Monthly Archives: June 2011

Highly Recommended: Matthew Anderson’s “Earthen Vessels”

I just received a copy of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Bethany House, 2011) by Matthew Anderson, who has a thriving blog here.  I have been looking forward to this book for some time now, having had the privilege to share some thoughts on it with Matt when he was still in the editing process.  In short, I think that this book is poised to help many Christians understand the Christian doctrine of the body, a subject that we have neglected for too long.

The content of Earthen Vessels is rich and provocative.  The text will stir up discussion on a number of issues.  The writing style is perhaps what I’m most excited about, because the book is elegantly penned.  Evangelicals excel at teaching and communicating clearly; I think we lag a bit in prose styling.  Matt is here to help on this matter (great cover, too).

Below is the endorsement I proferred for the text.  I encourage you to buy the book, think about it, and do your part to encourage the church to think hard and well about our corporeal substance, the bodies the Lord has given us for his glory.

Ours is a befuddling age. We’re “friends” with people we’ve never met, we read books that have no material substance, and we store precious material in something rather ominously termed “the cloud.” Physicality is out; incorporeality is in. Earthen Vessels is a needed contribution in such a time. The text is at once an elegant meditation on the body, a fresh study of Scripture, and a celebration of the western tradition. Here is philosophical theology that will foster debate, critical thought, and praise of the Savior whose physical sacrifice won our salvation.”

By the way, the book trailer is very nicely done as well.

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Introducing Credo Magazine: Reformed, Baptistic, Evangelical

My friend Matthew Barrett, a May 2011 graduate of the SBTS PhD program in Systematic Theology (PhD under Bruce Ware), has just unveiled an exciting new online magazine called Credo.  Those of you who are like me and love Reformation 21 will find this a similar venture, albeit from a Baptist perspective.

I’m thrilled to see this magazine launching in October 2011 (the blog is already going full steam).  Contributors include Michael Haykin, Tim Challies, Gregg Allison, Todd Miles, and many others.  Here’s the description for the magazine:

Credo is Latin for “I believe.” From the early Church Fathers to the sixteenth-century Reformers to present-day Evangelicals, Christians have faithfully confessed the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), over against error and heresy. Credo magazine seeks to situate itself in this biblical tradition by teaching “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

Credo magazine is self-consciously Evangelical, Reformational, and Baptistic: Evangelical since it aims at being supremely Gospel-centered, exalting in the substitutionary death and historical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; Reformational as the gospel it promotes is defined by the solas of the Reformation; and while Credo magazine welcomes contributors from diverse ecclesial backgrounds, it seeks to especially celebrate those doctrines that mark the Baptist tradition.

Credo is a free, full-color, digital magazine that is published quarterly and includes:

• Articles by some of the best pastors and scholars today on the most vital and pertinent issues in Christianity.

• Columns engaging pastoral issues in the church and monumental figures in church history.

• Interviews with important pastors and scholars on both their ministries and their new books.

• Reviews of some of the most recent books in Christian theology and literature.

I’m excited to contribute an essay on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in the first issue.  I’m hoping for and expecting great things from this venture.  Baptists need a magazine like this, and Matthew will do an excellent job with it.

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Mark Zuckerberg and the Need for (Collegiate) Gospel Entrepreneurs

I’m not a big fan of the Huffington Post, but a slideshow on the top ten college entrepreneurs caught my eye.  Normally I avoid slideshows, but number nine in the presentation caught my eye.  I had not heard of Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, before, but his story is worth reading about:

Perhaps the most legendary college paper ever was authored by Frederick W. Smith. As an undergraduate at Yale, he wrote a paper outlining a delivery system that would work in a computer-dominated industry. Specifically, Smith postulated that “as society automated, as people began to put computers in banks to cancel checks–rather than clerks–or people began to put sophisticated electronics in airplanes–society and the manufacturers of the automated society were going to need a completely different logistics system” According to folklore, Smith received a C on the paper. But this didn’t dissuade him. After graduating from Yale with a degree in economics, his idea became a reality when, after buying the controlling interest in an aircraft maintenance company, Smith used his $4 million inheritance to found Federal Express. In 1973, the company started offering service to 25 cities, and the mailing service we know and trust today took off. Thirty-eight years later, Smith has received dozens of honors, including 2006 Person of the Year by the French-American Chamber of Commerce and CHIEF EXECUTIVE magazine’s 2004 “CEO of the Year.”, and, as of March 2011, he has an estimated net worth of about $2.1 billion.

College, as we have discussed earlier in light of Alex Chediak’s helpful book, need not be a period of life characterized by laziness, boredom, time-wasting, and anemia of the spirit.  There are few environments more potentially stimulating than a college, which is after all little more than one big salon (in the Enlightenment sense, not the hair-styling sense) where big ideas are discussed, creativity can flourish, and connections to other bright minds abound.

As a college professor, I’m excited by the testimonies provided by this HuffPo slideshow.  Boyce College students, what do you think–how can you unleash your sense of gospel entrepreneurship, of working creatively and ambitiously for God’s glory?  Missions, music, preaching, literature, theology–how can you plug in and make the most of your time in college?

(Image: Time.com)

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Essay on the State of Evangelical Parenting

A just-published story in The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb entitled “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” raises some helpful questions about modern parenting and how it is stimulating narcissism.  There is some strong language in the piece, so I’m not linking to it.  I will, however, quote a section to show the strength of the ideas in the article:

Another teacher I spoke with, a 58-year-old mother of grown children who has been teaching kindergarten for 17 years, told me she feels that parents are increasingly getting in the way of their children’s development. “I see the way their parents treat them,” she said, “and there’s a big adjustment when they get into my class. It’s good for them to realize that they aren’t the center of the world, that sometimes other people’s feelings matter more than theirs at a particular moment—but it only helps if they’re getting the same limit-setting at home. If not, they become impulsive, because they’re not thinking about anybody else.”

The point continues:

This same teacher—who asked not to be identified, for fear of losing her job—says she sees many parents who think they’re setting limits, when actually, they’re just being wishy-washy. “A kid will say, ‘Can we get ice cream on the way home?’ And the parent will say, ‘No, it’s not our day. Ice-cream day is Friday.’ Then the child will push and negotiate, and the parent, who probably thinks negotiating is ‘honoring her child’s opinion,’ will say, ‘Fine, we’ll get ice cream today, but don’t ask me tomorrow, because the answer is no!’” The teacher laughed. “Every year, parents come to me and say, ‘Why won’t my child listen to me? Why won’t she take no for an answer?’ And I say, ‘Your child won’t take no for an answer, because the answer is never no!’”

These provocative insights, of course, are really just good old-fashioned common sense.  Saying no to a child–what an idea!  This is the stuff of ground-breaking, cover-making wisdom at present.

I’d like to use this piece to offer a few thoughts on the current state of evangelical parenting.  Many of us do focus on developing self-esteem in our children, which has a few positive and many negative effects–good because our children know we love them and are interested in what they do, bad because they can all too easily learn self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness.  That, to say the very least, is a problem, as is the practice of rewarding children for mediocrity and even failure.

But there’s a parallel issue that concerns me about the “parenting style” of many of us today.  It is theological: we love grace.  We so exult in God’s lavish grace–and nothing is more worthy of exulting in, or exalting–that we lose sight of other important biblical-theological concepts.  Like what, you say?  Like the law.  The law does not and cannot save.  Only the gospel can.  But the law is nonetheless of great value to us in forming character, understanding God’s nature, and driving us to the mercy offered us in Christ (see Galatians 3:24).

How does this apply to modern evangelical parenting?  I’m concerned that many evangelicals who prize God’s sovereign goodness as I do are diminishing the importance of rules, morals, and appropriate behavior.  Let’s be clear–I’m not advocating moralism. I don’t want kids to grow up with hard-and-fast ethical boundaries but no grace, no love, no affection.  I guess I’m theologically greedy.  I want both.  I want a home that is driven by and centered in and soaked through with grace.  God-rooted grace should drive the life of a family such that love, not law, is the dominant trait one picks up about a Christian family when one spends time with it.  “What was it about the Harpers?  They interact with one another in such a loving way.  Why?”  That’s the kind of question people should ask after being around our godly families.

To read the rest, visit the BibleMesh blog, where this piece is posted in full.

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Small Businesses Endanger Government Growth, and Other Bad Assertions

Found this little bit of discussion engrossing.  Apparently, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a hearing with the House Small Business Committee that it was necessary to raise taxes on small businesses to provide increased government revenue for essential programs.  Here’s a snatch from the CNS News story:

When Ellmers finally told Geithner that “the point is we need jobs,” he responded that the administration felt it had “no alternative” but to raise taxes on small businesses because otherwise “you have to shrink the overall size of government programs”—including federal education spending.

“We’re not doing it because we want to do it, we’re doing it because we see no alternative to a balanced approach to reduce our fiscal deficits,” said Geithner.

“If you don’t touch revenues and you leave in place the tax cuts for the top 2 percent that were put in place by President Bush, if you leave those in place and you’re trying to bring our deficits down over time, then you have to do exceptionally deep cuts in benefits for middle-class Americans and you have to shrink the overall size of government programs, things like education, to levels that we could not accept as a country,” said Geithner.

Read the whole report.

Many of us certainly do want to fund some government programs.  But we should also recognize that there is an ideological divide in the country over whether big government as a principle is good or bad.  Historically, political liberals have championed this perspective; in recent decades, political conservatives have bought into a philosophy of larger federal government as well.  For some, this is disconcerting.  One would hope that small businesses would be encouraged to flourish in this country, which has enjoyed an uncommonly healthy economic climate in part because it has done just that–made it easy for citizens to enter the free market for the betterment of themselves and their communities and society.

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Reading the Bible Versus Reading Edited Biblical Stories: What’s Better?

Over at the BibleMesh blog, Thesis, John Starke has a thought-provoking piece up entitled “Danville, Illinois and the Eschatology of a Five Year Old” about family devotions and the use of Christian books versus the Bible.  Starke raises the question of whether our family devotions should include more Bible and less (helpful and well-intentioned) condensed and edited retellings of biblical stories.

Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:

The story leads me to consider the new peculiar (cruel and unusual?) practice we’ve started at our home, where our three children range from the age of just about 2 to 6— two girls and one boy. We are the normal, young reformed family that has jumped on the story book Bible craze. The steady diet of The Jesus Story Book Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible have brought much fruit and color to our family devotions. But I have to say, with some disappointment, that many of our lessons have never ended with questions. I don’t mean “discussion questions” usually included at the end of study guide chapters, but the curiosity of a four or five year old, who wonders, “Why would Jesus say that?” or, even, “What does circumcision mean?”

Our devotions usually ended with the attitude of, “That’s great, dad! Jesus sure is swell!” We didn’t always feel a sense of tension, confusion, or wonder. Now, don’t hear me wrongly, these story books are so helpful in putting the whole story of the Bible together for young children, in a way that just plugging through the Old and New Testament struggles to capture. We should read and re-read them.

The whole article is worth considering.  I like using books like those John mentioned, but there is no substitute for the actual Word of God.  It’s kind of like keeping your little ones in church.  It can be hard, and there’s some extra work you have to do, but in the end, it seems well worth the effort.

I happen to think that the books in question can be a big help to parents, especially as they’re putting together the pieces for a Christocentric reading of the Scripture.  In our home, we use both books John mentioned.  But as my children age, I am looking forward to digging into the Bible with them.  That will take some hard work, a good bit of explaining, and some patience, but it will be eminently worth it.  Resources to understand the Bible are great.  There is no substitute, however, for the God-breathed Bible.  None.  It’s what we need, it’s what our children need, it’s what our churches need, and it’s what our world needs.
(This is cross-posted from the blog of Vitamin Z

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Why Forbidding Little Girls from Wearing Victoria’s Secret Is Deeply Christocentric

Dads, you should be aware of what your little girl is wearing at all times.  It’s not something you necessarily understand perfectly, but this matter requires your fatherly care and leadership just as much as what church to go to or what devotional book to read together.  The issue covered below is only going to heat up in coming days, so I encourage you to read on.

Over at Christianity Today, I’ve written a piece entitled “Tiger Dads vs. Sexualized Daughters” on gospel-driven modesty inspired by LZ Granderson’s recent CNN column decrying tiny girls dressing sexy.  The CNN piece got 440,000 “likes” on Facebook, so I thought it worth considering in light of a redemptive cultural hermeneutic.

Here’s a snatch:

Should you get Botox for your ten-year-old daughter? What would you think of breast augmentation for your eleven-year-old girl? These and similarly startling issues cropped up in a recent CNN column by LZ Granderson. Writing in an outraged style, Granderson tackled how parents allow the culture to sexualize their daughters. The piece, entitled rather prosaically “Parents, don’t dress your daughters like tramps,” began with a word of personal experience (from Granderson):

“I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye.

Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie “10” (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her “Xtina” phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.”

Go here to read my response to this important essay.  I try to show how care for our little girls is a more prominent–and precarious–scriptural topic than one might initially think, and how our care images either the father God or the prince of darkness.

(Cross-posted from the blog of Vitamin Z, where it originally appeared)

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Baseball Uniforms Should Be Crisp

This is a cross-post from the blog of Vitamin Z, where I am guest-blogging this week.

I don’t know about you, but I find baggy baseball uniforms weird.  So does Wesley Morris, writing “The Sportstorialist” at Grantland.com.  Morris writes with a crisp, tongue-in-cheek style of recent sartorial changes to baseball uniforms:

There’s no functional reason for a baseball jersey to evoke the National Hockey League, but there were the Brewers, baggy in uncharacteristic Dijon mustard, calling to mind the Boston Bruins. After most plays, assorted batters and outfielders could be seen tucking in their shirts. (Surely, someone at home was delighted to see adjustments occur at the belt rather than below it.) Eventually, the pads on Rickie Weeks’ elbows began to eat his sleeves. By the time Casey McGehee crossed the plate on a sixth-inning Corey Hart double, the improbable had occurred. His shirt had managed to billow from his pants without coming untucked. Apparently the shirttail found McGehee’s inadvertent dishevelment as embarrassing as some of us did. 

You won’t necessarily agree with the entirety of the column, but I appreciated the point, if only because I admit that I have always found the baggy baseball uniform distasteful.  I like baggy shorts in basketball (tv fans are downright grateful for them), but the same look does not work in baseball, in my opinion.  

What do others think?  There’s just something about that old-fashioned crispness that makes sense.

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Christian Rap Lives

This is a cross-post from the blog of Vitamin Z, where I am guest-blogging this week.

Here are five great Christian rap songs.  This post comes to you ex nihilo.  I have no reason for writing it, other than my love for these songs.

1. Cross Movement, “Closer to You.”  This one is off the Holy Culture album.  When the album came out six or so years ago, I played this song over and over.  It’s got a gorgeous hook by JR, a hard beat by DJ Official, and strong verses from all contributors.  Many of us grew in the faith and in love for hip-hop because of CM, so it’s fun to reflect back on their work.

2. Mars Ill, “Two Steps.”  Coming from the Blue Collar Sessions ep, which is very hard to find and very good.  Manchild (formerly soulHEIR the Manchild) is a poet, and this beat by Dust fits his pitch-perfect, low-varnish flow elegantly.  Three great stories told in this song, a very different kind than the first.  I heard this song and thought (perhaps delusionally), “I want to do that.”  It was a Tina Fey-kind of moment that led to world tours, mansions, and dinner conversations with Prince.  Sorry, that last bit was a delusion.  But the song is great, and I hope it inspires another generation of Christian rappers.

3. Mr. J. Medeiros, “Constance.”  This from the Of Gods and Girls album.  Medeiros, possibly the most-tattooed artist in Christian music (he was on Miami Ink–some serious street cred), offers a deeply moving song about sex trafficking.  Unless many rappers, he’s combating, not promoting it.  The sampled chorus hits me hard, and the lyrics condemn lust with a sermonic force.

4. Braille, “Keep On,” and “Right This Moment” and “Soul Rock.”  I just broke my rules and gave you three songs from the nearly peerless Shades of Grey disc.  Don’t let the fact that this album is six years old stop you from buying it.  Hip-hop is like certain food and drink.  It ages and gets better with time (Nas’s Illmatic supports this contention, for example).  I doubt that Braille will ever make a better LP.  He lined up sensational beats for this and matched them with forceful, emotional, poetic content.

5. Trip Lee, “To Live Is Christ.”  From 13 Letters.  Great song that gives an overview of the book of Philippians.  I like Lee’s voice a lot, and his content hits hard.  Nice beat as well.

Now, when you hear someone say, “there’s no good Christian rap” or “Christian rap can’t be edifying,” you have something to suggest.  Or maybe you already did.  One can be thankful for something of a renaissance at present in this area.  May it only continue, and build the faith of the saints and advance the gospel.

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Farmageddon–Horrifying Exposé on How Big Government Controls Food (and everything else)

Two blogs in one day.  Wow.  I couldn’t resist.  Saw this notice about the movie Farmaggedon on my friend Matt Wireman’s Facebook feed.  Looks like a must-watch:

Americans’ right to access fresh, healthy foods of their choice is under attack. Farmageddon tells the story of small, family farms that were providing safe, healthy foods to their communities and were forced to stop, sometimes through violent action, by agents of misguided government bureaucracies, and seeks to figure out why.

As if modern government isn’t big enough, intruding in seemingly every area of our lives.  It also is regulating farming, intimidating farmers, seeking to shut them down.  Consider what’s already been publicized about Monsanto (also see the excellent Food, Inc., which was as the business types say “an absolute game-changer” for me).  I’m not a hippie, or even a bohemian, but this sort of thing rubs me as good old-fashioned wrong.

Local, healthy, natural food is best.  It deserves to flourish.  It’s better for communities.  The government has far overextended its control of food, and what results is homogenized, bureaucratically-driven, unsustainable processes that kill small farms.  This isn’t a super-important cause, but it’s one worth considering–and supporting.

As is the “food revolution,” Jamie Oliver’s cause.  Why do we eat unnatural foods instead of natural foods?  Why are we knowingly contributing to disease and malnutrition in ourselves–and more importantly, our children?  Why do so many of us exercise great care in spiritual matters and then turn lazy when it comes to food?  Why do we allow ourselves a pass when it comes to food, which has the power to make us ill, cause permanent damage, and kill us? Why do we think the body is unimportant?  Check out Matthew Anderson’s fine new book, Earthen Vessels, for more on these and other matters related to the body.

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