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Gospel Project Is Coming

30 Jul

Living In God’s Two Kingdoms

6 Dec

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen was released recently by Crossway Books and presents a readable, comprehensive view of two-kingdom theology. I’m just a youngster in terms of theology, especially that of a reformed flavor, so I was excited to dive in with VanDrunen and stretch my brain.

The main premise is a counter to the “transformationalist” view of culture that seems to be pervasive with emergent theologians, those who ascribe to the New Perspective on Paul and neo-Calvinists (depending on your definition of neo-Calvinists). In transformational theologies, the church and Christians are about the work of restoration, as we march across creation and culture putting things back how they were meant to be before all this sin and death entered the world.

Whilst that can sound all well and good, the ramifications of that worldview are twofold:

1) When Scripture asserts that this world will be put away and a new heaven and a new earth will come, we have to reject any of the cataclysmic language that accompanies such claims. Instead, the new heaven and earth will come by a restoration to utopia.

2) VanDrunen states that when we embrace a transformationist view of culture, we cling to the work of Adam in the common kingdom rather than living in the grace of the redemptive kingdom which Christ has already won for us by living the life Adam, and each of us, should have lived.

This concept of resting in grace with regard to cultural activities was a refreshing exhortation, and one that could easily go unnoticed for many of us as we seek to understand the implications of the gospel in our everyday lives. Having been engaged with the idea of vocation recently on the blog, I was particularly keen to get to the end chapter wherein VanDrunen unpacks the theological foundations into meat for the daily life. But I will say that the book is best read from beginning to end.

As an attorney, he is skilled at building a case and it will provide more scope for discussion when approached in that linear fashion than if you were to pick and choose chapters. The defining of terms such as “church” and “Christian” are key to understanding his argument. Without these underpinnings, his passage on ministerial authority would be excessively contentious – and he knows already that some of his ideas will be met with opposition, especially when that final chapter deals with education and politics. Continue reading

Apologetics for the 21st Century – Louis Markos – a review

28 Nov

I have long been a fan of the works of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler and a multitude of other apologists who have worked hard to give a defense of the faith which we as Christians hold to. I was thus intrigued by Crossway’s recent release that acts as a primer on apologetics, both in terms of specific writers and specific arguments.

The book divides into two parts, focussing first on particular apologists and then in the second half moving to a broader view of the apologetics field. Markos is focussed on tracing out the evidentialist line of apologetics, as opposed to the presuppositionalist line. Evidentialists base their arguments on the evidence and build upwards towards a defense or reason, whilst presuppositionalists begin with the need for revelation and argue from the Scriptures.

I find myself to be most naturally in the presuppositional field, but with deep respect for and great love of the work of Christian evidentialists. At some point, in either camp, revelation is required. The arguments of the evidentialist apologist may convince a person that belief in God is not illogical, it may even satisfy that the testimony of the Bible to the person of Jesus is not fictitious, but it cannot cause a man to bend his knee to the Lord Jesus and repent of his own sins. Likewise, without revelation a person can follow the arguments of a presuppositionalist but they cannot receive them as really true unless some divine operation occurs.

That being said, I believe Markos has done a great service to the field of contemporary apologetics by drawing together what is essentially a brilliant introduction to the last 100 years of apologetics. Six chapters o the theology of Lewis are worth the asking price alone, as they provide a cohesive and insightful understanding of Lewis’ writing and thought. In amongst here is an outstanding chapter on the apologetics of myth, explaining the idea of True Myth and how it pertains to Lewis and his contemporaries. After this focus on C.S. Lewis comes a couple of chapters on G.K. Chesterton, one on the much overlooked Dorothy Sayers, an interesting one on Francis Schaeffer that is not all complementary (in fact it is here that Markos sounds a little put-out by presuppositionalists), and ends with a chapter on Josh McDowell.

Yes, Josh McDowell. I was somewhat surprised to find his name amongst such thinkers and writers. He is a man who has done much to spread the good news, but I’ve never considered him an apologist. Markos makes a good argument for his inclusion in the evidentialist tradition, and more so reveals my snobbery about apologetics.

After this we move to part two which we could essentially split into three sections. Section A deals with arguments for the existence of God, within the realms of logic, science and suffering. Section B looks at specific facets of the Christian faith and arguments in defense of those beliefs (the authority of the Scriptures, the historical Jesus, the resurrection) and then finally we turn to section C to look at contemporary issues (pluralism, postmodernity, neo-gnostics, creation and the new atheists). My favorite of this section was chapter 21, which deals with apologetics for postmoderns.

Markos writes well, is clearly widely read, and is able to present a huge amount of thought, argument and insight in a concise and understandable way. If you are just starting in your studies of apologetics, or you are looking for some clarification of the work of C.S. Lewis, or specific contemporary arguments, this book would be a great resource for your library.

 

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by Crossway Books. No attempt was made by the publisher to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

 

The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton

10 Nov

The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton
Crossway Books, 2010

The Bible Story Handbook is a new resource for parents and Sunday School teachers wanting to clearly and correctly communicate the truth of the Bible to children. Unlike many such resources, this is not a curriculum or lesson plan, but is a rather unique tool that will assist and enrich all those who seek to communicate God’s timeless truth to young hearts and minds.

Beginning the collection off is an essay on the need for this book and the dangers of “dumbing down” Biblical stories. It is the danger of hermeneutics trumping exegesis, to use the language of Stuart and Fee’s “How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth.” Though the gray area theological points of the authors shines through a little too strongly at times (in particular their views on creation and the continuation of charismata), the introduction should be essential reading for all who minister to children and have the sacred duty of teaching them about God from the Scriptures. This includes ALL parents! To sum up the concept of the book, here’s a quote:

“Though we might be able to learn innumerable things from a passage, the passage is not teaching everything that anybody sees in it.” (p.22)

The books aims to help teachers understand both what the main point of a Bible story is, and what it specifically is not. This is a really useful thing to have, especially for people less well versed in the Scriptures who may not so quickly recall other areas of the Bible that help identify the meaning of the text being studied. John and Kim Walton have provided a quick reference guide to check context, and so it is a book that can be used whether following a curriculum, or creating your own lessons from scratch.
After the introduction, the book is broken into Old Testament and New Testament, covering a lot of the narrative of the Old Testament, and then providing lesson coverage for the Gospels, Acts and Revelation. The epistles are not covered since they do not meet the requirements of narrative story. Each lesson contains the following sections:

– Lesson Focus
– Lesson Application
– Biblical Context
– Interpretational Issues in the Story
– Background Information
– Mistakes to Avoid

The lessons take up around a couple of pages each, so the material is not particularly lengthy, but is written for adults to consult and consider prior to teaching. I daresay that there will be disagreements along the way. For instance, comparing the Walton’s take on the story of Jonah with Tullian Tchividjian’s brilliant Surprised By Grace, it is clear that they hold strong opinions about the use and abuse of the text that may differ with other writers and theologians. I do appreciate their strength of conviction, but it will have to be weighed against other sources too – no carte blanche for anyone but God, I’m afraid!

I do not foresee this being a book that is allowed to gather dust – with two young sons of my own, and regular ministry to children in our home church, I will be routinely consulting this volume for a quick checkup to see if the lesson is on point, and will likely employ it in personal study and sermon preparation too! This is a unique resource to add to your collection.

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

Milano – Gloria EP – Review

5 Nov

Band: Milano
Album: Gloria EP
Credits: Written and performed by Milano/ Recorded & Engineered by Milano, Alan Hackert and Brantley Vosler/ Mixed by Alan Hackert and Milano/ Produced by Milano. All in their basement.

I first heard about Jon Guerra and his merry band of musicians a year ago. On a return visit to the UK, an old friend of mine gifted me with a copy of Milano‘s Zombie World EP. If a bunch of socially conscious gypsy rockers decided to write show tunes, then that EP would be central to the production. The songs were catchy, convicting and adventurous. This year sees the release of a second EP, Gloria, and listeners are in for a treat and a challenge. Let me tell you up front, Gloria might be the freshest thing I’ve heard all year; chock full of melody, clever lyrics, riffs, musical diversity (Gypsy Prog Prophets is a moniker they’ve recently earned) both stylistically and instrumentally – it’s all here. You need to go and listen.

And in the midst of it, this Jesus loving guy drops an f-bomb.

Some people maybe just left the site, never to return. I mean, how could I recommend such an anomaly of nature right? Because everyone knows one thing for sure: Christian’s shouldn’t cuss. Sadly, the context of the aforementioned f-bomb is pretty important to its use. But too late. Only you brave souls left reading get to know that an interview with Mr. Guerra is coming very soon to the blog, and we’ll be talking Christ, culture and cussing. Should be a blast, eh?

Whilst Zombie World had as its core issues of consumerism portrayed in the metaphorical undead, Gloria has a focus on a future culmination rather than present distress. Opening with the fist pumping “A Day Is Gonna Come”, Guerra displays a growing clarity and range in his vocal which on the previous recording had some of the wildness of Jeff Buckley’s live performances, but is now displaying greater control and coherence.

“Gloria”, the title track, is all exultant joy, infectiously drawing us into the narratives of lives encountering the majesty and glory of God. Dripping luscious harmonies, rich string parts and stadium sized rock soundscapes, this is music on a grand and epic scale, the kind that makes you sing along until singing is no longer possible.

Then the crazy gypsy vibe arrives in full force, but these gypsies have Eastern European flair to their music as “So What?!” comes bounding out from the speakers. Guerra cites Taraf de Haidouks as the band that started the gypsy influence for him. As if to highlight the moment as dramatically as possible, Milano take this wild and crazy dance into a loungey breakdown as Guerra croons, “If you’re mouth is running close it shut/ I may only say this once/ So listen up/ Everyone in this room is f**ked up/ Everyone is…/Everyone is…” I haven’t had the chance to talk with Jon about it yet, however, from the musical construction, this was no off-the-cuff moment, but instead an intentional declaration of what is really true. Without Jesus, we’re all a mess.

To break us from the shock of realization comes the dynamic “Come On, Come On” which begins sparsely but soon drops a firm beat and bass. The chorus has the zombie sway of their former EP and delivers a little extra aggression to the mix. These songs are going to connect with diverse audiences and surely raise the bar on the level of excellence Christians should aim for in any creative endeavor.

To end things comes the beautiful “A Holy Song” where strings, banjos and more emerge to lead us into the climax of a dazzling display of artistry, juxtaposing with this lyrics that speak to judgment, betrayal and more; though not surreal, the lyrics are not always clear in their meaning drawing you into closer examination and, personally, self-examination. It just goes to show that sometimes beauty is not comfortable, nor should it be.

Expect to see this on my list of highlights of the year, and consider getting lost in Milano yourself.

Come back on Monday for an interview with singer/songwriter Jon Guerra.

Think! by John Piper

27 Oct

For so long it felt like there were two camps at war. The MindPeople and the HeartPeople both considered their way superior, and would critique each other at any given opportunity. I always had the inkling that something was not quite right with this division, and over the last few years have found allies in the works of Francis Schaeffer, Nancy Pearcey, D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Martin Luther and other great minds whose intellect is not divided from the work of their hands, their compassion towards people and, most importantly, the work of the gospel. Rather than divided, it is the operation of a redeemed intellect that will not stop at words and thoughts but is driven thereby to action.

Now, with more clarity of thought and ease of access than ever before, John Piper has delivered Think! by Crossway Books and it is the literary equivalent of love at first sight. Here is a theology of the mind and thought that drives hard, fast and passionately towards the glory of God. The basic premise is that thinking is the wood that fuels the fire of worship of God. By thinking well, we engage more deeply with the person of God as we consider His word, and the work and person of Jesus; thus we know and love God with more passion, and likewise love our fellow man more completely than before.

Piper does a wonderful job of showing the correlation between real thinking and Holy Spirit dependence. We cannot truly know and understand the Scriptures unless He first illuminates them to us, but we are also called to think – it is not a mystical experience in the sense of overwhelming revelation that is imparted to the mind without the mind being involved. We think because God has made us to think, and in our thinking we ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand and so our thinking becomes a work of devotion and adoration – theology turns to doxology, as Piper puts it several times.

Equally compelling to the whole-person theology that Piper proposes is his great handling of texts that have been abused by anti-intellectuals across the ages. Most notably, there is correction to a misunderstanding of what is meant by being as a “little child” in order to know God. I don’t want to give it all way, because I really must compel you to read this book! For me, it is a tall, cool glass of water in the midst of a desert of oft well-meaning but ill-consequenced ideas that abandon either the mind or the heart in the pursuit of God. Let us have both, for He has made us such creatures that enjoy the benefit of both intellect and emotion!

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

Abel – Lesser Men – review

22 Oct

Abel are the latest band to hit the Come&Live! roster and with “Lesser Men” they are about to make their presence known. The release fits sonically somewhere between Thrice and New York state neighbors Brand New. It’s a cohesive experience to listen through the album, and one that features a lot of water. There are boats out on the waves, oceans on feet, and the watery peril of ‘Titanic’ (which might be one of the best songs I’ve heard this year). But aquatic metaphors aside, the album’s heart is forgiveness and our need to understand the vastness of God’s forgiveness and love.

Sinking into the ebb and flow of “Lesser Men”, the opening track gently draws you forward with it’s instrumental beauty and emotive/intimate vocals, only to snap you out of your reverie with the spasmodic ‘Saints’. It’s an album of contrasts, but apart from this initial punch the rest flows with an organic nature that keeps you on the journey for the full 35 minutes.

The band is able to write memorable hooks and melodies that will haunt your waking hours, and sing you to sleep at night.

I’ve struggled to find words for this review so I’m just going to tell you to download this now from www.ComeAndLive.com and experience it for yourself. Drop back in with your own thoughts and experiences, and be praying for Abel as they step into the live arena!

Musical parallels: Thrice, Brand New, Biffy Clyro