Tag Archives: christian

Book Recommendation: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

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I finally finished reading Rosaria Butterfield’s fascinating autobiography. Her writing is full of wisdom, flavor, and honesty. More importantly, her story of conversion is God-magnifying and very insightful. She details the very interesting path she took to find Christ. She truly was an “unlikely convert.” An atheist-agnostic who prided herself in an openly homosexual lifestyle, she disdained ignorant evangelicals. She was a tenured professor at a research university and was quite popular in her community. However, despite her opposition to Christianity, she eventually became a follower of Jesus.

Her story is full of insight, perspective, and wonder. She is able to analyze her own sin struggles, idolatrous thoughts, and search for God in a way that avoids oversimplification.

Christians would do well to learn from her experience to see how they can reach the “unlikely” people in their lives with a message that is honest, patient, and life-changing.

The first few chapters are riveting. The last few are denominationally specific and might not appeal to a wide audience. However, it’s her story and she can tell it how she wants.

An extended interview with the author can be found online:

A brief audio summary of her conversion can be found at desiringgod.org.

———–

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It has always seemed to me that without the proper response to failure, we don’t grow, we only age. So I was and am willing to take the risk of being wrong for the hope of growing in truth.”

“The truth is, feminists have been more successful rhetoricians at the core of major U.S. universities than have Christians, even though most of these universities have Christian origins.”

“Here’s what I think happened: since all major U.S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance. Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue.”

“During one sermon, Ken pointed to John 7: 17, and called this “the hermeneutics of obedience.” Jesus is speaking in this passage, and he says: “If anyone is willing to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” Ah ha! Here it was! Obedience comes before understanding.”

“…repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.”

“I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives.”

“How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.”

“Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers in an effort to be a good teacher to those undergraduates under your care.”

“It’s better to be wrong on an important subject than right on a trivial one, as long as you are willing to learn from your mistakes.”

“This experience taught me a powerful lesson about evangelism: the integrity of our relationships matters more than the boldness of our words.”

“It took me a while to figure out how I felt about the Bible verses on the placards. On the one hand, the Bible had become my life, my guide for life, my paradigmatic mirror in which I found meaning and direction. I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich and complex context, were just sitting out there on placards, naked and rude. I felt an immediate aversion to the aesthetic even as I identified with the message. For example, John 3: 16 without John 3: 17 seems to balance itself in the wrong place.”

 

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Christian, What is the Foundation of Your Happiness?

brothers professionalsI have said for some time that my favorite book on pastoral ministry is John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While every point may not be exactly in line with my own pastoral convictions, it gets the essentials right, puts the focus in the right place, and is never short on challenging statements.

The second edition of this book was just released. The pastors at our church are working through this book at our monthly meeting. With the new edition came a few new chapters. I wanted to share a portion of one such chapter. The author is trying to explain how God can be for his glory and for us. In defending why he as (over?) emphasized God’s self-glory he describes the plight of many Christians (so-called):

I feel a special burden for the millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born-again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy?

Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead, they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If you wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.

In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person — only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And He feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change at the bottom of what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same, you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; just a new bellhop.

Thoughts on the Dangers from Within

A few weeks ago we were talking about Acts 20:13-38 in small group. I am still feeling the affects of that powerful passage.

You see, this is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian church. A church that occupied the majority of his last missionary journey and where his protégé was an elder. His farewell to the Ephesian elders is filled with tears and heartache. He is convinced that he will not see his friends again and his conviction proves true.

In his farewell I am reminded of true gospel ministry. A ministry that is sacrificial rather than demanding, honest rather than flattering. It is rooted in humility and thoroughness. Such ministry has a deep foundation in truth and is developed in meaningful relationships: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

All that to be said, I find it interesting that the very last words Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders regards the dangers from within the church that will come. Communication in that day and age was spotty and travel was dangerous, there was a high likelihood they would not receive any future instruction from Paul and he left them with these words:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

As I thought about these last words I was reminded that the danger for Christians is more frequently from within the church than without. This is no excuse to abandon the church but rather a call to guard the health of our faith community.

Dangers from without are easier to spot. They are different and distinct. Such is the case with many “overt” sins. Maybe this is why Christians often point to “outsider” sins (e.g., homosexuality, drunkenness, etc.). They’re easy to spot! But just because they are more visible does not mean they are more dangerous.

Sin that grows within the community of faith is much more difficult to identify because it takes Christian language and even Christian scripture and cleverly mixes it with false teaching. I finally settled on two major dangers that are present within the church that often receive Christian justification: traditionalism and existentialism.

Imagine a wide, asphalt highway with two great ditches on each side. If the highway is the firm sure ground of Biblical truth, then two ever present dangers are the lure of traditionalism on one side and the elevation of feeling on the other. The difficulty in navigating the highway of truth is that we are often tempted, by distraction or danger, to swerve off of its sturdy path.

When you ask people to make godly decisions they too often have no Biblical foundation on which to base their choices. As a result, the default mode is often traditionalism. Such traditionalism is seen in the kind of thoughtless repetition of doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Much like Einstein’s definition of insanity, traditionalism is unable to look outside of personal experience to find a better option.

On the other extreme is the particular modern lure of “feelings.” Most people have no solid criteria by which to discern right from wrong and good from bad. As a result, they are at the whim of their feelings. They tell me they “feel” like they’re in love or it just “seemed” like the best thing at the time. That tickle in your stomach is probably just gas. This too shall pass.

I think tradition can be a vibrant connection to our Christian heritage and feelings directed toward God are lovely but both our traditions and our feelings must serve in submission to the truth of God’s word. “We have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19). Our feelings and our traditions can easily be co-opted by suave communicators. They can quickly make you think that God is all about making you feel good or the Bible is a book that justifies the way things have always been done. The only light in such darkness is the revealed word of God, to which we would “do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19).

Next time you have to make a decision ask yourself, “what does the Bible say?”

Life in 6 Words

This is one of the best and most creative presentations of the gospel I have ever seen. It is both memorable and theologically rich. It manages to take complex concepts and present them in a simple way without devolving into naïve simplicity.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this video, please do not pirate it but, rather, support those who made it and purchase it from Dare2Share ministries.

Walk the Talk

I have again been reminded of a way to functionally undermine the authority of the Scriptures. Bible teachers or Christians frequently proclaim their allegiance to the Scripture and its truth yet often only vaguely reference its contents out of context or (worst) (mis-)use the text to suit their own ends; in these moments they demonstrate that all the talk about authority and sufficiency is smoke and mirrors, propaganda, and hypocrisy. I also see people consistently elevate and emphasize secondary material in the text above things of greater importance. Sometimes, wholesale theological fabrications are held in higher esteem than the gospel.

All of this reminded me of an excellent message by David Nelson delivered at SEBTS during convocation a few years ago. His message (“How to Undermine the Authority of Scripture”) gave four ways to functionally undermine the authority of the Bible:

1. Make loud claims about the inerrancy of the Bible and then fail to teach it all.

2. Insist that what is not in the Scripture is in the Scripture.

3. Neglect to teach what is in the Scripture or fail to give it the proper emphasis given by the Bible.

4. Make loud claims of the authority of Scripture and then fail to live a truly Christian way of life.

I would highly recommend listening to the entire message.

The Next Christians: A Hopeful Appraisal of Christianity’s Future

Gabe Lyons, coauthor of the insightful book UnChristian, has written a helpful book entitled The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their blogging for books program.

When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.

Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.

It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.

Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.

All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more.  I for one don’t grieve this one bit.  I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good.  It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials.  It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice.  But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…

So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world.  If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.

This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.

This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.

HT: Alan Knox.