Tag: apologetics

Tolle Lege and Spectare, too

Anyone else find themselves with extra time on their hands?  In my last post I put up a Bible reading and memorization calendar for the month of April.  Click April 2020 Printable for a link to the printable version. It’s never too late to come to the table and feast on the Living Word.  Already filling up on Scripture and have even more time to spare?  I not only have some suggestions to “take up and read” but some “sit down and watch” ones as well.

The first book was highly recommended by John MacArthur at the G3 Conference I attended back in January when such goings-on were still perfectly normal and legal. “Delighting In The Trinity” by Michael Reeves is perfectly suited to it’s title.  I had never thought of the doctrine of the Trinity as something to be delighted in.  Mainly it just seemed vague and confusing. This book truly is a must read for every Christian and anyone else seeking to educate themselves about this foundational element of our faith.

I happened to be reading this book by my Dad’s bedside the week before he died (you can read more about that by clicking here). One of the things he kept saying while he was “journeying” (the Hospice term for the time of transition between life and death) was “Wow!” It’s like he was getting glimpses of the glories to come. I found my own heart echoing my Dad’s rapturous exclamations with each turn of the page.  Wow! “Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly (23).”  Wow! “Because the Father’s love for the Son has burst out to be shared with us, the Son’s inheritance is also (extraordinarily!) shared with us (50).”  Wow! “While the Son establishes and upholds all things (Heb. 1:3), the Spirit perfects or completes the work of creation…the Spirit garnishes and beautifies the heavens and the earth… And so, while the Nicene Creed speaks of the Father as the ‘Maker of heaven and earth,’ it speaks of the Spirit as ‘the Lord and giver of life’ (51).”

Maybe this crazy time of social isolation is the perfect time to understand the relational aspect of God’s character. He is a God all-together “together.” And moreover, we were created to be in fellowship with that perfect Triune fellowship of the One True God, the Great I AM.  Any loneliness you might be feeling during this pandemic will vanish as you get to know God better through this book. As the introduction states,

“To know and grow to enjoy him is what we are saved for–and that is what we are going to press into here.  Nonetheless, getting to know God better does actually make for far more profound and practical change as well.  Knowing the love of God is the very thing that makes us loving.  Sense the desirability of God alters our preferences and inclinations, the things that drive our behavior: we begin to want God more than anything else.  Thus, to read this book is not to play an intellectual game. In fact, we will see that the triune nature of this God affects everything… (10)”

The second book was brought home by my husband from The Shepherds Conference right before the world shut down.  “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund zeroes in on the second Person of the Trinity and His heart for “sinners and sufferers.” I haven’t finished reading this one yet but I’m recommending it anyway because I like it so much already and because I think it is such a timely read. Consider this description from the introduction:

“This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.  Those running on fumes.  Those whose Christian lives feel like constantly running up a descending escalator.  Those of us who find ourselves thinking: “How could I mess up that bad–again?”  It is for that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin.  For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him.  Who have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if–as for us–he harbors mild resentment.  Who wonder if we have shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired.  Who are convinced we’ve permanently diminished our usefulness to the Lord.  Who have been swept off our feet by perplexing pain and are wondering how we can keep living under such numbing darkness.  Who look at our lives and know how to interpret the data only by concluding that God is fundamentally parsimonious.  It is written, in other words, for normal Christians (13).”

But here’s the clincher, “Gentle And Lowly” totally builds right off of “Delighting In The Trinity.” It addresses key questions like “How does the heart of Christ relate to the doctrine of the Trinity–does Christ relate to us differently than the Father or the Spirit relates to us?…How does his heart related to his wrath? Yet again, how does Christ’s heart fit with what we find in the Old Testament and its portrait of God (14)?”

The book takes its title from the one passage in all four gospels where Jesus gives us a description of His own heart–Matthew 11:28:30, which reads, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (18).” Ortlund builds heavily on this description, but with the following important qualifier:  “This is not who he is to everyone, indiscriminately. This is who he is for those who come to him, who take his yoke upon them, who cry out to him for help.  The paragraph before these words from Jesus gives us a picture of how Jesus handles the impenitent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!… I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matt. 11:21.24). ‘Gentle and lowly’ does not mean ‘mushy and frothy.”

Go get on Amazon and buy these books. And I’m not even getting paid to say that.              I should be getting paid to say that.

And while you’re over at Amazon, might as well check out these watch recommendations:

  1. Tomorrow is April 9, the 75th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis.  My first recommendation would be to read his “Letters and Papers From Prison.” But if you happen to have Prime Video check out “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.”
  2. While we’re on the theme of martyrdom, my boys all gave two thumbs up to “Poycarp.”  This film was really well done and gave a beautiful portrayal of life in the early church, highlighting the faith of not just everyday Christians of the time but of such well known heroes of the faith like Justin Martyr and the Apostle John’s disciple, Polycarp.
  3. Another biographical film we enjoyed was “Charles Spurgeon: the People’s Preacher.”  Again, I always recommend books first, but this is a great introduction into this unparalleled pastor’s life for members of the family who aren’t quite ready for his “Complete Sermons.”
  4.  Now, hands down the absolute most thumbs up goes to “The Riot and the Dance.” Prime Video only has the first one up for free but we can’t wait to see the sequel to this stellar nature documentary from a creationist’s perspective. It is truly stunning.
  5. Finally, here’s one (actually two, wait.  three) just for mature teens and adults. I recommend “American Gospel: Christ Alone” and its sequel, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified” to every one but kids. The only reason I don’t recommend this series for children is not because of content but because of format. Because the interviews switch so quickly between false teachers and theological sound teaching, its really hard for a younger person to distinguish between “the good guys and bad guys” and they could walk away really confused about what is the truth. Those are the only two films on my whole list that you have to rent ($2.99 and $4.99 respectively). The rest are free, including my final recommendation, again, for mature teens and adults only and that is “Babies Are Still Murdered Here.”  Just watch it.  That’s all I’m gonna say.

Well, that oughta keep y’all busy for a while.

 

Tolle Lege: Narrative Apologetics by Alister McGrath

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This is a story about a book.  It’s not just a review because that wouldn’t be quite winsome enough.  So a story it is.  Once upon a time I was a philosophy major and really caught up in the Christian apologetics scene.  It’s still a pool I like to dip my toe in now and again, so I was pretty excited to hear what Alister McGrath had to say about the subject.

The book (published by Baker, 2019) arrived after a summer spent contemplating two contrary viewpoints.  The first was espoused by a speaker who made the following assertion, “The entire Bible can be summed up in the statement, “What ever you are doing that’s right, keep doing it.  What ever you are doing that’s wrong, cut it out.”  The second viewpoint was from an Instagram video of a pastor catechizing his own grandkids with the question “What is the Bible about?”  To which they responded in unison, “Kill the Dragon. Get the Girl.”  Wow. What a stark contrast!  The first synopsis is purely moralistic and works oriented.  Most other religions out there could offer a similar summary of their own teachings.  The second is what McGrath would define as a narrative approach and focuses on the eternal gospel story.   I’m definitely on the same page as McGrath in that regard.  In adopting the religion of moralistic therapeutic deism, Christians have lost sight of the great drama of redemption which God ordained from eternity past, Christ accomplished on the cross and the Holy Spirit will complete in the church, Christ’s Bride.

Nothing gets me more excited than Christians– be they apologists, evangelists, pastors, conference speakers, authors, tweeters, teachers, parents, neighbors, or buyers and sellers in the market place– proclaiming the gospel to a hell-bound world.  In my lifetime there has been so much emphasis on means and methodology that the actual urgency of getting the message out there seems to have been lost.  I even heard a speaker say that 1 Peter 3:15 meant that we were ONLY to share OUR story with people who asked us about the hope we have.  Further, he claimed that Jesus Himself modeled this methodology by only teaching or healing those who came to Him first.  Not only is that patently false, it’s the poorest excuse for ignoring the Great Commission I’ve ever heard.  Will we really be able to say in our own defense of all our acquaintances sentenced to eternal damnation, “Well, they never asked. Sooo…”?

My concern with McGrath’s book is that his focus falls too heavily on the means and takes too lightly the urgency of the message. He really does offer a winsome approach to sharing the Gospel story, not failing to live up in any way to the promises of his sub-title, “Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith.”  He states his purpose in the very first sentence as aiming “to introduce and commend… an approach to affirming, defending, and explaining the Christian faith by telling stories (7).”  Bravo for “affirming, defending, and explaining the Christian faith!”  That puts him right in line with some of my other favorite apologists out there today (i.e. James White, Jeff Durbin, Ray Comfort, Mark Spence, Eric Hovind, Neil Shenvi, Sye Ten Bruggenicate, Alisa Childers and the rest of the Mama Bears).  I think several from the above list would also appreciate McGrath’s self-described “winsome and welcome” approach while several others would be encouraged by mainstream evangelicals to give said approach a try, rather than the “clinically rational approaches … [which] lack imaginative depth and emotional intelligence (8).”  In other words, there are winsome, story-telling apologists and there are apologists.

McGrath argues that “A narrative approach to Christian apologetics does not displace other approaches” but rather “is best seen as supplementing other approaches (8).”  I might be able to buy that except for that he argues later that “Narrative acts as both the medium and the message in Christian apologetics (15).”  That makes for a rather exclusionary statement.  One that he follows with the claim that “demonstrating the reasonableness or truth of Christianity does not always lead people to embrace it (15).”  This is true and is clearly supported by numerous Scriptural texts (such as these found just thumbing through the first half of the Gospel of John– 3:11,12, 5:36-39, 8:45-47, 10:24-26, 12:39) none of which are cited by McGrath. His next statement however,  lacks the same force.  “Truth is no guarantor of relevance. Veracity is one thing–indeed, a good thing.  Existential traction, however, is something very different (16).”  Where McGrath errs is in citing as an example 3 true statements involving measured rainfall, the weight of gold, and a certain Nobel Prize nomination.  These, he argues, “may be true yet possess little, if any, relevance for human existence… while they might be interesting, none of them probably makes the slightest difference to anyone (15).”

McGrath is correct in his appraisal but wrong in his application.  The examples he uses are indeed true, but they are not what one would call Gospel Truths, or doctrine, which is exactly why they lack any “existential traction,” not because they are set outside the context of a winsome narrative, as McGrath suggests.  If McGrath is correct in his definition of apologetics as “depicting its world of beauty, goodness, and truth faithfully and vividly, so that people will be drawn by the richness and depth of its vision of things,” rather than the traditional definition of “persuading people that a certain set of ideas is right (18),” then I can see why his winsome narrative approach is so crucial.

The problem is, though I agree on one hand that the Bible itself is made up of said narrative, and that we actually are but players in this great drama of redemption, I disagree that the manner in which the story is relayed has the power in and of itself to produce transformation in one’s life.  Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel itself IS the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.  But effectual saving faith is a gift of God, not a natural response to a well told story (see Romans 10:20).  McGrath solves this difficulty by arguing that we need to “move away from the traditional believers-nonbelievers paradigm to a new seekers-dwellers paradigm (99).”  The book of Romans again proves problematic here for in the 11th verse of the third chapter we read, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Which is why we have to be super careful in distinguishing an intellectual acquiescence to the truth, and true saving faith.

McGrath is honest enough to acknowledge this danger, pointing first to his own conversion, which he describes as “an intellectual conversion, lacking any emotional or affective dimension (28) and later Dorothy Sayers’ self-criticism.  “She at times wondered if she had fallen in love with the intellectual pattern that Christianity disclosed, rather than with the central character of that narrative (115).”  These two testimonials are almost reminiscent of that of the demons in James 2:19.  One has to applaud McGrath for pointing out this pitfall in any approach to Christian apologetics.

Since we’re already applauding, I might as well wrap things up.  The end of the story is this:  I was excited about reading this narrative approach to apologetics because I thought it would be an effective counter to the pragmatic, therapeutic, moralistic nonsense which has so weakened the church in my lifetime.  But in the end I was disappointed by the emphasis on seeker-sensitive methodology and lack of urgency for the bold proclamation of the Gospel to a hell-bound world.  That’s my narrative and here’s my rating:

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Shelf it. At least till I run out of space in the M’s.

Even though I was sent a free copy of this book from the publisher, I obviously wasn’t obligated to write a favorable review.

Tolle Lege: “The Physics of Heaven” and “The Story of The Cosmos”

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I’ve been working my way through these 2 science-y sounding books.  One is an inspiring scientific examination of the physical properties of the heavens and the other is a New Age fairytale.  Both claim the church needs to take something back from the world.  One claims that thing is the arts and sciences.  The other claims that thing is sorcery.   I want to talk about the former first. 

The Story of the Cosmos” is a fantastic compilation of beautifully written essays on astronomy and the glories of God as declared by the heavens.  The editor is the host of one of my favorite podcasts, “Good Heavens,” Daniel Ray, and the book reads much like their show (which I reviewed here).  Both the book and the show are casually conversational, scientifically informed, theologically sound, witty, eclectic, awe-inspiring, nerdy, and poetic all at the same time.  Each chapter is stand-alone and they cover a variety of topics such as how the glory of God is revealed in the cosmos, how that creative glory is also expressed through art and literature, and how the intricacies of the created cosmos point to the existence of a Creator. 

You don’t have to be a Phd to enjoy this book.  It’s completely digestible for the laymen interested in astronomy.  If a non-scientifically minded philosophy major like myself can grasp its key concepts, anyone can.  And if you’re still not convinced that it wouldn’t be over your head, just get it for the pictures.  The photos are numerous and stunning and will keep you thumbing through the book just to gaze at the glossies.  “The Story of The Cosmos” is definitely a book to be savored and shared.  Check out the fantastic youtube trailer by clicking here!

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Share it!

 

And then there’s the latter: an heretical New Age fairy tale called “The Physics of Heaven” put out by a number of influential leaders of Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church in Redding California, with contributions by “Apostle” Bill himself, his wife Pastor Beni, “Prophet” Kris Valletton and infamous guests like Bob Jones.  Folks, if you’ve heard about any of the questionable practices attributed to this signs and wonders movement, and wondered if they could possibly true, this book will not only confirm your worst fears, it will magnify them a thousand-fold.  And if you’re wondering how or why so many people can possibly buy into these lies just look at the kinds of things they are promised if they do.  Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve learned from this book so far:

  1. If you are a seer, you can join a Holy Spirit think tank and emerge with new perspectives never before pondered (from the forward by Kris Valletton, Prophet of Bethel Church)
  2. You can be transformed by the new sound which will be released from heaven.  If you receive and embrace the new insights and revelations about sound you can finally become the child of God creation has been waiting for (pgs 2,3).
  3. You can literally move mountains because you have the zero-point field within you and around you which is sustained by an underlying sea of quantum light (pgs 5-7).
  4. You can do even greater works than Jesus including living longer.  You should live to at least 70 or 80.  If a child gets cancer you can tell that cancer to leave because children are not meant to die early (p8).
  5. According to Bob Jones, some people are given special shields or badges with the number 341 on them which authorizes them to do healings, holy confiscations, prayer, petitioning, teaching and ushering in prosperity —which will be transferred from one group to another (pgs 21,22).
  6. You can smell God’s breathe.  And it smells like apples (p23).
  7. Vibrations are open portals to heaven.  You can find 300 in the Old Testament and 28 in the New Testament (p24). 
  8. Your genetics are the same as God’s were and you can change your DNA through the new sound that is coming in our praise (p25).
  9. You can reclaim or recover realms of anointing, mantles, revelation, mysteries, insights and realms of God that were left by the dead (pgs 30,31).
  10. You can reclaim the following practices which have been stolen from the church by the New Age movement:  spirit guides, trances, meditation, auras, power objects, clairvoyances, and clairaudience and more (p 49).
  11. Through the mysteries of sound, color, light, vibrations, and energy, you can carry energy that has the force or power to empower others to do things like move deeper into God or take trips to heaven (p 53).
  12. You can sense the unseen and unheard through vibrational frequencies found in nature such as crystals and essential oils (p 62).

Oh dear, I really wanted to get in one more but that would be number 13 and I’ve heard that’s an unlucky number. It produces all kinds of bad vibrations (whatever those are), so I better stop and pick up with number 14 next time.  That’s right folks.  There’s more.  I’m only a third of the way through the book 😦  But just in case you’ve heard enough and have no interest in reading another post on the subject you can just take my advice regarding “The Physics of Heaven” and shred it.

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Shred it.