Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meet the Real Noah

You may have heard that Hollywood has produced a new 'biblical' movie, Noah.  It is no surprise anymore when they are inaccurate in their portrayals of the Bible (apparently they think they can write a better story than God?), but this time they have really outdone themselves.  Darren Aronofsky, writer and director of Noah has said, “Noah is the least biblical biblical film ever made. I don't give a f*** about the test scores! My films are outside the scores...”  (For a summary of how their movie perverts Scripture, click here and for a detailed presentation of why Christians should not watch this movie for entertainment, click here.)

The good news is that Ray Comfort has produced a documentary about Noah to coincide with the release of Hollywood's.  Turn Hollywood's attack into an opportunity to spread the gospel!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do Kids Still Need Math?

Perhaps there are some little boys out there who like money but hate math.  Maybe they think that because we have computers now we don't need to know how to add and subtract.  Maybe this letter I had to write one of my (very computerized and normally flawless) suppliers tonight will help encourage them.  I'm reaping the rewards of having parents who loved math and loved teaching it to me.

Hi ______ and team,

Thank you for the great work you do keeping me apprized of the charges on my account.  I wish all my suppliers had their accounting data so easy to access and understand.  

Recently you issued a large refund to my credit card for some credits that had been accumulating over the last few months.  You also included a separate sheet explaining that you had accidentally refunded some charges in error – they were already paid – so you charged me again for these amounts.  You were correct that I had already paid these charges, but you were incorrect to then charge me again for them; the amounts of the invoices had already been deducted from my large refund, so actually you should have refunded them to me.

I have to kind of stand on my head and then do a somersault to understand this, but let’s see if I can explain to you how you have charged me three times for these two invoices.

Invoice 1613313.001 was deducted from my refund on 3/13/14 for $47.25
Invoice 1615744.001 was deducted from my refund on 3/13/14 for $78.25.
In other words, my refund would have been $1078.69, but these two invoices lowered the refund to $953.19.  So in effect, you charged me for these two invoices.

Then the next day…

Invoice 1613313.001 was charged to my card on 3/14/14 for $47.25
Invoice 1615744.001 was charged to my card on 3/14/14 for $78.25.

Then on 3/18/14, you discovered your mistake…

But instead of refunding $125.50 to my card, you charged my card $125.50.  

So now I have paid three times, and I need you to refund two of the times (a total of $251.00) to my card.

I hope this makes sense.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Buffalo Stix for the Soul

I recently bought a quarter of a buffalo.  It's our third time buying one from Bob Jackson, whose skill and experience in raising bison results in some tasty, surprisingly inexpensive, and more importantly, truly natural meat.  But this time I did something different.  Bob offered me a chance to try some buffalo stix.  To be honest I didn't even know for sure what buffalo stix were.  Now that I've seen and tasted, I know they're precooked cylinders of buffalo meat, mixed with spices.  Because Bob and his team are perfectionists, his are not mixed with undesirable grades of meat or filler ingredients.  Think of them as Slim Jims that are good for you.  It's rare to find a food that is both convenient and truly nourishing.  These are.  (The downside is that they are expensive.)

Devotional books for Christians are plentiful, but unfortunately most of them are like Little Debbies.  Someone has said, "Sermonettes are for Christianettes" and a lot of devotionals are very light sermonettes.  But recently I came across two devotional books that are more like buffalo stix.  Their authors have struck that rare combination of depth and brevity. 

A Godward Heart by John Piper contains 50 such devotionals on a random assortment of topics and Scripture passages.  Piper's knack is identifying tensions in Scripture, how those tensions play out in our lives, and then carefully discovering how to live with balance.  For example: how Christians should respond to social media.  Piper explains the arguments for avoiding them altogether:
These media tend to shorten attention spans, weaken discursive reasoning, lure people away from Scripture and prayer, disembody relationships, feed the fires of narcissism, cater to the craving for attention, fill the world with drivel, shrink the soul’s capacity for greatness, and make us second-handers who comment on life when we ought to be living it. 
Piper acknowledges these problems, but still seeks ways to use them redemptively.  For example:

Now what about Twitter? I find Twitter to be a kind of taunt: “Okay, truth-lover, see what you can do with 140 characters! You say your mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things! Well, this is one of those ‘all things.’ Can you magnify Christ with this thimble-full of letters?”
To which I respond:
The sovereign Lord of the earth and sky
Puts camels through a needle’s eye.
And if his wisdom see it mete,
He will put worlds inside a tweet.
So pithy!  Here are a sampling of other deep issues he tackles with brief, but not superficial, answers.  Notice the precision with which he frames them:

  • How is God's passion for His glory not selfishness?
  • What is the place of confrontation in marriage?
  • How do you "give" God strength? (Psalm 96:7)
  • How shall we love our Muslim neighbor?
  • If you can be Godly and wrong, does truth matter?
  • When does God become 100% for us?  (Were the elect ever under His wrath?)
  • What makes an enjoyment idolatrous?
  • The rebellion of nudity and meaning of clothing
  • Why require unregenerate children to act like they're good?
  • If God wills disease, why should we try to eradicate it? 

The One Year Book of Psalms contains, as you might guess, a devotional for every day of the year, taking the reader not only through the book of Psalms but through several other key poetic passages of the Bible as well.  Many of the devotionals lead you to other parts of the Bible that relate to the Psalm you are studying.  But this book's greatest selling point is how it ties the Psalms in to post-biblical historical moments and figures who relied on those Psalms.  Sometimes we forget that we are not the first people to puzzle over, pray over, or praise over the psalter.  You'll learn why Alexander Duff preached from Psalm 107, why Psalm 50:16 smote Origen, why the church in Antioch sang Psalm 97, and which Psalm strengthened Spurgeon during a cholera epidemic. Each devotional also closes with a verse from a related hymn.

Compared with A Godward Heart, The One Year Book of Psalms has shorter, fluffier devotionals which require less thinking and make less impact.  But unlike A Godward Heart which deals with random topics, The One Year Book of Psalms takes you through an entire book of the Bible and illumines many other sections of the Bible.

When you are hungry for some spiritual meat but don't have the strength to read something long, you might add these two books to your menu.

I received both books for free from their publishers.  My reviews were not required to be positive.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Making God Groovy

This will be part book review and part confession.

First for the book review, or rather reviews.  Two otherwise good books contain a common flaw:  they try to make God groovy.

The first is pastor D. A. Horton's introduction to theology, DNA: Foundations of the Faith.  It is in many ways an excellent primer, covering a gamut of theological topics without getting too complex or controversial. On primary doctrines (for which there must be accuracy to be Christian) he is solid.  For less important doctrines he explains the various positions and leaves it to the reader to study for himself which is most biblical.

So what is my concern?  It seems that D. A. Horton's main goal was to produce a book in the lingo of the "urban reader", which is to say, in hip hop.  By that, I don't mean simpler English (I would have no problem with that), but the specialized English of a ghetto teenager.

He goes so far as to state (on the second page of chapter 1):
A modern parallel to Koine is the language of ebonics... Ebonics has spread throughout the world thanks to technological advancements and hip-hop culture.  Rap music, the most recognized and vocal element of hip-hop culture, has broken down cultural, socioeconomic, and racial walls worldwide.  As God used the spread of Greek civilization to later advance the gospel, so is He using ebonics and rap to spread the Good News today.

Hip hop is a modern parallel to Koine Greek?  Hardly.  Koine Greek was the lingua franca of Jesus' day; hip hop is a specialized dialect that only a subset of English speakers understand.  God put the New Testament in Koine so that it could be accurately understood by as many people as possible.  People talk in hip hop so as to identify and communicate with a specific clique.  For example:
You know how you can tell when someone is gone off that lean by the way they walk and talk; in the same way, believers who are living Spirit-filled will show evidence.  (Pg. 35, emphasis added)

This kind of writing actually excludes people from understanding. He could have simply said "intoxicated" instead of "gone off that lean" and we all would understand, but he is attempting to win the attention of urban readers by using their code.

If we need a theology in hip hop jargon, perhaps we also need a theology in computer nerd jargon, or in the complex language of philosophers, or in the eloquence of eighteenth century romanticism? Must we use slang to make urban dwellers want to study our God?  Do we need to tell them "God is bangin'" (pg 37)?  Then our God is not very glorious.  No one has to produce hip hop books on Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

The second unfortunate example of making God groovy is an even better book: The Jesus Bible by Zondervan. Certainly I can't criticize the Book itself (!), or even the main concept behind this particular one (showing how each section of the Bible points to Jesus, in simple language that children can understand).  Each book of the Bible has a helpful introduction, and there are daily devotionals sprinkled throughout its pages.  I can even reluctantly overlook their use of the flawed 2011 NIV revision, since this book is aimed at children who may move on to a more accurate translation as they mature.  The hardback binding is solid and should hold up to years of use.

But if you look at the cover of the book, you can probably figure out for yourself what I find inappropriate.  The font and color scheme would be more appropriate for the Sponge Bob or Curious George than for something about the Creator of the Universe.  Even the Hardy Boys get nicer book covers than this.  The garish fonts and color schemes are continued throughout the book in the devotionals, book intros, etc., but fortunately not in the text of Scripture itself.  Most of the devotionals are sound, but some devotionals trivialize God, such as the one which calls the descent of fire from heaven at the consecration of Solomon's temple "the ultimate high five" for Solomon.

Must the Bible look childish for us to get children to read it?  Then it's not a very powerful book.

But the danger of obscuring God's glory is not limited to 'groovy' packaging.  It can be done just as easily, and just as sinfully, by trying to package God in pomp and eloquence and external grandeur.  We are representing the God who became a man and worked as a carpenter.   The gospel can be subverted by tuxedos as well as skinny jeans.

As Jonathan Leeman writes in his fantastic book, Reverberation:
What happens then when a local church tries to reach its community by saying, "We're smart and hip, too.  So join us"?  It subtly undermines the very message of the justification by faith and the free gift of righteousness because it invests value in hipness to unify people.  Like the laws of Sinai that divided Israel from the nations, so this world divides itself according to laws of fashion, the laws of funny, the laws of intellectual sophistication, and the law of ethnic belonging... When you therefore say to the world, "Hey, don't count us among the uncool, but count us among the cool," you merely play into the hands of the world's systems of law, justification, and separation...  (Pg. 78)
Nor is this danger limited to books.  A few weeks ago I had the chance to spend a couple hours talking about the things of the Lord with a young man.  Afterwards I realized that I had tried to act groovy (probably rather pathetically) while I was with him. I had tried to act witty and smart and spontaneous and fun so that he would like me, and therefore like what I told him about Jesus.  As if Jesus needs help with P.R.

So, to paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the line between portraying God with grooviness or gloriousness does not run between good books and bad books, but through every human heart.  Including mine.  May God help us to carry the glorious treasure of the gospel "in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7).

Note: I received a free copy of DNA from Moody Publishers and The Jesus Bible from Zondervan, in exchange for writing an unbiased review.