Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Banished," an Upcoming Book from a Bible-Reading Westboro Outcast

          In the next week, there will be a book released by Lauren Drains, someone who was born, raised and then outcast by Westboro Baptist Church. Why the banishment? She didn’t see connections between the grace and hope of God as she was reading in the Bible and the condemning ferocity of the church’s protests. 
          Drain is not the first outcast of the family who’s spoken publicly against them, but I believe this is the first book written from such a perspective. 
          You can read an excerpt here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Visionary, But a Bit Ambitious: A Late Review of Gabe Lyons’s “The Next Christians”

          Occasionally, I’ll peruse the religion section of a “secular” bookstore, curious to see what impressions of Christianity people would have if it was through such bookshelves alone. I found a book entitled The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.
          My first thoughts? Seems like bandwagon kitsch. Not interested. But then I noticed a front cover endorsement from one of my favorite pastor/authors, Tim Keller. Curiously, I looked into the front cover and found even more endorsements from respected and different people (e.g Ed Stetzer, Louie Giglio, Scot McKnight). I figured if there was a book that was applauded by Chuck Colson and Shane Claiborne, it was worth a look.
          (If you want to forgo the synopsis, which may contain spoilers, and get straight to my comments, feel free to skip to the last three paragraphs).
          In the opening chapter, Lyons gives a brief personal testimony of his vision, and how his team got the humbling opportunity to sit with Billy Graham and have him excitedly “sign off” on their vision of the “next Christians.” The rest of Chapters One and Two explain evidence (through stories of trips to further post-Christian Europe and the reactions to the death of Jerry Falwell) of the death of “Christian America,” explaining the backdrop to his vision.
          In Chapter Three, we hear a story about how Lyons was approached by a film producer and asked to summarize, as best he could, the evangelical movie-going demographic for marketing purposes. Lyons acknowledges the impossibility of that, both to the producer and the reader, but puts forth three common categories in which evangelicals find themselves: separatists, cultural (cavers) and restorers (the category he encourages).
          Chapter Four features Lyons explaining how restoration is learned from considering the whole story of the Bible, pointing to various authors who have encouraged this as well (e.g. Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning). Lyons upholds the gospel as the “apex” of the story, but criticizes gospel-only and evangelism-only ministry. He tells a few stories of restoration and lists the seven aspects of the next Christians, which  overview the next chapters.
          “Provoked, Not Offended” starts off Part II with stories that are not quite “kid-friendly.” Lyons tells us the Christian origins of the TWLOHA story, the faith-driven Gary Haugen (President of the International Justice Mission) and Mike Foster, the founder of Lyons uses these stories to encourage Christians to be provoked into compassionate, gospel-driven and effective action (wisely and bravely, without compromising one’s integrity), as Jesus did with Zaccheus, etc., rather than be “offended and withdrawn.”
          In “Creators, Not Critics,” Lyons tells the stories of the founding of Paste magazine and Fringe to encourage creating culture, celebrating, in the name of God, what is true, good and beautiful in the public square. He (as needed) gives a brief explanation as to the connotation of “culture” (as it’s changed in the last few decades), he quotes John Stott in explaining the balance between word and deed, and tells his personal story of the birth of his son with Downs Syndrome.
          “Called, Not Employed” contains some significant cultural exegesis that most all modern Christian literature lacks, and uses the history of the increasing normalization of homosexuality (borrowing from Paul Rondeau’s “Selling Homosexuality to America”) as an (as he explicitly admits) unfortunate example of how a small subculture can successfully communicate and normalize and idea in culture. Lyons lists the channels of cultural influence and tells more stories (e.g. Sajan George of New York’s public schools, Scott Harrison of charity: water) to encourage readers to what one of Lyons’s mentors once said: “Where your talents and heart come together, this is where God has called you to be.” 
          Lyons continues to exhort the reader to be wise in “Grounded, Not Distracted.” He tells a true but anonymous story of Jason, a rising Christian in the entertainment industry whose increasing lack of “grounded-ness” badly stunted his potential ministerial impact with a scandalous affair. Telling some more stories, Lyons reminds the reader that vision and passion alone are not sufficient, and encourages spiritual discipline (Bible-reading, prayer, rest and simplicity), staying away from the consumption, workaholism and temptations of the world we’re called to reach with integrity and without hypocrisy.
          “Community, Not Alone” starts with the story of Christians David and Kate who use their Southern hospitality to build friendship and community in otherwise impersonal Hollywood Hills. Talking about the body of Christ and how God does not want man to be “alone,” Lyons speaks against the worshipped individualism and self-sufficiency (as some sociologists have noted), also talking about how community restores, using a story involving Robert Lupton.  
          In “Civil, Not Divisive,” Lyons tells the story of his invitation to the “Ground Zero Mosque Islam” to the Q Conference 2011 in Portland as part of an effort to encourage Christians to stand apart from the world during times of conflict and tension. Whereas others may be stubborn, rash, and/or self-isolating, Christians are to be civil and mature peacemakers (which does not inherently involve theological or principle compromise). He quotes the Beatitudes and also tells the story of Starbucks‘ resignation from Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit, a missionary to Beirut, Bethany Christian Services‘ ministry to abortion clinics, and Wedgwood Circle as strong examples of where civility and dialogue triumph for the Gospel where stubbornness and divisiveness fail.
          With “Countercultural, Not Relevant,” Lyons takes time to explain away the unhelpful connotations, giving them three categories: separatistic, antagonistic and “relevant.” He speaks the pros and cons of each and takes several (rightful) jabs at some churches’ tendency to hop onto bandwagons and cave in to culture (including when it’s “cool” to do social justice). Lyons, again, quotes the Beatitudes and tells stories about the ministry of Shane Claiborne and Luis Palau’s outreach to Portland. He closes the chapter with an anonymous letter to Diognetus that speaks to the historicity of countercultural living.  
          In “The Next Big Shift,” Lyons establishes recovering the Gospel as first priority, and all these “second things” (e.g. methods, principles and visions, some of which we debate over) flow from it and result in evangelism. He sees a potential big shift in the Church, on par with the historical shifts that happen approximately every 500 years (the fall of Constantinian Christianity, the Great Schism and the Reformation).
          The Next Christians is heavily anecdotal, and contains, perhaps the most cultural exegetical savvy I’ve ever seen from a Christian author. Though its insights are Scriptural, it could have involved more Scripture. Though it’s visionary and inspiring, it can seem a bit optimistic (but I do wish that more Christians acted like the “next Christians” that Lyons talks about). Once or twice, there’s a cheap shot, but it’s more gracious than what I’ve read in other books that, in part, rebuke.
          However, many reviewers have been trying to put an ugly shoe on this book that doesn’t quite fit. The Next Christians is not a deviation from the mission of the institutional Church (as it’s mostly instruction for laymen lifestyle, the creative ministry by whom the institutional Church could encourage within their discipleship). Despite all the themes of restoration, this book doesn’t argue that “man-centered” Christian charity can gain large victories against human depravity. It speaks against “doing social justice” and charity to be relevant. And this book is not just another new bandwagon “method” based primarily on trends in business and culture (as his exemplary anecdotes span a variety of people and generations). 
          What The Next Christians does seek is a Gospel (re)discovery that flows into every aspect of each Christian’s life, and in more versatile and creative ways (given the diversity of qualifications in American Christians), all for the sake of evangelism and discipleship. (This book was very inspiring to me, personally, because most of the aspects of its visions I had already gleaned, not from a hip kitschy book or an inspiring church or para-church experience, but from learning New Testament and early Church history). In our American society that’s permeated by tradition, consumerism and compartmentalization, this book is very needed.   

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Rise in Orphan Documentaries?

          I've seen two new documentary trailers on the morbid and depressing state of orphan care worldwide in the past month. Does this mean there's an increase of need and/or awareness? It certainly would be cool if there was an increase in response and call to action (e.g. adoption, sponsorship, funding). Trailers below:

"The Drop Box" - Documentary PROMO from Brian Ivie on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of Rob Bell’s New Book Preview

          Notice I’m just reviewing the trailer, here. Though some questioned the graciousness of John Piper’s tweet of “Farewell, Rob Bell” (in response to the trailer of Love Wins), it did turn out to be a bit prophetic. During the book’s journey from conception to controversy, Rob Bell left his publication family at Zondervan and his church family at Mars Hill. He left many wondering what he truly believes about hell (and, seemingly, the rest of the Doctrine of Atonement) and, practically, what his next vocational strive would be. The past while, Rob Bell’s been working with former Lost Producer Carlton Cuse on a television series, and holding seeming smaller, artsy versions of TED conferences in Laguna Beach.
          And now he’s releasing another book.

          Arguably, Bell’s greatest area of giftedness is communication. That’s why it’s surprising that this video is so terribly confusing. He speaks the vast majority of the trailer on his creative process for book-writing (why?), and barely touches theology until the end. Who the “we” is in the book title is fairly crucial. With it, is Bell (wrongfully) projecting his creative and/or theological processes, or is the “we” encouraging a mature conversation between himself and the reader? 
          I hope it’s the latter, but there’s already some obvious discrepancy between the trailer and HarperOne’s over-simplified and very unhelpful book descriptions. Like I said, Rob Bell is a gifted communicator, and I honestly want this book to communicative of the truth of the Bible and God’s love, and a healthy biblical balance of mystery and certainty. I believe God is "pulling us forward" (not backward) in truth, wisdom, intelligence, art, science, and love. It could be a great book for the rising religious "nones," and Bell should find a new publisher. But if this book as confusing and jumbled as the trailer and other preview info, this isn’t going to happen. Matthew Paul Turner, a more avid supporter of Bell than I am, describes it as “cryptic.”
          We'll just have to see when the book is released to be read in our post-Love Wins world. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

9 Things You Should Know About George Washington (and His Birthday)

          In honor of Presidents Day, The Gospel Coalition posted some research on our nation's first president. You can read about it here.
          I was particularly impressed with his humble and effective leadership as portrayed by David Morse in Hooper and McCullough's mini-series John Adams on HBO.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Fun: Excessive Toy Packaging

Here's a little known gem from comedian Brian Regan.

The problem in my household is that my daughters often want to keep portions of the packaging.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip

          Justin Taylor compiles some wise words and resources on the underestimated parasite to the mission of the Church. Here, for example, are Kent Hughes's words.

          "Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back."

          You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bite the Bullet and Learn to DVR?

          You've probably seen a few commercials from satellite/cable providers like DirectTV, Dish Network, Comcast, or a regional equivalent. They've already had to get competitive and creative in toting their products' ability to DVR television shows. Apparently, as advertised, you can record up to five shows at once. Um, wow.
          To be honest, I scoff at such commercials. We use an antenna, and don't watch much TV. If my wife and I miss one of the airings from the fistful of shows we watch, we catch it on Hulu. The need to record five shows simultaneously is hard to imagine.
          However, I wonder if my poor understanding of a DVR machine could be a slippery slope to becoming a media/technological ignoramus. I know how to use and maintain social media, MP3 players, smartphones, versatile videogame systems, and most multi-function entertainment centers, but DVR (and TiVo, I suppose, too) is my blind spot. Could this lead to my becoming someone that doesn't understand technology as well as my children do? They're preschool age or younger, so who knows what they'll be using to listen to music or watch television in their teens.
          So yeah, maybe I should learn DVR. Maybe it will be as easy as when I recorded Star Trek episodes onto VHS tapes in junior high.    

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tim Keller is a Lean Mean Book-Making Machine

          That's all I can say. After releasing the bulky and award-winning Center Church, the insightful Every Good Endeavor and the rave-reviewed The Meaning of Marriage (which he co-authored with his wife), we're already seeing another book trailer from Tim Keller?
          You can read an excerpt of his new book, Galatians for You, here. Keller's works are usually very expository and communicative, so this could be a great commentary on the epistle. 
          The trailer is below. Like I said, he's a lean mean book-making machine.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Fun: Five Reasons, as a Christian, Not to Cheer On the Green Bay Packers

Disclaimer: This is all tongue-in-cheek. Do not take this seriously at all!

Myself? I’m a pastor who comes from a heritage of Vikings fans. I grew up in Chicago and currently serve in Wisconsin. I’ve had plenty of theological interface with Packers fans, and we all, of course, seek the discipleship and godly betterment of all football teams and their fanbases. However, I’ve heard several assertions of the Green Bay Packers as “God’s team.” With the faithful, mature and charitable example of Aaron Rodgers aside, I have a few objections to that assertion, listed below.

1) Tendency toward exceptionalism to the law. Only the Green Bay Packers, given the team’s seniority in the history of the NFL, are allowed in the NFL’s by-laws to be owned “by the community.” The pride over this unique aspect has given a sense of entitlement, sometimes above other laws, which is not biblical. As Christians, we’re to be respectful of the law and thankful for Grace, also being willing to, as Paul says, sacrifice the “rights of an apostle” for the good of others.

2) The celebration of what Solomon calls the meaningless toil of man. The Cowboys, Steelers, and 49ers are also teams that struggle with this blatant humanism. Rather than name their team after a vicious yet beautiful creature of God’s creation (e.g. Bears) or a warrior who signifies local heritage yet acknowledges a higher power (e.g. Vikings) or a cause bigger than himself (e.g. Patriots), the Packers are among a few teams whose very foundational essence is a mean and end of man. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes against finding any meaning and significance in the work of man, and the rest of the Bible (and especially Reformed theologians) would warn against such inherent anthropocentricism.

3) The idolatry of trophies and titles. The NFL playoff series stands apart from its counterparts in the MLB, NBA and NHL because each round is only one game. Winning the NBA Finals (plural), the World Series, or the Stanley Cup is a matter of skill, consistency and endurance, whereas winning the Lombardi Trophy is a matter of skill and convergence. The Super Bowl champion is not necessarily the best team of the year. Looking at perhaps more comprehensive measurements of prestige, we see that the Green Bay Packers have a similar W-L record to their divisional opponents, and actually trail in rivalries and divisional titles. This does nothing, however, to temper Titletown’s boasting of its trophies, indicating its idolatry and vanity.

4) Basking in the praise of fools. Only when the Packers lost in the playoffs during the 2011 season did a headline read “Breaking News.” The 2012 season’s replacement refs only needing replacing once the Packers (gasp) wrongfully lost a game. Regular readers of blogs can annually expect their “experts” to predict a Packers‘ Super Bowl win at the beginning of the season. The faults, both on and off the field, of the Packers are glossed over, while their opponents are seen as heartless villains. After all, Green Bay is the lovable little community of hard working Americans that could, and is patriotic as the Marine Corps. and apple pie. Who would have the heart not to support them? Indeed, the Packers have the sports media wrapped around their finger. And they know it. Christians should seriously question themselves to follow such anti-intellectual hype and vanity.

5) The Culture’s preference for propaganda over truth. Jay Cutler, despite his bonafide injury, took time to coach his backup QB during the 2010 NFC Championship game. Aaron Rodgers (as well as many other Packers) maintained a good and respectful friendship with Brett Favre during the 2009-10 seasons. And no, the Packers defense didn’t reduce Adrian Peterson’s yards in the 2012 playoffs; the Vikings (foolishly) only gave him half the usual carries. These are all truths that don’t find their way into the minds that look to the more comforting and inspiring kitsch of Packer propaganda. Of course many fanbases struggle with this temptation, but it has a tendency to be more common in fanbases with more bandwagoners. And we all know how important Truth is in the Bible. 

With these reasons in mind, I cannot find myself supporting or recommending that anyone else support the Green Bay Packers. I hope my meditations helped you to reconsider your priorities. May God bless you in your life and your worship.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Follow Me" by David Platt Book Trailer

          From David Platt, the author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, comes Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live.  The trailer is below.

          Like Platt's friend John, my first impression of Hell came from childhood cartoons, but I wasn't scared by Hell into saving faith. After books such as Lyons's The Next Christians and Chandler's The Explicit Gospel, this book may be a helpful addition in a seeming literary assault upon Christian nominalism in modern American culture.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

This Week in Marriage

          As we approach Valentine's Day, we have two nuggets to celebrate.
          Tim and Kathy Keller's new book The Meaning of Marriage, has gotten a lot of rave reviews, and now from a columnist at The Atlantic. Check it out here.
          Also, a Christian couple is getting recognized for being married for 80 years.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How to Write a Worship Song (Parody)

          This video has been making circles in social media. Glad I tend to use and celebrate songs that don't fulfill such stereotypes. It's hard to walk the line between functionality and creativity.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A New Kind of Super Bowl or Related Ministry?

          Good old Super Bowl Monday.
          I've written before about how, as an NFL addict, I don't really enjoy the Super Bowl. Monday's media has become all too predictable. How were the halftime show and ceremonial details? What was your favorite or most revolting commercial? Oh, and was it a good and fair game?
          Specifically, this year, we're talking about:

          -a Super Bowl duel between brother coaches
          -a Super Bowl duel between Ray Lewis (an outspoken Christian, talented linebacker and effective leader, who might have been involved in a murder 13 years ago and recently used a banned substance to heal his tricep injury) and Colin Kaepernick (adopted into a Christian family, has Bible verses tattooed on his arm).
          -the power outage and how it might have damaged the Superdome's reputation as a Super Bowl host.
          -Beyonce's clothing during the halftime show. She's had quite the month and is continuing to rise in popularity, having just sung at President Obama's inauguration.
          -how the commercials are continually getting more raunchy and unoriginal than humorous (but I did really like Leon Sandcastle).

          As I watched the glitz, kitsch and self-glorification of the game, I couldn't help but remember the last time the Super Bowl was in New Orleans.
          It was 2002. The entire NFL schedule was pushed back one week (remember when Super Bowls were on the last Sunday in January?) and the logo itself, normally a reflection of the host city, was instead very patriotic because of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The song "Let Freedom Ring" was added to the pregame ceremonies, when NFL players and U.S. Presidents read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. In what rated the best ever halftime show, U2, arguably the most charitable rock band in history, sang "Beautiful Day" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" while projecting a scrolling screen, listing (as a tribute) all the victims of the terrorist attacks.
          Things have changed. Is it time to think of a new type of Super Bowl or Super Bowl ministry?
          The host cities are getting more and more diverse. Is there a way that either the powers that be of the NFL or the local churches can channel the wealth and attention of the Super Bowl to help the least of these (e.g. the trafficked prostitutes) of the host community? Is there a way that petition or mobilization could help that the Super Bowl turns into an event where more than just the producers, performers and players get money, and more than just vendors and upcoming sitcoms/movies get awareness? (As a less-important positive, true football fans like myself could more enjoy the game).
          What are your thoughts? What if the Super Bowl came to your city?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Fun: NFL Fandom Map

          So, how big is your favorite football team's fan base, geographically? See below.