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Real Marriage January 27, 2012

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Just finished reading Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.  This is not an easy book to review – although the internet is littered with people trying.  Here’s my overview.

Mark is not a gifted writer.  He is a gifted speaker and teacher, but his writing doesn’t flow.  I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be writing books, but at the very least he needs to hire a couple of great editors and submit to their decisions.

Half of the book is about sex.  If you’re familiar with Mark’s teaching, none of it will be surprising.  If you aren’t, then you probably don’t want to read this book aloud in a coffee shop.  I appreciate that Mark is willing to tackle the subject, because the predominant voices regarding sex in our culture are not Biblically based.  He deals with sex in a frank way and for the most part it’s well thought through.  There are a few areas of concern which I feel like Denny Burk did a good job at addressing.

3 things that I felt were most beneficial from the book.

1) Marriage as Friendship.  This is one thing I’m thankful that Mark championed.  Our culture by and large has lost sight of how important companionship is in marriage.  I enjoyed the research Mark did into Martin Luther and John Wesley’s marriages – it was insightful.  However, I would encourage people to check out Tim Keller’s sermon series on marriage for a more in-depth look at the importance and strategy of making your spouse your best friend.

2) Reverse Engineering Marriage.  The last chapter of the book is a homework assignment for husbands and wives to envision what type of marriage and family they desire and then make intentional plans for how they will realize it.  Carey and I have been doing this for years.  It has been immensely valuable for us to stay focused on what is most important for our relationship and family.

3) Confession.  The aspect I found unique about Real Marriage was the element of personal confession shared by Mark and Grace and I’m grateful that they were willing to be transparent about their sin and their struggles.  There is a tendency for all of us to shy away from confessing our sins publicly and yet it is only in repentance that we find God’s mercy.  It is only when we understand the depth of God’s grace that we are free to share our failures because we realize that in doing so we are making much of God and setting aside our “need” to impress others.

Overall, there are a couple of nuggets of wisdom to be found in Real Marriage, but I wouldn’t recommend the book unless I knew someone needed help in one of those particular areas.  While it’s an entertaining and informative read, there are other resources I would recommend to couples first.

The Journey January 11, 2012

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I just finished reading “The Journey” by Peter Kreeft.  It was a very quick read.  Essentially it is an allegory where along the road the main character has discussions with different philosophers throughout history using the Socratic method to debunk their various claims.

I’m not well-versed in the history of philosophy, so on one hand this was kind of an intro to philosophy for me.  In that sense it was informative.  On the other hand, the book seemed a bit heavy-handed.  The main character was quick to dismiss various philosophical positions as being untrue while I was still trying to get a basic understanding of what each was claiming.

The other challenging aspect of the book for me, which required rereading lots of sentences was the author’s use of the Socratic method.  I don’t have a lot of Socratic conversations in my daily life, so it wasn’t easy to follow.

Overall I found the book helpful.  My main critique is that the author didn’t give a fair hearing to several of the competing philosophies.  I don’t disagree with his conclusions, I just wish he had taken more time to draw them out.

Elevensies November 11, 2011

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Happy Elevensies Day!

I figured I’d better write something on this most important day of the year.  Talk of elevensies makes me think of Tolkien.

I started re-reading The Silmarillion this week.  I figured 12 hours on a plane was a good time to revisit Middle Earth.  I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings four or five times – each time has been enriching and enjoyable.  However, The Silmarillion is by far the best thing Tolkien ever wrote.  Every time I read it, I’m blown away by how good it is and how much I enjoy the story.  The history of the Elves is fascinating.

If you are a fan of Tolkien’s books, The Silmarillion is a must read.

I’m reading September 28, 2011

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Here are the books I’m currently consuming (some of them faster than others):

Convergence – Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist by Sam Storms

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper

Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (reading to Emma)

P.S.  Several of you have inquired whether Madi received the laptop or not (previous post).  We did agree to let her keep the laptop in her room.  However, we made it clear that it was not hers and that her siblings also have access to it (we’ll see how that goes).  We also informed her that it wasn’t her essay that persuaded us, but how responsible and helpful she is..

What I’m reading April 21, 2011

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I normally have 5-6 books going at once.  The main reason is that I get more out of a book one chapter at a time (with the exception of fiction which I try to finish as quickly as possible).  Here are the books that are sitting next to my desk or on my Kindle.

I’m actually re-reading “Family Driven Faith” and “You Can Change”.  I’m reading “The Princess and Curdie” to Madi and Emma at night.

Rob Bell and me March 18, 2011

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The evangelical online community (affectionately referred to as the EOC)  is up in arms.  Rob Bell’s latest book “Love Wins” has them in a state of frenzy.  There has been more blogging about this book than any in recent memory.

The EOC is upset, from what I can gather, because Rob makes the claim that Jesus isn’t the only way to heaven.  Rob suggests that God will pursue and win over everyone regardless of their religious preference in this life.

Instead of a rebuttal (which has been posted by people much smarter than me), my thoughts went a different way.  I realized that my theology isn’t that different from Rob’s.  While I might not make a public claim for Christian Universalism (which essentially is what Rob did), I am all too often a universalist in my silence.

I won’t tell you that I believe everyone will be saved in spite of who or where they place their faith, but more often than not, that’s how I live.  I am content to sit on the Good News about Jesus, without caring whether the people around me know it or not.  I don’t treat it as life-changing, necessary information – rather more like a good book of fiction that I read which I may or may not tell you about, depending on my perception of you.

Even though I live a bad theology, nobody confronts me about it.  And as long as I’m subversive, or point the finger at others who are louder than me, I can go on my way unmolested.

Should Rob Bell be called out for publishing bad theology?  Absolutely!  Should I be called out for the bad theology that exudes from my life?

Umm…Hey, have you read the latest book by that heretic Rob Bell?

“Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  I Timothy 4:16

You Can Change November 30, 2010

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This is a hard book to write a review for.  I went through it with a friend over the last 10 weeks.  As I flip back through it, the majority of the pages have something I underlined, circled or highlighted.

Tim Chester approaches this subject differently than most – listen to his thought on holiness.  “One of our problems is that we think of holiness as giving up things we enjoy out of a vague sense of obligation.  But I’m convinced that holiness is always, always good news.  God calls us to the good life.  He’s always bigger and better than anything sin offers.”

This is not the message I heard growing up.  I heard “Don’t do those things because they aren’t good.”  Yet if I was honest, “those things” seemed a lot more appealing than the strict, stuffy alternative.

My motivation for morality was based on performance and feeling good about myself because I did “the right thing”.  My understanding of holiness consisted of new behavior, activity and disciplines – NOT new affections, desires and motives.  I grew up learning to hate the consequences of sin, not the sin itself.

Yet Jesus makes it clear(Mark 7:14-23) that sin doesn’t come from external activities, but from the heart.  Therefore, even though “holy” rituals might change my behavior for a time, the problem still lies underneath.  As Chester said “sinful acts always have their origin in some form of unbelief.”  The only hope to free myself from sin is to believe correctly.

“Freedom is found in acknowledging that we are responsible for the mess we have made of our lives, that our problems are rooted in our hearts, that we deserve God’s judgement, that we desperately need God. . .and that God generously justifies us through the finished work of Christ.”

This is a terrible book review I’m sure.  There is so much more to say, so much more that I gleaned from this book, but I detest long blog posts.  My advice – if you struggle with a habitual sin/vice that you have never been able to kick, pick up this book and read it with a friend.  Or if you don’t feel like you have an ongoing struggle with sin, pick up this book and read it with a friend to expose the idols or your heart and your daily unbelief.

Mistborn October 11, 2010

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Started reading a new series two weeks ago: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson.  It’s always interesting when you first start a fantasy series.  The author has to set the stage and draw you into the world simultaneously.  Sanderson did a masterful job of that.  I was immediately intrigued and wanted to keep reading.

Brandon did a great job balancing character development with story development.  It was easy to develop an interest in the characters and in some ways the relationships reminded me of Tolkien and the depth of friendship that you find in his writings.

At the same time he moved the plot along at a good pace, throwing a couple of twists in their that you don’t see coming.  The magic system is one of the most unique and interesting I’ve seen in fantasy writing.

This book reminded me of the original Star Wars movie in the way that it could stand alone and be a great story, but at the same time, you’re really glad that there is more to discover.

I don’t have a rating system, but if I did, I would give this book 5 stars.

Grounded in the Gospel June 15, 2010

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I just finished reading “Grounded in the Gospel” by Packer and Parrett.  It’s hard to put my finger on my exact impression of this book.  On the one hand, there were several moments of enlightenment.  However, I hesitate to recommend it because it was such a hard read.

The thesis of the book is that evangelicals (particularly in America) have lost even a rudimentary knowledge and understanding of their faith over the last century and that the way for the church to reclaim the faith is through catechism.

Packer challenges us to look to the past and church history to discover a solution: “We are not, as it turns out, the first ones who have ever had to wrestle with the issue of how to grow Christian communities and Christian individuals in contrary cultures.”

Now catechism is a totally new concept for me.  Prior to the last 12 months, I assumed it was a Catholic thing.  However, there are actually imperatives in the New Testament for catechism.  It played a vital role in the church from the 2nd-5th centuries (A.D.) and was renewed by Protestants during the Reformation.

Essentially, catechism is passing on the faith in a deliberate and intentional way.  It is best done in relationship with a teacher/mentor/parent who engages the learner(s) on an ongoing basis – not only learning theological facts, but dialoguing and discussing how these truths affect the whole person.

This book is shaping our thoughts about the future of Crosstown Church.  We need to be concerned not only that people come to our church, but we also need to think deeply about what they will become in time within our church.  “Grounded in the Gospel” is challenging us to be intentional about the way we “grow” Christ followers.

As Packer says “By the time they reach adulthood, many of our members have already been so thoroughly catechized in unbiblical thinking and values that our efforts to catechize them in the Faith of the Gospel become truly a steep uphill climb through very difficult terrain.”

As you can see, this is an issue that churches need to get right.  This book thoroughly addresses the philosophical, historical and practical approaches to catechism.  Unfortunately the tone is excessively academic which makes it a challenge to work through.

Family Driven Faith May 6, 2010

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I finished “Family Driven Faith” by Voddie Baucham about a month ago.  I’ve been sitting on it for a while, trying to determine how to best review it.  It would definitely fall into the category of a controversial read.  There are many who would be offended by Voddie’s views.  Which is unfortunate because there is much to glean from this book both philosophically and practically.

Voddie challenges the evangelical norm of what a “Christian family” looks like.  It’s a necessary conversation to have when 88% of evangelical teens are leaving the faith by their sophomore year of college.

There are a lot of great practical examples for how to keep Christ at the forefront of a family.  I don’t agree completely with all of his solutions, but I’m thankful that he is tackling the issue and offering suggestions.

This is a book that challenged me to be intentional about faith formation in our home.  As a pastor, it also challenged me to look beyond my household and do what I can to encourage other families to be intentional about their spiritual life as well.

I would challenge parents to read this book together.  Not so they’ll mindlessly observe everything it teaches, but for the sake of beginning a dialogue about what role spirituality will play in their family.