30.6.10



Oh my! And what a story it is....

Begotten Not Made

Back in May I attended the Regent Pastors Conference, which was on Science and Faith. Among many other excellent speakers and presentations, we were treated to an update on the state of bioethics and the Church's lack of involvement in this fast expanding arena of modern life. Then, more recently, I read Everyday Theology, and was treated to more thoughts on Christians in the public square. Even more recently, I started following this blog: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/
Finally, and most importantly, we had our second child, Ethan.

This swirl of events and ideas has recently coalesced into the following thoughts.

Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

.....


Begotten not made... there is an issue we ought to consider in our day. The early church made a distinction between those terms for a reason. A being which is begotten is a being of the same kind as its source, of the same nature. An object which is made is none of these things, but a creation of someone instead. For us, a being begotten is a gift in a profound sense. An individual to be loved, cared for, marveled, and wondered, at. And while made objects can come to hold our love, improperly but in actuality nonetheless, this is not expected or automatic (thus we properly marvel at God's love for us, His creation whom He made). Being's begotten are their own, objects made are not. Thus, the distinction in the creed: Christ is not part of creation, but very God of very God.

But what of us? Ethan, and Hannah, and you and I for that matter, are being's begotten, not made from a human view, though we are made by God. This distinction begins to fall away when we consider that we are made in the image of God and loved by Him. However, the more important distinction is in our own view of human beings: do we beget or make?

Increasingly western modernity is shifting towards 'made'. We quickly forget the lessons of Buber's I and Thou. We look forward, or some look forward, to designer babies. But, once we make other humans, will we quickly fall into using them? Will we be able to stop ourselves from crossing that line? I doubt it. In truth, in almost every way that counts, we have already crossed it. We consider people, individuals or groups, as things to be molded into the shape we desire. We can influence trends, change buying habits, create needs, etc. Or, we can remake ourselves, become different people, whether through counseling or surgery or diets, we are clay in our own hands, and thus clay in the hands of others as well.

C.S. Lewis saw this trend a long time ago, and wrote of it in The Abolition of Man. In chapter 3 he explores man's 'power over nature' and concludes that "what we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument." (pg. 17)

In other words, technology has always been, in some ways, about manipulating people. The problem of course is that it is very difficult to know when one has gone to far. When are we rightly focusing on humanity, our own or others, as a malleable entity which can be changed for the better (which is, after all, a fact all Christians should thank God for) and when are we wrongly focusing on humanity as a malleable entity which can be made to leap through hoops and meet our every desire?

I don't know the answers to my own questions, but this I know: if we get to the point we view our children as made then we will be in trouble.

23.6.10

The Naked Gospel



Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel: Jesus Plus Nothing. 100% Natural. No Additives.. Zondervan, 2009. 237 pages.

Full Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for free by The Ooze Viral Bloggers.

My 2nd free book to review. And another disappointment.

I tend to like controversial titles. It usually means, at the very least, that the author will not be pulling any of his punches. Sometimes that is just the way the editor, who actually chose the title, wants us to feel, but such was not the case in this book. Farley definitely does not pull any punches. One only wishes he was beating up on something other than proper biblical hermeneutics... I'm sorry, but anyone who has to jump from one translation of the bible to another in order to make his point, and refuses to get into the Greek at all, even when doing so would clearly answer the 'questions' he (isn't really) posing...

Before I get into that, what is this book about? Well, Farley had a problem. He was a ridiculously strict legalist. He was dead-set on working his way into heaven. He had such a need to perform that he got to the point that he literally could not sleep unless he had shared the gospel with someone that very day. Then Farley saw the light. He realized that the bible held two covenants: The Old and the New. The Old Covenant was based on Laws, and Rules, and Regulations. Sacrifice and Performance and Effort... yes, all with capital letters. The New Covenant, however, is all about grace and love. According to Farley the Old could have nothing to do with love (despite the fact that what Jesus tells us are the greatest commandments both focus on Love as summarizing the law; this is, I believe, one of the great links between the old and new covenants when properly understood). Right, I can't help myself, I am getting critical even in my summary.

Moving on, the rest of the book is a long and laborious description of the New verses the Old (with a few sections commending the Old for what little it does do just for good measure; after all, Farley doesn't want to be called antinomian). The major innovation which Farley offers within this is that he does not draw the line between these two covenants at the dividing point of the two testaments. Instead, the dividing point is the cross. Thus, everything Jesus did and preached before he died on the cross is still of the Old covenant (allowing Farley to chuck the sermon on the mount and the Lord's prayer in one fell swoop; the ten commandments are long gone at this point, so no worries there either).

Might as well start my critique here... With this new division, it becomes very difficult to determine where the old covenant end and the new begins. Exactly how to tell where this invisible dividing line is seems to be confusing even for Farley, who happily trashes the sermon on the mount, while using Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 as an example of the New covenant. Given that there are absolutely no indications within any of the gospels, or any of Jesus words, that at some points he is teaching things we can safely ignore and at other points he is teaching things we ought to pay attention to, I think we have to be very wary of a theological system that makes that judgment for us. The reality is that the dividing line is whatever Farley can fit within each of his covenants, and nothing else. Eisigesis for the win!

What about Farley use of scripture? Proof texting all the way. I am particularly fond (oh the sarcasm) of the ways in which 'works of the law', which is well known to be a technical term referring to the identity making practices of the Jews (temple, circumcision, etc.) comes to stand for all of the Law in Farley's view, allowing him, with the help of translation jumping, to read things like Romans 10:4 as if Paul were arguing exactly what Farley is arguing (never mind exploring the actual meaning of a word like telos).

And what about his attitude towards the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, and the like? I doubt Farley is aware of this, but the catechesis of the church was, for centuries, made up of teachings surrounding 3 things: The Ten Commandments, The Lord's Prayer, and The Apostle's Creed. 2/3rd's gone... and the early church was just so terrible wrong.

This is all to say nothing of Farley's gospel, which is essentially the news that we can be free from guilt and obligation, accept the grace of Christ and go to heaven. Now, here is where I want to shift my tone slightly. Legalism of the type Farley describes is a real, if extreme, problem. And many Christians, sadly, do not understand grace or the fact that there is no earning their way into God's favor. Spiritual arrogance is rampant in the church (and while Farley critiques this, I do not think he solves it at all). And all that Farley includes in his gospel is true. Its just not the good news of Jesus Christ. It's part of it, but not nearly all of it. Instead it is a typically modern reduction of the gospel. The full gospel, I think, can be most easily said like this: Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the Kingdom of God is at hand. The rest, and there is lots of 'the rest', follows.

So, what do I think of this book? It is, essentially, a combination of Lutheran two covenant theology with postmodern radical individualism and then taken to the extreme. I strongly disagree with this kind of thinking. What does it say of God that his first covenant is so completely wrong? (yes, I know, Farley, talks about what good there is in the Old covenant; it is after all a great example of what not to do, and a history of what God has been doing, seemingly mistakenly, for thousands of years...)

It is, of course, no surprise that Farley can testify to the 'freedom' that this gospel brings to those who understand and embrace it. They will feel good, and they will feel free in the purely modern sense of that word. But it will not free them to be the little-Christ's, nor will it prepare them for service as priest's and king's in the Kingdom of God.

So, don't read this book. And if all these free books from blog review stuff don't start getting better, I am not sure how much longer I will be doing this :)

15.6.10

God is great, Ethan is cute, and Kristina is 'crazy'!

On Sunday morning at 7am we got started. And by we, I mostly mean Kristina. As much as I might say, further on in this post, that some things were difficult, nothing I had to go through is anything like what Kristina went through. I just wanted to say that out front.

Anyway, labor began Sunday morning. We headed to the hospital at 1230 and were very happily surprised to find out Kristina was quite far along (especially compared to where she was with Hannah when we went to the hospital). Labor then 'progressed' (got progressively worse and more painful) into the early evening.

This is where I say Kristina is crazy. Crazy as in amazing, ridiculous, and unbelievably impressive. She did the whole thing with no painkillers (except a small amount of laughing gas). I think the hardest part, for me, was just seeing her in so much pain and not being able to do anything. I had a huge urge to 'fix' things. I prayed a lot, and probably harder than I ever had before.

Anyway, long story short, Ethan James Nicholas Demoline, our second child and our first son, was born at 9:32 on the evening of June 13th 2010. He weighted 6lbs 14ozs (3.125kg) and is 19.5 inches long (49.5cm). Both he and his mother did incredibly well, and are healthy.


I thought Hannah was tiny when she was born; but he is even smaller. I forget stuff like that so quickly. It's only been 14 months since Hannah was a newborn, but now that she is walking and nearly 30lbs, hate's sleeping, and is super excited about life, its hard to remember when she was tiny and quiet and unable to even roll over.


Spekaing of Hannah, she has done very well with her new baby brother. I think she is still confused about some things (like what 'stuff' is hers and which is her baby brothers), but she has been super nice to him. She even gave him a kiss complete with appropriate sound effects (which she only just learned).


Well, one more child in the world. God is so great to create beautiful little people like this, and to bless us with yet another healthy wonderful baby. I'm tired, but really really excited!




12.6.10

Storm Warning - Long Review

Right, so what else do I have to say about this book. First, read my short review

Billy Graham is a man I admire. As an evangelist and preacher God has used him in amazing ways. His life, and his record, speak for themselves. Within this book, his heart for the gospel and his concern that people come to know Christ are clearly evident. His focus is in the right place, and this is where the books ends.

I feel like I need to say this because pretty much everything else I have to say is negative.

I requested this book from Booksneeze because of the author, but also to see how he would deal with the topic. As I mentioned in the short review, by page 30 I was getting very worried. There Graham explains that recent events shed light on Revelation, make it easier to understand, and that he would take this difficult book and read it literally and explain what it has to say for out time. Now, those kinds of promises and points make me nervous. If revelation is easier to understand because of recent events, then we have a serious problem... It was written two thousand years ago, and its easier to understand now? What did the first readers do? Just give up? What about context, cultural placement, biblical exegesis, linguistics, etc. Do these play no part? All we need is a knowledge of current events and voila, the bible is clear? I don't think so.

Not only that, but Revelation is not a book written to be taken literally. It is apocalyptic literature and thus full of symbols and metaphors. The entire book is structured in a spiral, and most of us in the modern west are not used to reading like that; we like linear books, and have a hard time imagining that they could be anything else.

Thankfully, Graham's book is not actually a commentary on Revelation at all. Frankly, its hardly even an interaction with Revelation... At best, Revelation is used to set the theme of the backdrop to this book. So, he brings up each of the four horses, in four different chapters, but then spends the entire chapter exploring modern events of the type the horse represents (wars, or plagues, or famines, and so on). The book is filled with scripture, but most of it is of the proof texting variety. I don't think Graham goes against scripture, but his concern is not to follow it, but to make his points and have scripture back him up.

What does the book have to say then? Basically, it can be summed up like this: Our world is a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good place and someday, maybe soon (this is hinted at many times, though thankfully Graham never makes any solid predictions), Jesus will return and 'the hoofbeats will be still.' (this is the metaphor for bad things Graham uses through the whole book, that the bad events in the world are the sound of the approaching hoof beats of the horsemen of the apocalypse).

In general, this is fine. However, it is a very truncated message. What about God at work in the world today? And while Graham never comes right out and says, he might as well be encouraging us to let this world burn while we wait for the next. Furthermore, I am not convinced that the best approach to evangelism or the gospel is to spend 15 chapters, and 255 pages, emphasizing what bad shape the world is in as motivation to hear the gospel message. I certainly do not see any examples of this in scripture. Jesus didn't preach this way (though the flip side is, of course, that we cannot avoid dealing with and pointing out the bad stuff when necessary).

Regardless of whether or not it is the best approach to evangelism, however, I can assure that it is NOT the best approach to writing a book. By the 4th chapter of this I was extremely bored. I guess I have one positive thing to say here though; Graham does pick out some powerful issues to speak to: Idolatry, deception, judgement, and selfishness being right up there. These are certainly real issues in our culture/world that need to be addressed. However, Graham could have been much more effective in addressing these if his book read less like a harangue and more like good news.

So, would I recommend this book? No... and I am sad to say that, because I would recommend Billy Graham. He has some great sermons and messages, and he is generally worth listening to.

Storm Warning by Billy Graham


This book is a summary of many of the horrible/terrible/bad events/trends which have covered our world recently. These events are summarized within the categories given, generally speaking, by the biblical book of Revelation. At each point, Billy Graham takes what is happening, names it and defines it within the biblical perspective, and then uses that point to draw the reader back to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

I have to say that this book was better than I initially thought it would be. By page 30, with Graham's promise to read Revelation "literally" ringing in my ears, I was preparing for the worst. There are so many bad commentaries on Revelation out there; predictions of the end, timelines, culturally mis-informed readings, etc. This book was none of those. In fact, it was hardly a reading of, or commentary on, Revelation at all, and that is probably a good thing. However, I must also say that Billy Graham is a much better evangelist than he is an author. This book read like a very long sermon which never quite got to the point until the very end. He did, however, have an excellent point: Jesus Reigns and will be victorious. Thus, if there is one redeeming quality of this book it is that it is entirely focused on the gospel of Christ. One just wishes it was presented better.

Disclosure: Thomas Nelson has provided me with a free copy of this book to review.

P.S. Longer review to come, this one fits within the restrictions of booksneeze's regulations.

Lencioni and Business Books

Patrick Lencioni. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees). Jossey-Bass, 2007. 272 pgs


Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass, 2002. 227 pgs.

Two books in one review? I know, shocking!

But, in this case, I think it is appropriate. Patrick Lencioni is quite a successful author, publishing 8 unique books, and several spin-offs from those as well, and many of which have been best-sellers at various times.

Before I get into these two books specifically, I need to say a few words about business/leadership/management books in general.

There are thousands, if not more, business/leadership/management books available. Most of them promise basically the same things: fix problems at work, make you more efficient/effective/money, help your company do better, etc. There are many different ways this is approached, some more helpful than others (in my opinion), and I am not going to go into detail in either explanation or critique. However, there is something else they all have in common: A modern, capitalist, secular world-view. This should come as no surprise to anyone, nor should we expect anything different when picking up a book like this. But, it needs to be said that there are many elements in this world-view which are deeply anti-Christian.

In terms of goals and assumptions, these kinds of books tend to be entirely materialistic. I think most of us are used to this, and so we either don't see it, or it doesn't bother us. Fair enough, but make sure that you are not falling into the trap of agreeing with these assumptions or living out of them. I think much more important questions to ask have to do with who these books would shape us to be. Take leadership as an example. When was the last time you heard leadership presented in light of Matthew 20:20-28 (and similar passages)? Even Christian books on leadership do not often take into account what it means to be a 'leader' as one is, first and foremost, a follower of Christ. So one must always ask how the image of humanity and personhood and the good life match up with the image of these things we have in Christ. Usually they do not line up very well. I could say more, but I won't.

Does this perspective mean that these books have nothing to teach us? Absolutely not; we can learn a great deal from this. They merely require the reader to have a discerning heart and the wisdom of God, given through scripture, in order to critically examine the books and pull from them what is guide, while leaving behind the distorted world-view upon which the book is based.

Alright, introductory comments out of the way, what about these two books in particular?

In each of these books Lencioni takes on one issue (job satisfaction and teamwork) and tells a story in which his simple principles for working on these things effectively are tried, tested, and accomplished. Thus the word 'fable' in both of his subtitles. The majority of each of these books is taken up with this 'fable' with a short section afterwards which outlines in point form his 3 or 5 points, how to fix them, what the role of the leader/manager is in doing so, and why they are worth looking at.

So, what are the three signs of a miserable job and the five dysfunctions of a team? Well, I'm glad you asked.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job:

1. Anonymity: Employees feel anonymous when their manager has little interest in them as people with unique lives, aspirations, and interests.

2. Irrelevance: Employees cannot see how their job makes a difference. "Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone's life - a customer, a coworker, even a supervisor - in one way or another.

3. Immeasurement: Employees are unable to assess for themselves their contributions or success, and have clear idea what their goals or the signs of success are.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

1. Absence of Trust: Team members are not vulnerable or open with one another about mistakes and weaknesses.

2. Fear of Conflict: Because team members are not trusting, there is no real conflict. Instead there are only veiled and guarded comments, and out of meeting discussions.

3. Lack of Commitment: Team members are not buying into decisions (though they may feign agreement). This also results from the first 2, as without conflict and trust, people do not feel heard or like the decision is their own.

4. Avoidance of Accountability: Peers are not calling each other on bad behavior or actions or failures to meet goals. Again, a result of the first 3.

5. Inattention to results: Team members are focused on individual goals rather than groups goals.


Right, so what do I think about these books? Overall, Lencioni's ideas are great. I think he is right on with both problems. If people don't know why they are working, how to know if they succeed, and if they don't feel cared about then of course they will be miserable. Not only that, they will not improve. As for teams, any one of those five issues can kill a teams ability to work together. The points Lencioni makes are fairly straightforward and correct, and he does not hide this in his books. He makes no claim to reveal some ultra-secret thoughts that will revolutionize teams/job satisfaction. Instead he makes the point numerous times that the solutions are simple but, for some reason, we just don't get it.

What about the books? Well, here I have to say that Lencioni is brilliant and I don't like it. The majority of his books are taken up with a story. Within this story comes the motivation for the reader to take Lencioni's points seriously. However, the stories are not well written. They are filled with hackneyed phrases like "little did he know...", horrible foreshadowing, no creativity, shallow characters, and on and on it goes. How, then, do these books succeed? Simple. The people reading them are NOT reading them for the story. They are reading them for the business principles. The stories only function insofar as they express these principles in a practical, easy to follow, way, and, even better, in a compelling and motivating fashion. These things Lencioni does well.

His main characters, who put his business principles into practice, are perfect. I mean that. They are not perfect as characters, or literature, they are, quite literally, perfect. They are the kind of leaders and managers we all would want to be: confident, knowledgeable, creative, inspiring, motivational, and, most of all, successful! Even their 'flaws' turn out to either be for the good, or else they are not really flaws at all. For example, Kathryn, the main character of Five Dysfunctions is supposedly a terrible public speaker, but on numerous occasions within the book she proves to be highly skilled in the sub-disciplines of public speaking (like telling a good story). One quickly wonders how her public speaking is a flaw at all. Brian, meanwhile, has to figure out what makes him a good manager (somehow he has gone an entire career without thinking about it?!?). Faced with this challenge, he spends a couple months running a restaurant and suddenly has all the answers which he can then go on to successfully apply to larger and more complicated organizations around the world (all the while supposedly maintaining semi-retirement).

The cumulative effect is that one reaches the end of the story with feelings like "I can do this." "It doesn't seem that hard." "If that can succeed like that, then I want it." And "With such positive effects around the corner, what am I waiting for?" And this is precisely what Lencioni wants the reader to feel. If the reader really is a manager, or leader, or someone in a position to implement the changes he recommends, then these feelings will, I suspect, often push those people into taking some kinds of action.

Like I said, Lencioni is brilliant. Despite his inability to write a good story, he has taken the story, as a motivational/inspirational tool, and fine-tuned it to the point where he is accomplishing the effects he desires in spite of the poor quality of his stories as stories.

Overall then, these books are good. If read carefully, and for the principles they espouse, one can learn from them. And if you get frustrated with the stories (like I did) you can just skip to the end and read his brief explanations at the end (which, incidentally, provide as much, if not more, detail and explanation about his principles and how to apply them than the entire stories do. Basically, unless you really want the stories, don't buy these books. Just read the end and take notes, get them a library, something; otherwise you are paying for a lot of writing that is not really worth the paper its on).

Belief



Selected and with introduction by: Francis S. Collins. Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith. HarperOne, 2010. 323 pgs

Francis Collins is a noted, probably famous, American geneticist who lead the Human Genome Project. He is also the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Provides Evidence for Belief, a popular and important work on science and faith.

Now, in this book, Collins has gathered together a selection of readings on the reason for faith which range in period from ancient Greece until quite recently, and which includes authors such as C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and N.T. Wright (three of my favorites), as well as Plato, Madeleine L'Engle, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Ghandi. An interesting collection to say the least.

Obviously, I cannot review this book like I would a normal one. No less than 32 authors are represented in this work, and the quality of both their writings and arguments, while largely within what I would characterize as 'excellent', still vary quite a bit. Instead, all I can do is review the collection as a whole.

And, as a whole, this collection is excellent. The breadth of perspectives offered on this one issue is staggering, and the variety of arguments and methods is quite powerful. Obviously not all of these readings will be to any one persons taste, and Collins acknowledges this in his intro. Merely in terms of difficulty of style, let alone logic or length, these writings go from the simple to the very complex. I think, though, that Collins has succeeded in including, within his selections, enough different articles that all readers will find some, if not quite a few, of these readings are interesting and enjoyable.

Thus, I recommend this book with one condition: you need to enjoy philosophical/theological readings on this topic. The vast majority of these readings are not stories about how individuals have come to faith, but rationally thought out arguments as to why faith is reasonable, proper, right, and good. Thus, it requires a certain mindset or taste in reading. Other than that, this book is an excellent place to start if you are interested in learning more about the reasons for faith. From this book, you can easily find numerous other good books to read on the topic (at least 32; one per author selection. In reality far more, as most of these authors have more than one book on similar or related subjects).

They're Worth It




78 pieces which need to be individually hand washed...



And put together...


And filled with boiled/sterilized water...

The process, from rinsing/soaking, through washing, drying, assembling, and filling, takes about 30 minutes when you have 15 bottles to do. I'm not whining though. My wife, who would have to do this if I didn't, is worth it. Hannah, who eats with these and makes this massive mess, is worth it.

They're worth it.

Catching up to Life

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted, and even longer since I did a real post... what can I say, I've been busy (just like everyone else).

We are expecting our 2nd child, a son, very shortly. The official due date is June 23rd, but Kristina and I both think he will be early. Things at the church are going well, but there is lots of work to do. I am planning on taking 2 weeks or so off when the baby is born, but I am definitely not 2 weeks ahead in what I need to get done.

In terms of books, I am so far behind in reviews that I am giving up. At this stage in my life, there is simply no way I can review every book I read unless I read less books. I will still review some, but my ambition to do them all... well, its not going to happen. On the upside, I have joined two blogger review sites. They provide me with free books in exchange for my reviewing them. I don't know who came up with this arrangement, but whoever it was is a genius. Any way I can get free books is a good thing :)

Now, I am off to wash baby bottles, have some lunch, and then maybe, just maybe, I will review some books.