Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

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.

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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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What do I treasure?

1 Peter 2 has been haunting me lately. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. There is so much to talk about in that passage about the people of God as his priesthood, his living stones. We are alive because Jesus has imparted life to us. We are living stones because the true living stone has resurrected us from the dead. We are a royal priesthood because Jesus, our great high priest, has bridged the gap between God and us. There is an amazing reality of being a part of the “people of God” if you have received the mercy and grace of Jesus.

However, I noticed in verse 4 that the true living stone (Jesus) that has been rejected by men is precious and valuable to God.

For those who do not believe, Jesus is a stumbling block, an obstacle, an inconvenience. For those who do believe he is valuable, he is a treasure, he is precious.

I suspect that many of my problems stem from the simple fact that I do not always value Jesus as most valuable. Whether it’s the sin of idolatry or familiarity, I often devalue Jesus in pursuit of other things that are immediately gratifying but pale in comparison to the worth of Christ. Jesus is a treasure worth more than anything and he is a treasure that never fades.

So I ask myself, “what do I treasure?” Am I seeking acclaim, notoriety, and wealth or am I seeking Jesus? Has Jesus become familiar or, worst, is he an inconvenience to my way of life? Is my satisfaction in Jesus alone unshakeable?

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.

“You Can Change”

If you have ever struggled with sinful habits or negative patterns of living, then this book is for you. This is the best book I have read in regard to overcoming sin.

This book is not some sort of self-help manual but a reminder of how the gospel can change us:

I want to be like Jesus. I can observe him in action as I read the Gospels. I can study the life he lived and the love he showed. I could try very hard to imitate him. But at best that would lead only to a small, short-lived improvement, and indeed even that small improvement would probably only make me proud.

I need more than an example. I need help. I need someone to change me. Trying to imitate Jesus on its own only leaves me feeling like a failure. I can’t be like him. I can’t match up. I need sorting out. I need rescuing. I need forgiveness.

The great news is that Jesus is not only my example but also my Redeemer.

I could tell that Chester was on to something, particularly in Chapter 2, when he described three wrong reasons to change: 1) to prove myself to God, 2) to prove myself to other people, or 3) to prove myself to myself.

At the heart of any advice that Chester gives is the theological reality of God and the gospel. For example, he talks about some “reminder phrases” that he uses to help others stay focused on the gospel in the midst of fear:

God is greater than your thought.

Not what if? but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.

The reality of the gospel is that behavior does not justify us before God and, therefore, only changing behavior will always be short-lived and misguided. At the heart of behavior are the affections that motivate those behaviors. To overcome sin I not only have to purge it from my life, I have to replace it with an affection for Jesus alone.

The Remarkable Story of Josiah Vierra

When a grown man is weeping uncontrollably by himself watching ESPN on his lunch break then you know something unique is happening. Such is the situation I found myself while watching the story of Josiah Vierra. When the doctor cried, I almost lost it. Doctors aren’t supposed to cry. His life just might be a miracle. I also felt there was a lot to learn from Josiah’s understanding of heaven. What is heaven like? Jesus.

Changing Values of Morality

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the declining morals of modern American culture. It is basically assumed that the morals of the ’50s were vastly superior to whatever values still remain. Anecdotal evidence usually cites the terrible entertainment on television (think Jersey Shore instead of Leave it to Beaver) or changing sexual ethics (think premarital sex and homosexuality).

I would like to caution us not to be unnecessarily concerned. First of all, sin is trans-generational. Changing technology and access to information have made certain forms of sin more visible in the wider culture but sin has always existed. People in the ’50s had moral lapses. In fact, a view of morality that focuses merely on externals has to pick and choose what is and is not the essential determiner of right behavior. The ’50s mights seem more upright in regard to conservative views of sexual ethics. However, if the standard has anything to do with institutionalized racism then the ’50s might be seen as significantly worse than today. This all depends on whether external morality is the sole basis for which one wants to judge a culture. If the ’50s are a bad barometer of external morality then the Bible fares much worse (adultery, incest, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, etc).

I’ve seen a great deal of positive movement in my generation toward care for the environment, concern for the poor, economic equality. All the while, my friends have maintained a strong commitment to defending the unborn and other “traditional” causes of conservative evangelicalism. In addition, all of the focus on external behavior can easily devolve into outright hypocrisy. My generation is much more concerned with authenticity, humility, and honesty than any pretense of performance or righteous charade.

I suspect there is a bit of historical naïvity and unsubstantiated nostalgia when certain people discuss the past. Whatever the case, external morality misses the point. The gospel realizes that no amount of “good behavior” warrants salvation and that real life change only comes from Jesus Christ. People do not need behavior change, they need to go from spiritual death to spiritual life. Focusing on external behavior is like giving a dead man Tylenol. Standards of external morality will change based on cultural situation, we need a basis for behavior that is rooted in the character of God and not the fashions of the day.

Some More Glenn Beck Discussion

Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here).  My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological).  Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention.  Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful).  Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.

One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of  SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”

Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful.  He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).

Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…

Beck said, “We can disagree on politics.  We can disagree on so much.  These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals.  They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches.  What they do agree on is that God is the answer.

It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category.  Whose God?

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…