unites them all, is the defense of Middle-Earth from Sauron and the destruction of the ring. The other is a unique quest of completion.

This might explain why the conclusion is so long. As I mentioned before, it takes a while for the story to really begin in The Fellowship of the Ring it likewise takes many pages for the story to end in the Return of the King. Each character's story within the greater story must come to a satisfying end. Aragorn has to be crowned. Faramire must get married. Theodin must be buried. The hobbits must fight for the Shire. Etc. I love stories that do this. When each character brings something unique to the story, it enhances the story and makes one love the characters more. Tolkien is a genius at this.

Regarding the battle at the Shire where Sauraman and Wormtongue are dealt with by the four hobbits, and the hobbits alone, is strange and everyone has highlighted that. I have little to say regarding it for or against. It is what it is.

One final thing should be highlight and that regards the division of the three books. Each book is broken into two parts. Each part follows the story of the dominate characters. This means that one is essentially reading the same story twice. One might follow Frodo and Sam up to a point and then return chronologically to the beginning of the book and then follow the rest of the fellowship. This is a big strange to the reader and if Tolkien had welcomed an editor, such an approach to telling the story may not have remained. But in the third book, this approach is really effective.

My favorite scene was cut from the theatrical version of the movie and only added in the extended version. There, at the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others speak with the Mouth of Sauron. A strange character to say the least. But in this scene, the Mouth of Sauron tries to convince the Fellowship to surrender because their greater cause, the destruction of the ring, had been uncovered. To prove it, the Mouth of Sauron pulls out some of Frodo's belongings. Because of how the story is divided, the reader is as surprised as the Fellowship. We find out later that they had Frodo's belongings but not Frodo because of the bravery of Sam. Tolkien's division is effective here, but this great scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film because the audience already knew that the Mouth was lying. They did not have Frodo or the ring.

Overall, good book. Good conclusion to the series. But you already knew that.

For more:
"Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen: A Review
Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings

"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Return of the King. To mark the occasion, I am reposting my reviews of the Middle-Earth trilogy and its prequel.

I am not a literary critic and thus to write a review of a trilogy on a blog with belief that you will contribute to the conversation is rather foolish. What can one write or say about the Lord of the Rings trilogy in general or the Two Towers particularly that hasn't already been said? As a result, what follows are just a few things that crossed my mind. Furthermore, it is now difficult to read and speak of these books without dealing with the movie.

First, of the three movies, the Two Towers film probably takes creative license the most. The climax of the Fellowship of the Ring movie is found in the beginning of the Two Towers book. The scene of Boromier betrayal and death open up the pages of the second book. Beyond that, Peter Jackson and company emphasizes the battle at Helm's Deep, making it the climax, while Tolkien takes much longer in getting there. Jackson has Eomer on the run, Tolkien is not. And on and on it goes. Someone more qualified than me could give a seemingly endless list of differences between the film and book.

Some of these changes might have been necessary, but it goes to illustrate why when it comes to watching movie versions of books I try to separate the two. No movie is better than the book for various reasons. Furthermore, no movie follows the book perfectly. Thus I have found it best to allow the book be the book and the movie to be the movie. Certainly changes where made by Jackson that are a bit disappointing, but the spirit of the book, for the most part, remains.

Moving on.

One thing that sticks out to me regards Gollum. He is one of the most unique and important characters in literature. What he is remains mysterious. We know that he once was something like a hobbit, but apparently was not one. He is now a strange creature controlled by a thirst to get the ring back and it is that drive that brings him into the story. Gandalf had told Frodo that he suspected that Gollum would play an important role, and when Sam and Frodo break from the Fellowship, they rely heavily on the strange creature.

Regarding Gollum I noticed how he and Sam used the same title when speaking to Frodo but with two very different meanings. Both refer to Frodo as "Master." Sam uses it in the sense of employment. Sam works for Frodo by keeping his garden in the Shire. His use of "Master" is much more friendly. Sam is not a slave, but a friend. Gollum, on the other hand, is a slave. Since Frodo possesses the ring, the very thing Gollum is enslaved to, the creature is obeys every command of Frodo, that is, until his "loyalty" to Frodo is proven false. His true loyalty is to the ring, leading Frodo and Sam to Mordor is a means to an ends.

This distinction is important especially regarding Christian theology. Jesus is the Master and Lord of all believers and thus we serve Him, but at the same time, Jesus makes it clear that we are His friends. As adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we become joint-heirs with Christ. Thus we do not fear Christ without understanding grace. In this sense, we are more like Sam. Master is a term of endearment, a reminder of who we truly are and who Jesus really is.

Sinners are more like Gollum. Enslaved to false idols who promise joy - the sort of joy Gollum believes he will find in the ring - is the subtle nature of sin. Idols enslave us with the promise of freedom but never gives us that freedom. As a result, when we don't find joy or contentment we double down. Like Gollum, the unredeemed sinner really is a slave.

More could be said, but as I said, I won't add much to what has already been said. The "resurrection" of Gandalf is interesting in light of Tolkien's Christian faith. Wormtongue remains a strange character who serves as a puppet of Sauronman. I love Theoden as a king. Its a great story, but you already knew that. If you haven't read the book already, do it now!

For more:
"Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen: A Review
Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings 

"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Return of the King. To mark the occasion, I am reposting my reviews of the Middle-Earth trilogy and its prequel.

I have a new personal rule. When watching a movie based on a book, I do not read the book before. I have learned that maybe outside of action scenes and emotions, the book is always better especially when it comes to character development, plot, and resolution. Furthermore, Hollywood writers, producers, and directors can rarely honor the book and the author's story because movies are expensive and the Box Office means everything.

So since the release of The Hobbit and since it will not be completely done until 2014, I will not be re-reading Tolkien's classic. However, that doesn't mean that I can't read his triology, The Lord of the Rings. I read the series in college (along with the Hobbit) before the third movie was released in theaters and loved them immensely. However, unlike most books-turn-movies, I struggle reading Tolkien's vision without seeing Jackson's art. And with the performance of Gollum and Gandalf in the movies, how can you not?

But there are a couple of thoughts I will say in review regarding the first book of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. First, Tolkien spends a lot of time in the Shire. The story moves slowly here. We are told of Bilbo and Frodo preparing for a party and Bilbo is a very old man. We are told that he is going to sneak away during the party and leave for good. He slips on the ring. Gandalf suspects. There's a long conversation. Bilbo leaves. Frodo returns too late to say goodbye. There's another long conversation about what Gandalf suspects about the ring. Gandalf leaves. He returns (17 years later!) and another long conversation pursues about the ring. They then leave the Shire.

Tolkien clearly loves the Shire and wants the reader to appreciate the world there. Throughout the books and the trilogy, the reader is reminded of this oasis-like place where simple folk live peaceful simple lives. There are family rivalries, but no wars and no fights. That is contrasted to the world of men where they are always at war, even with each other. That could be what we love most about this trilogy. It is four Hobbits from the Shire who must face down the enemy and carry the burden of the ring. The most innocent of creatures must carry the burden that is too great for fallen men. Tolkien wants us to regret having to leave the Shire and the Hobbits are hesitant to leave (Sam is even given a box of seed from Lothlorien for his garden when he returns to the Shire).

Secondly, the theme of racism this time of around was more prevalent. Gollum is hobbit-like, but we never quit figure out what he was or what he is. Dwarves and Elves hate each other. Gimli was almost not welcomed to Lothlorien and wouldn't have been if it wasn't for Elrond. Sauron is unaware, it seems, of what a Hobbit is or where the Shire is located. It is the Fellowship that is able to breakdown those barriers. It is made up of an old wizard, a ranger, a wanna-be prince (Boromir), an elf, a dwarf, and four hobbits. The mission to destroy evil once and for all breaks down those unnecessary barriers.

Thirdly, where are the women in middle-earth? Have you ever noticed that? The main women thus far are Galadriel, Aragorn's elvish girlfriend, and just a few others. I have a theory why. Most of the women in the trilogy represent peace. Galadriel, for example, is beautiful, and yet strong, heavenly and does not give into temptation (unlike Boromir, the man). Even Gimli is smitten with her (he asks for a string of her hair) and regrets continuing the mission as he wishes to remain near her and what she represents. It isn't until the third book where we meet a woman, to my knowledge, that anticipates, participates, and desires war. The characters of the story seek to return to the world that the women in the story represents.

Overall, this is a great story and a great book. You already knew that. These books have been analyzed by smarter people than me. The Fellowship of the Ring has always been the slowest of the trilogy, but it sets up the rest. In it Tolkien is in no hurry wanting the reader to experience Middle-Earth. The story picks up the pace from here.

Regarding the movie. Jackson and company made some big changes of course. Some of it might have been necessary (I can kind of sympathize with his reasoning for axing Tom Bombadil, one of my favorite characters who is quit mysterious) for a movie audience, some of it unfortunate (I like that Jackson explained the backstory of the ring at the beginning and not wait until the Great Council). In the end, enjoy the book and enjoy the movie. Its easy to do.

For more:
"Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen: A Review
Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings 

"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Return of the King. To mark the occasion, I am reposting my reviews of the Middle-Earth trilogy and its prequel.

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar. (276)

Leading up to the much anticipated release of the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, I set forth a new personal law: watch the movie before (re)reading the book. This was laid down after my initial frustrations with some of the Narnia Chronicles movies where I would read the book before watching the movie. Since then, this rule has proven fruitful.

Now that I have watched the trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit, I finally sat down to re-read Tolkien's classic. I had not read it for almost ten years dating back to my college days. Thus much of the details were fuzzing at best. With that said, I offer a few words regarding its content.

First, it is imperative for the reader to know that Tolkien is writing to young readers, not adults. The tone and writing style between The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings is striking. When I first read Tolkien, I read the trilogy first and then later its prequel. I was surprised by the difference ignorant of the history of the books. The reader should know that going in.

Secondly, Tolkien is a gifted writer regardless of intended audience. I read the first two paragraphs of the novel to my family and both my youngest (3 and 6) and my wife (30) were excited at the prospect of reading it for themselves. Tolkien is clearly gifted and one discovers this from page one.

Thirdly, it has been rightly pointed out that greed and covetousness is a driving moral theme in the book. The most quoted line is from Thorin as he dies, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now." The Dwarves, trolls, orcs, men, and elves are all guilty of greed. It is the spirit of the dragon that lies within all of us. Thus the real enemy in The Hobbit is not just Smaug that hoards the literal gold under the mountain, but the inward dragon that covets it as well.

Fourthly, though a classic the book does deserve some criticism. Some characters are not named (like the "Elven King who is not named except in the Return of the King appendices). Some of the stories are incomplete. For example, what exactly did Gandalf do when he left the dwarves? The explanation given at the end is incomplete and undeveloped. This is one of the reasons why the movies producers made the changes they made. And they were necessary changes.

More could be said, but being that the book is a modern classic, other, more-gifted critiques are easily available. I would highly recommend everyone to read the book and to watch the movies. Anyone can complain about the many changes made in the movie - and there were many - but I cannot recommend its boycott on purist grounds. Furthermore, one must also know that many of the additions are taken from the appendices in The Return of the King.

Read the book. Devour the book. Enjoy the book. And later, read it again.

For more:
"Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen: A Review
Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings 

All Around the Web - October 20, 2015

Joe Carter - How ‘Playboy’ Magazine Legitimized Pornography—and Destroyed Itself in the Process

Ed Stetzer - That Stat that Says Pastors are All Miserable and Want to Quit (Part 1)

Chuck Lawless - 9 Questions to Determine if You’re a Christian Leader

John Stonestreet -  Bubble-wrapping Our Kids

New York Times - Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Is Found, Scholar Says

Yahoo! - Facebook or Fakebook? Many admit making lives seem more exciting on social media

Monday, October 19, 2015

"A Little Book For Theologians" by Kelly Kapic: A Review

Theology is all about knowing how to sing the song of redemption to know when to shout, when to mourn, when to be silent and when to hope. But in order to enjoy the song and sing it well, we must learn the words and the music. (22-23)

I have studied theology for over a decade yet recently I sat down to read Kelly Kapic's helpful book A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012). When asked why I was reminded of what an important lesson I learned from sports: never forget or forsake the fundamentals. In all sports, the skills one learns as a child must be cultivated and returned to throughout the rest of their athletic life. Professional point guards still work on their dribbling skills. Professional quarterbacks still work on their footwork.

The same ought to be true for theologians.

When we discuss theology, certain fundamentals ought to be understood. What theology is and what it is for is an important discussion. What should the heart of the theologian be? How does one approach the study of theology? How are we to understand the role of Scripture and other works in theology? Does our worship community play a role?

Kapic takes the reader down to the kernel of theology. Before the amateur theologian can dig into Christological debates of the early church or ongoing disagreements over particular redemption in our day, theologians ought to begin here. The writer begins by pointing us to what theology seeks to accomplish and its relationship to our lives - theology changes us.

He then looks into what characteristics a theologian ought to have: humility, justice, prayerfulness, and a love of Scripture. A theologian unwilling to pray, for example, is a poor theologian. Theology is a science, the author notes, but a different kind of science. One can study quantum mechanics and be unaffected, but a theologian cannot study the benevolence of God and remain stoic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this little book. Though it is over 120 pages, it reads fast. Kapic is an engaging author and exposes the reader to a host of great theologians from history worth exploring.

In terms of criticism, I would point the reader to a lack of focal emphasis on the gospel in the study of theology. The author does discuss Luther's "theologian of the cross" as opposed to the "theologian of glory" but does not offer a substantive discussion on the gospel as the center of theology. Without a clear gospel-hermeneutic, the theologian is standing on weaker ground.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this book as it rekindled my ongoing love of theology and I would recommend it to new students of theology.

All Around the Web - October 19, 2015

Russell Moore - Playboy Is Too Boring to Succeed

Trevin Wax - 5 Steps to the Severing of Sexuality in the 21st Century

Weekly Standard - Making it All Up

Lauren Chandler - 5 Misconceptions About the Pastor’s Wife 

The Gospel Coalition - What I Learned from My Gay Co-Worker

The Blaze - Hotel Chain Cuts On-Demand TV Porn From Guest Rooms Across the Globe

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ten Reasons Why Young Church Members Dropout

In their book Essential Church?, authors Thom and Sam Rainer offer the top ten reasons church dropouts stopped attending church according to their research. The reasons, in order, are below:
  1. Simply wanted a break from church. (27%)
  2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
  3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
  4. Work responsibilities prevent me from attending.
  5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
  6. Became too busy tough still wanted to attend.
  7. didn't fell connected to the people in my church.
  8. disagreed with the church's stance on political or social issues.
  9. Choose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
  10. Was only going to church to please others. (3-4)

All Around the Web - October 16, 2015

New York Times - The Reign of Recycling

Kevin DeYoung - The Tolerance Jesus Will Not Tolerate

Greg Gilbert - Talking About Jesus with America’s Least Religious Generation 

Trevin Wax - God Calls Us to Share the Gospel, Not Just Talk about It

The Gospel Coalition - How I Work: An Interview with Karen Swallow Prior

Christ and Pop Culture - Panel Discussion: Comic Books as Modern Mythology

Thursday, October 15, 2015

We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Theology Part 2

We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Why Beowulf Matters
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 2

In previous posts we put forward the thesis that Beowulf is a work of narrative theology which argues that we are all descendants of Cain. Having summarized the story itself, it is best to explore the history of its writing.

Admittedly, there is much debate regarding the history of the story's composition, original author, etc. For the sake of argument and space, I want to adopt some of the thoughts of Doug Wilson in his extremely helpful essay "Beowulf: The UnChrist" found in his book Beowulf. He writes:
The action of the poem is on both sides of the AD 521, taking this hard date from Gregory of Tour's mention of Hygelac's disastrous raid on the Frisians. The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons t the Christian faith began in earnest about seventy years later, in the 590s. "During three or four generations starting in the 590s, all the English kings and their courts converted to Christianity."[1] Not only so, but we also know from history that both the Danes and the Geats (if they existed) were unconverted pagans at the time of Hygelac. [2]

If we place the Beowulf poet in the early eighth century, this is just one century after the Anglo-Saxons began this process and only about fifty years after it was generally concluded. . . . This is just one generation. . . . In short, the Beowulf poet could easily have known individual Christian Anglo-Saxons who had converted from paganism. in fact, the poet's own parents could easily have been in that position. That world was dead and gone, but it was not necessarily "long ago and far away."
Therefore, he concludes, the original readers knew what the sequel was. Though Wiglaf laments the vanity of it all, the readers knew that a true and better Beowulf was coming in the form of missionary monks and priests.

Wilson goes on to add:
One other chronological note is worthy mentioning. Hygelac dies circa 520, and Beowulf succeeds his son (who ruled only briefly) and then reigns for fifty years. This brings us down to the 570, just a few decades before the Anglo-Saxons begin turning to the Christian faith. They are abandoned there by the poet (deliberately, I would argue)  on the very threshold of conversion, like a waif left on the door of an orphanage. The aesthetic impact of this is profound. (117
If Wilson is correct, then we ought to see Beowulf, whether based on a historic figure or not, as the last hero in a pagan age. There is no sequel to Beowulf because Christianity brought an end to monsters and dragons. Christianity provides what Beowulf cannot.

[1] John Blair, The Anglo-Saxon Age, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 23.
[2] Paul Cavill, Anglo-Saxon Christianity, 116.

For more:
"Beowulf": A Review
A Shrewd Apologetic: Doug Wilson's Take on Beowulf
Beowulf: Resources and Links
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary

All Around the Web - October 15, 2015

NY Post - Our double lives: Dark realities behind ‘perfect’ online profiles

KCRA - Brown signs bill requiring pregnancy centers to provide abortion information

Chuck Lawless - Praying for Pastors on Monday

The Blaze - Secret Service Agent Who Saved President Reagan After Shooting Has Died

CNBC - Apple is having its worst year since the financial crisis

Wired - See the Sketches J.R.R. Tolkien Used to Build Middle-Earth

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in Church History

"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - Introducing a New Series
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - Introduction
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus Today
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in the OT
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in John's Gospel
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in the Apostolic Witness
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus in the Johannine Writings

After a detailed survey of what Scripture had to say on the subject of the deity of Christ (with emphasis on the New Testament), the editors of The Deity of Christ now draw our attention to the historic record. Though Scripture alone ought to be our authority, God has blessed us with centuries of godly men and women who have read the same book. Thus their insights are important for us to look into.

Dr. Gerald Bray, the author of this chapter, begins by highlighting the uniqueness of Jesus in history. He writes:
The only person in Jesus' day who can be compared with him is John the baptist, but the contrasts between Jesus and John are at least as important as the similarities. Like Jesus, John had an itinerant teaching and preaching ministry that attracted disciples, but they left no written record, and any movement he might have founded fizzled out, probably even before his death. The circumstances of his beheading were such that it would not have been surprising if there had been a protest movement against King Herod's rule, but that doe snot seem to have happened, and whatever was left of John's legacy was integrated into the ministry of Jesus. Those who are skeptical of the Gospel record will naturally see this as early Christian propaganda, but nothing can detract from the fact that Jesus left a movement behind him of a kind unparalleled by anyone else. Even the false messiahs who appeared from time to time left nothing to posterity, and when the leaders of the Jewish revolts of AD 66-73 and AD 135-138 failed, they also disappeared from the historical record. How was it possible that Jesus should not only have bucked the universal trend but gone on to be worshiped as God? (170)
Later he adds this, "It is virtually impossible to imagine how a group of Jews could ever have recommended prayer and devotion to Jesus without the most compelling reasons to do so" (173)

From here he looks at the Christological debates in the early church climaxing at Nicea and Chalcedon. The main adversary here, obviously, is Arianism who denied Jesus's absolute deity. Bray summarized the problem with their Christology:
What Arius had done was to offer a solution to the problem of Christ's divinity that destroyed the very essence of our salvation. if Christ was the being whom Arius claimed he was, then he was not God. And if he was not God, he was as far away from him as we are and therefore totally unable to do anything for us. There may be gradations of being within the created order, but whatever they are and however much they matter to us, they are as nothing to God. The chasm separating creatures from their Creator makes everything else pale in significance by comparison. It is imply not possible to be divine without being God, just as it is not possible for something relative to be "like" something absolute. You are either one thing or the other; any resemblance between them is illusory. (179)
Then he highlights the challenges of both Apollinarianism and Nestorianism which goes behind of this short blog. In the end, the author makes the general point that beyond modern liberalism (traced back to Socicianism), the orthodox doctrine of Christology remains largely unaffected. Though some are looking to reconsider the language of Chalcedon and Nicea, most agree that these ecumenical councils have offered the best language thus far.

All Around the Web - October 13, 2015

Russell Moore - Questions & Ethics: Should My Church Discipline a Pro-Choice Member?

Trevin Wax - 5 Resources for Cultivating a Beautiful Culture of Marriage and Sexuality

Ross Douthat - Ghosts in a Secular Age

Denny Burk - A brief word about the ACBC conference and the protest

Sam Storms - What Does Scripture Teach About the Office of Prophet and Gift of Prophecy?

Erik Raymond - Interview with Andy Mineo

Monday, October 12, 2015

"God's Undertaker" by John Lennox: A Review

The burning questions, then, is: In which direction does science point - matter before mind, or Mind before matter? The answer to that question will surely have to be determined, as always, by following Socrates' advice, examining the evidence and seeing where it leads, however threatening this may turn out to be to our preconceived notions. (187)

We've seen the headline a hundred times before: science had rendered religion dead; only fools and knaves believe in it anymore. That's the party line from the elite but is it true? That the question raised in the book God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox.

I was first exposed to Dr. Lennox, a mathematician by trade, both when he came to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and gave a series of lectures and when he was featured in the documentary Exposed: No Intelligence Allowed. Lennox proved to not only be piercingly brilliant able to sift through the bumper stickers and nonsense in the current debate and unveil the truth. What we are debating isn't science, but worldview.

The book makes two basic arguments. First, those in the scientific world (and those who promote and cover this world) are promoting a worldview as much as scientific fact. Page after page is an indictment against the priests of the scientific community. For example, he writes:
What is more, the fact that there are scientists who appear to be at war with God is not quite the same thing as science itself being at war with God. For example, some musicians are militant atheists. But does that mean music itself is at war with God? Hardly. The point here may be expressed as follows: Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science. Nor, we might add, are such statements necessarily true; although the prestige of science is such that they are often taken to be so. For example, the assertions by Atkins and Dawkins, with which we began, fall into that category. They are not statements of science but rather expressions of personal belief, indeed, of faith - fundamentally no different from (though noticeably less tolerant than) much expression of the kind of faith Dawkins expressly wishes to eradicate. of course, the fact that Dawkins' and Atkins' cited pronouncements are statements of faith does not of itself mean that those statements are false; but it does means that they must not be treated as if they were authoritative science. What needs to be investigated is the category into which they fit, and, most important of all whether or not they are true. (18)
Ultimately, Lennox concludes that the debate isn't between science and religion or even atheism verses Christianity but naturalism verses theism. He writes:
With this we come to one of the major points we wish to make in this book which is that there is a conflict, a very real one, but it is not really a conflict between science and religion at all. For if that were so, elementary logic would dictate that one would find that scientists were all atheists and only non-scientists believed in God, and this, as we have seen, is simply not the case. No, the real conflict is between two diametrically opposed worldviews: naturalism and theism. They inevitably collide. (28-29)
I am in complete agreement with Lennox here. Science is limited in its scope. It can answer the "how" of life but not the "why." How the coffee is made (something about coffee beans and boiling water I'm sure) but it cannot answer the why (Mrs. Smith is having a hard time waking up this morning). Scientism doesn't know its place and Lennox draws our attention to its dangers. When people assert that science has buried God they are making a metaphysical argument from physics! A contradiction of terms.

The second dominant theme of the book regards the argument for intelligent design. This is the most technical and difficult portion of the book (at least for me). For those familiar with the subject, some of what is here is not new. Lennox looks through both the telescope and the microscope for evidence of intelligent design. Being a Christian I find the search simple and I am in no need of convincing. Nonetheless, Lennox offers compelling evidence that I believe that only blind faith in atheism can deny (there's that presuppositional worldview thing again).

Overall, Lennox has written an important book on one of the most basic questions of life. Either life is undirected than there either is no God or there is an uninterested one. Neither is comforting. Who we are is central to what it means to be humans. Lennox needs to be taken seriously and he is the sort of writer and academic I am grateful is on our side.

All Around the Web - October 12, 2015

Russell Moore - Human Dignity According to the Gospel

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Global Hunger

Kevin DeYoung - Five Questions about Sanctification and Good Works: Are Good Works Necessary to Salvation?

The Gospel Coalition - 5 Warning Signs for the Church in a ‘Facebook Culture’
The Verge - The frightening promise of self-tracking pills

Friday, October 9, 2015

What Does a Pastor Do During the Week?

Every pastor has heard it a thousand times. So much so its a common punchline: pastors only work one day a week. Though humorous, it is unfortunate that many people do not believe it is a joke. It implies pastors are lazy with little responsibility. Beyond preaching on a Sunday, they just sit around waiting for people to die or get married.

This obviously is not true. A good pastor is likely exhausted from his daily and weekly schedule while at the same time burdened with the cares of his flock. Below I want to offer just a few of the things a pastor does in a given week in addition to his regular preaching schedule.

1.  Prepare for sermons and any other speaking engagements - All pastors debate as to how long one should spend in sermon preparation. The Bible does not give us a clear example (except to study to show yourself approved of God). The truth is, no pastor is ever prepared enough. The task of standing before God's people to declare God's Word is a great challenge. My goal each week is to spend at least about 10 hours in preparing for Sunday sermons. That is 5 hours per sermon from start to finish. That may sound like a long time, but remember that preaching is different from teaching.

Add to this routine are outside speaking engagements. These include funerals, weddings, chapels, nursing homes, revivals, etc. At times they can swamp our time. I remember one time I was scheduled to speak 9 times in a period of 7 days!

People would be surprised just how time consuming faithfully preaching the gospel as revealed in God's Word truly is.

2. Lead Staff

No pastor is a lone ranger. It is both unbiblical and unsafe. The pastor must lead. Whether this be hired staff or volunteers, he must organize, administer, and lead. A pastor must cast a vision and shepherd the rest of the church to follow. Thus much of his time is spent in meetings, communication (phone calls, emails, etc.) and implementing that vision. 

3. Motivate and Lead All Ministries

This is a continuation of the above. The pastor must give final approval to all activities and ministries. At some point there is no reason to saddle a dead horse and the pastor must be wise in seeing that. Overseeing the ministries of the church can be done indirectly (through delegation) or directly and a wise pastor must know when to do one or the other.

There are some weeks when this consumes me. Vacation Bible School or some other major outreach requires a lot of planning, working with various committees and leaders, working within the budget, organization, promotion, etc.

If your church is executing a major outreach that week, please be sensitive to your pastor and be aware that he is pressed for time.

4. Visit

Visiting is like farming: the work is never done. There are some weeks when I am able to visit a number of people. Other weeks I can't. Visiting is a priority but at times it can become secondary. I try to take advantage of trips at Wal-mart or other common destinations hoping to "bump into" members of our church. A priority for me is widows and the sick.

Some pastors thrive at this but a church needs to know that if the pastor is spending all of his time visiting he is spending too little time preparing for his sermon.

5. Evangelize

Paul tells Timothy to fulfill his ministry as an evangelist. All preaching and visiting must be evangelical. The challenge for a lot of pastors is getting beyond the church to reach the lost. If a church is faithful in reaching its community, much of the pastors evangelism is working with the church to reach the lost through both training, organizing, and serving in that area.

6.Outside Ministries

There are many good parachurch organizations and associations that allow the pastor to do more for the kingdom. Though these an never replace the local church, they are important. I currently help ex-offenders find jobs (and Jesus!) in addition to a number of others.

7. Prayer and Accountability

Both prayer and accountability are essential to a pastor. To neglect them is to put their ministry (and the church) at great risk. I thoroughly enjoy fellowshipping with other pastors who can encourage me when I'm down and confront me when I am in sin.


The above are thoughts that come immediately to my head. It fails to recognize the constant interruptions. A pastor can be deep in study when tragedy strikes changing his entire week. The above says nothing of funerals, counseling, wedding planning, etc. In the end, let the reader know that a pastor's job is never done. He is always on call and never clocks out. Though some neglect their calling and are lazy, a good pastor is the opposite and does, in fact, work more than one day.