Somebody else's 2005 Book Awards

Coming next week, I will be posting my annual "Top 5 Books I Read This Past Year."

In the meantime, I want to give the heads-up to everyone that Byron Borger, perhaps the best-read man I've ever met, has written his "Hearts & Minds Best Books Awards 2005."

If you love books (I mean, really, really, REALLY love books), do yourself a favor and read this annotated bibliography arranged by category--what Byron believes are the best books of 2005 .

His ultimate winners?

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology by Eugene Peterson and Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Lauren Winner.

He's easily read a jillion more books than I did in 2005; I've only read a handful of this huge list. But now I have another very insightful list of great books to buy...

...Great! That's ALL I NEED! Buying too many books is one of my vices. (That Byron!! He knows that in writing this article he's going to get more of my business!! ...Sly dog...)

technorati: , , , , ,


Faith and Ethics

This coming semester, I will be teaching the capstone class at Malone College (reserved for juniors and seniors, with prerequisites in Bible and Philosophy), THEO 410, Faith and Personal Ethics.

It’s been challenging and exciting as I develop the syllabus, select textbooks and extra readings, and do a lot of my own study from the vast array of viewpoints that are available as to how to tackle such an important topic.

The framework I’ve got for the course is this:
2 ½ weeks — study of the various theories of creating an ethic. The text for this section of the course will be Steve Wilkins, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right & Wrong. Wilkins uses the concept of “bumper stickers” as a way to help students understand differing philosophical approaches to ethics (like “Look out for number one” for Ethical Egoism and “It’s your duty” for Kantian ethics).

5 weeks — study of a Christian approach to creating an ethic. The main text for this section will be Paul Marshall’s Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the NOW of God’s Creation. In this part of the class, I will seek to try to help the students understand “Worldview.” Marshall clearly teaches the Christian narrative of Creation-Fall-Redemption, and then shows how every aspect of what we do now in this life has great significance (as opposed to the current neo-gnoticism in evangelicalism that teaches that all that ultimately matters is getting into heaven and off this earth as opposed to the neo-gnoticism in much of today's evangelicalism that teaches that the ultimate matter of the gospel is getting people into heaven and off this earth). We will also study and analyze a Christian’s proper relationship with Culture. This will be particularly fun in that we will not only look at Niebuhr’s categories, but will also attempt to create a proper ethical approach for a postmodern world. Much of the Christian texts available for students are written from a modernist mindset, so this will be a fun challenge (though Hauerwas, MacIntyre, and Grenz approach an ethic appropriate for postmodern times).

6 weeks — discussions on particular contemporary ethical issues. For this part of the class, I’m using David Clark and Robert Rakestraw’s book, Readings in Christian Ethics, which covers just about every issue in our society. The book offers at least four differing viewpoints through essays and book excerpts from leading Christian thinkers. The students will be making group presentations as they grapple with how to apply their emerging ethical framework to these issues.

Along the way, I will have them read stuff from Walsh and Middleton's Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View, Mike Whitmer's Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God, Dennis Hollinger's Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World, Stan Grenz's The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics, Scot McKnight's Embracing Grace, Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, as well as many other articles from the web and that I've put on reserve in the library.


Review of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"

I was going to write a review of the Narnia movie, but Rick Bennett's review captured much of my own thoughts. So, I offer it to you.

I have mixed feeling about the film. I will once again show my contrarian streak by not walking lock step with the evangelicaldom leadership in uncritical praise (i.e. The Passion response). However, unlike The Passion, at least the hype did not muddle the entertainment value and message of Narnia. I would highly recommend this film to anyone wanting a highly entertaining romp made for children and young teens, one that clearly communicates the powerful redemptive message of Christ.

First of all, there are some weaknesses in this film...

1. We live in a Post-Lord of the Rings world and this film suffers for it. It is also not at a Harry Potter level either, at least in pure entertainment value, suspense, thrills and special effects. While they were not planned to be as intense at LOTR, there was a level of intensity in the 1st 3 Harry Potters (all PG) which this film could have used. It could have been poor pacing or a slavish devotion to the original book, but this film will be compared to the others. It falls well below the LOTR trilogy and the 3rd Harry Potter. I will not bore you with details that could have been better.

2. Unlike LOTR, this is a family movie and in it must be remembered by every adult expecting action. As I intimated, it is slow at times, yet it does not take that time for character and plot development. I disagree strongly with the BP writer I mentioned yesterday. To fully understand the importance of much of the plot one needs to read the book. There is an underlying sweetness and childlikeness which is disconcerting when juxtaposed against the treachery, blood thirst, sacrifice, violence and mystery of much of the film.

3. While majestic, Aslan does suffer when compared to his description in the book and the imagination of a reader, but this is common. It is impossible to fully do justice to his character. An animated film (PIXAR) would be the only shot, because everyone is computer generated (or a real lion which is an impossibility). In this film he is definitely good, but also a bit tame at times.

4. This is huge-Not enough story development, i.e. understanding what the Turkish delights do to Edmund's psyche; the heroic transformation of the children and their distinct personalities, the importance of the battle and build up to the climactic scene (this is one place it suffers greatly when compared to LOTR). The film lacks suspense and an understanding of whom Aslan is.

5. Like Harry Potter and LOTR, this film needed at least 2.5 hours or even 3 for full development. It is always a compliment to tell a filmmaker, take 30 more minutes (I cannot imagine telling a pastor that).

However, even as Aslan can never reach the epic proportions of the child's imagination, he is still a wonder to behold (I only wish we could have had commercials that only hinted at him, but did not show him). Liam Neeson has the grandeur and tenderness in his voice to give us a lion that is not tame, but good.

As blasphemous as it might be to say this, the film improves on the book in one area. The death/ resurrection scenes (and the fear of the main characters and Aslan's army between these two events) is better than the book. I always felt The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had one glaring weakness, which was the resurrection. It happens to quick, with not enough grief or time for the toll of Aslan's death to sink in. This weakens the resurrection and its importance. However, in the film they focus a bit more on the death and time before the resurrection, which gives understated power to Aslan's rebirth and last minute heroics.

This reminds me of one reason I like this film much more than The Passion of the Christ. The resurrection is given more than 20 seconds of screen time. I hated that about the Passion (I mean, really hated it). Here we have a Christ figure that does more than suffer and die. He defeats death and its minions. We have a more complete view of the atonement (the death of the innocent in place of the guilty AND the resurrection which defeats death- CHRISTUS VICTOR). This alone powerfully shown makes the movie worth the price of admission.


Christmas and American Christianity’s War in Iraq

Christmas is the time of year when we are reminded of why Christ came into the world in the first place. We sing songs like Ed­mund H. Sears’ “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” with lyrics as wonderful as these:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

Did you catch those important lyrics? On that original Christmas, the angels sing a song, a song that dates back to the Prophets. It is the song of Peace. After two thousand years of wrong, the song is sang. And yet, sadly, man at war with man does not hear this love song. The Christmas Carol pleads with us, "Hush the noise of war, you men of strife, so you can hear the angels’ song!!"

In this Christmas season, many American Christians are unquestioningly backing their country’s war in Iraq. I know that this is a very complicated issue, and that the implications of “pulling out too early” are grave. That’s not my point here. My point is simply this: Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of the Prince of Peace, and we Christians need to begin there in our discussions about this war instead of beginning with blind patriotism, partisan politics, and manipulative rhetoric that we must “support our troops.”

Look again at that wonderful Christmas passage in Isaiah:

“In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!” (Isaiah 9:5-7, NLT)

I’m not sure that many American Christians have read that passage in its fuller context. We love the titles of Jesus found in verse 6, but we fail to read the verses surrounding it, which highlight that “battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned… His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end.”

Some will say that these are verses reserved for the future, that those are “eschatological verses.” I say look again at the words of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (-Jesus, quoted in Matthew 5:9, NIV)

He tells us that if we are truly his followers that we are to do as He would do. I contend that the eschaton began with that first Christmas; we Christians are an eschatological people, cooperating with God in redeeming the world "in the here and now." Peacemaking is not some future endeavor. It is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

I wonder if many American Christians have meditated on the implications of Mathew 5:9. If I want to be called a “Child of God,” then I had better be a Christian who seeks to make peace. With this as our starting point in discussions about the war in Iraq, we can move toward doing what God wants us to do.

technorati: , ,


Mohler questions the "Happy Holidays" battle

I was very encouraged by this:

Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has questioned the current battle over saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" (at about 15 minutes into the radio show).

He says,

"I think that there is the danger that if we push this agenda too hard, and if we press it in the wrong way, we can look like, well, we are really just one special interest group among other special interest groups just out to make sure we get our slice of the pie and the cultural attention...

...I'm just afraid that if we fight not only the legal battles (which I think we must fight), but if we start writing nasty letters to department stores and all the rest just because they don't communicate this the way we want them to communicate it, I wonder if that is the most effective witness for Christ. I guess that's the thing. I fear Christians with an angry face claiming that this is about 'our rights,' when it's not about the courthouse square, and it's not about what's happening at church, and it's not about our right to proclaim the gospel, but it's about what others should say about Christmas. I guess that's where I'm seeing some danger signs on our side. I really don't expect America's retailers to be evangelists. I guess that's the bottom line."


You Might Work for the CCO If:

My friend Michele McClendon, who heads up our CCO ministry at the University of Akron, came up with this hilarious list.

You Might Work for the CCO If:

  • You like to kick it with college students.
  • You carry a Nalgene water bottle. You drink a LOT of water.
  • You drink Fair Trade coffee.
  • You have a passion for social justice.
  • In the winter you wear socks with your hiking sandals.
  • You own more books than anything.
  • John Perkins is your hero.
  • If you’re a single female, you’ve kicked around the notion of marrying Donald Miller.
  • You live simply.
  • Blue Like Jazz tops off your list of favorite books.
  • All roads lead to Jubilee.
  • If you’re a female, you don’t wear makeup; if you’re a male, your hair is longer than your wife’s.
  • If you have children, you "co-parent" with your spouse.
  • "All of life redeemed" means something to you.
  • You recycle. Everything.
  • You frequently use the word “Sabbath” and like to read books about it.
  • For two-day staff seminars you carry only the bare essentials in a small backpack, and still have room left over for the books you PM’d from Hearts and Minds. Ah, life is good.
  • You love nature and you feel pretty darn close to God in it.
  • In the winter you wear jackets with no sleeves.
  • You don’t care about fashion.
  • You live in community with other C.C.O. folks.
  • You are “intentional” about this, that or the other. You like that word a lot.
  • Your family is still waiting for you to get a "real" job.


Resources on C. S. Lewis and Narnia

Christianity Today has compiled many articles that they've done over the years (including the items in their current issue's cover story, "C. S. Lewis Superstar: How a reserved British intellectual with a checkered pedigree became a rock star for evangelicals" at a page on their website.

Sections include:

  • C.S. Lewis Superstar
  • Exploring C.S. Lewis
  • Books on Lewis
  • Lewis during War
  • The Marketing of Lewis
  • Articles from Books & Culture
  • Articles from Christian History & Biography


What is the Function of Scripture?

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKight has a recent post on NT Wright's latest book (The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture --don't buy it from Amazon, though--buy it from Hearts & Minds, and tell them Bob sent you!).

Anyway, Scot gives this statement about Wright's thesis:

When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on p. 114, he says this:
The authority of Scripture is “a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations.
Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order.

I am reading an excellent book about living the Christian life entitled Heaven Is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God's Creation by Paul Marshall. I love this book!! Here is a gem of a quote on the function of Scripture in a believer's life:

“God’s word is a ‘lamp to my feet and a light for my path’ (Ps. 119:105)...The purpose of a lamp is not to illuminate itself but other things. Similarly, apart from its revelation of God, God’s Word is meant to be a light on creation, helping us to see properly the world that God has made…God’s Word is more than a light; it is a light on a path. It illuminates the way before us. If we walk at night we do not stare at our flashlight. Nor do we point it at the sky or at our feet. Rather, we point it forward and down, hitting the ground about six feet ahead. We shine it on the path before us because we want to see where we are going. In the same way, as we study the Scripture we need to shine them on the questions that lie before us on our pilgrimage. We need to study God’s Word but also God’s world; we study the world in the light of God’s Word. We need to study not only Isaiah but also industry. Not only Philemon but also politics. Not only Acts but arts. It is not for us to choose between knowing the Bible or the world; we need to know the world biblically.”

technorati: ,


James Dobson Misses the Point (Again)

For the last decade, I’ve become a critic of evangelicalism’s most influential leader, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. It started back when I was editing my seminary’s newspaper. John Woodbridge, a professor at Trinity that I had grown to respect, wrote a 1995 cover story for Christianity Today imploring Christians not to use war rhetoric while engaging American culture. Woodbridge made the excellent point that when Christian leaders like Dobson say that they are fighting “culture wars,” they are actually hurting Christian missional work in today’s American culture. Dobson responded to Woodbridge in the next issue, insisting that he was carrying on the mandate to be a “Christian soldier,” marching off to war against anti-Christian ideologies. In my editorial, I wrote, “James Dobson Misses the Point.”

In the decade since I wrote that, I’ve watched Dobson miss the point time and time again. He seems to fight culture battles that are misguided at best and harmful to the Christian mission at worse.

His latest crusade in his culture wars came this week: He is opposing retail merchants saying “Happy Holidays.” On this last week’s Focus on the Family radio program, the guest discussed with Dobson “how the insidious effort to remove Christ from Christmas is part of the grander scheme to remove God from the public square” and how this is part of “Corporate America's attack on the family.”

Come, on…Is saying “Happy Holidays” really an “insidious effort to remove Christ from Christmas”?

Again, Dobson misses the point.

Having cashiers say “Merry Christmas” at retail stores will not make Christmas any more Christian. In my opinion, perhaps cashiers should be saying “Happy Holidays,” because very little about consumerism has to do with the meaning of Christmas.

In fact, I contend that consumerism is one of the top cancers for evangelical Christianity in today’s America. American Christians have participated in and are equally to blame for how consumerism has taken over the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Instead of spending so much time, energy and money on fighting against retailers saying “Happy Holidays,” maybe we should spend it more on creating a body of believers who would be so Kingdom-minded and so counter-cultural that they would recognize how they’re voracious appetites for consumer goods is corroding their spiritual lives.

And, maybe, instead of being a bunch of angry Christians demanding that people say “Merry Christmas,” we should joyfully proclaim the Good News that God came in the flesh in order to free us from such truly insidious powers such as consumerism and materialism.

technorati: , ,


Today is World AIDS Day


World Relief: An estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus, up from 37.5 million in 2003, the latest UN AIDS Epidemic Update states.

Relevant Magazine: Every three seconds, another person dies.

Bono's American Prayer: The world's biggest rock star tours the heartland, talking more openly about his faith as he recruits Christians in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

DATA: Bringing people and organizations from all around the world together to stop the spread of AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa.

Engage HIV/AIDS: HIV/AIDS is causing suffering and despair throughout the world. We can simply change the channel and ignore the reality of the situation, or we can do something about it.

Purpose Driven in Rwanda: Rick Warren says when his wife finally told him God was calling her to the front lines of ministry against HIV/AIDS in Africa, he responded, saying, "That's great, honey. I'm going to support you. It's not my vision." "But nothing is as strong as pillow talk," he added. "God used my wife to grab my heart."