Tag Archives: gospel coalition

The Thomas Lake Interview (PT 2)–and how Basketball Shaped Him

Part 2 of my long-form interview with Thomas Lake is now up at the Gospel Coalition.

We talked in this part about the importance of long-form journalism, what it’s like to work at the world’s greatest sports magazine (Sports Illustrated, which like Lake I read cover-to-cover every week growing up), and how pastors can be great storytellers.

I’ll leave you to go read the interview if you like.  However, one of the most personally revealing segments of the interview is available only here on this blog (a world-exclusive!).  In the questions below, Lake and I talked about his love for basketball and his tough experiences getting cut from the Gordon College team.  I resonated with Lake’s words here, and I think the anecdote shared here tells you a great deal about the empathy for the underdog, the down-and-out, that is a constant theme of Lake’s writing (many of his stories are collected here).

Is it true that you’re a skilled pick-up basketball player?  Do you have courts named in your honor at Gordon College? 

I wish!  I do love to play and hoped to play in college although it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. 

Why?

I started out at a community college and didn’t make it.  I was smaller and behind on the physical curve, then I tried out at Gordon and that’s it’s own long story about why it didn’t work out.  Probably ever since then there’s a part of me that’s on the court trying to prove that I was good enough—I guess you never get away from things like that.

What happened at Gordon?

The coach was Troy Justice.  If you asked him about me, he probably wouldn’t remember, as he’s had to do a lot of cuts in his career.  The way he put it was, he told me about the last guy who had made the team.  The guy’s name was Luke Reynolds, he was trying to soften the blow, and he said “It’s not like Luke was a 10 and you were a 5, more like Luke was an 8.25 and you were an 8.24.” 

He handled it about as well and nicely as he could have, but I walked out of his office and went downstairs and found a bathroom stall and cried and it was the first time I had cried in a few years.  I guess the reason it was so hard was I can’t really overstate how much preparation I had put into wanting to achieve this goal.  We’re talking about thousands and thousands of hours of practice, much of it by myself, on little courts in Little Falls, New York and later in Herkimer, New York shooting hundreds of thousands of jump shots and running hills.  I bought special platform shoes that were supposed to help you be able to dunk the ball.  I was probably about a quarter of an inch from getting it down.  When it came to Gordon’s team, we’re not talking about the UK Wildcats—this was NCAA Division Three, so it didn’t seem like an impossible goal.  To come that far and for it to mean that much, and to know that was it, that was your last chance, you didn’t measure up, you’re not good enough, and now you have to go ahead and do something else–that was a lot for me.

I was talking with Terry McDonald of SI about how when I’ve written about how when people put it all out there and come up short that my experience has helped me relate to people, because there was such a finality to it.  That’s a part of life.  You don’t always get what you want.  Hard work doesn’t always pay off.  Sometimes you still fail, you come up a little short, and then you have to wake up the next morning and decide what you have to do with it. 

But come on—there are people who have some serious tragedy.  I can talk about it dramatically, but other people have had it much worse than me. 

Read the interview at TGC.

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Filed under sports, sports illustrated, writing

Reviewing Lecrae’s Brand-New “Gravity”

Have you heard of the new album by Lecrae, probably the best-known Christian rapper today?  Gravity debuted this Tuesday and immediately hit #1 on the iTunes charts.  That’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering the history of gospel hip hop.  Actually, it’s a remarkable achievement for a Christian artist of any musical genre.

Over at The Gospel Coalition, I just reviewed Gravity.  Here’s a snatch:

Boasting outstanding production, honest and impressive lyricism, and cover art that mashes motorcycle outlaw with Prometheus, Gravity represents Lecrae’s bid to make a comprehensively great record and become the first Christian hip-hop artist fully embraced by the musical mainstream. Debuting on top of the iTunes charts, the album may well accomplish this ambitious goal.

We see the strength of Gravity when we work through it track-by-track. The album begins with a violin. That may surprise some expecting a properly Houstonian beginning, something with bounce in it. The expected heavy bass isn’t long in coming, but Lecrae shows he’s up to something unusual in Gravity. We’re not a minute in, and the track sounds like something Hans Zimmer might record if he teamed up with Timbaland.

Here’s the whole thing.  Read the review if you like, and buy the album.  It is stunningly good.  Favorite tracks: “Falling Down” (with a ferocious beat by The Watchmen), “Violent” (with window-shattering production from Tyshane), “Higher,” and “Lucky Ones.”  I cannot stop playing this album…

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Gender Roles and the Gospel

Here’s a great video on complementarianism (or biblical gender roles) from The Gospel Coalition featuring John Piper, Tim Keller, and D. A. Carson (HT: JT).  I found all three panelists’s remarks stimulating (and I enjoyed Carson’s anti-Zwinglian militarism at around the 9-minute mark!).

Piper, as Piper does, got ramped up in the first part of the video, and said some truly inspiring things about the need to guard this doctrine and not shrink back against the rushing tide of culture.  His boldness, clarity, and zeal for the gospel is as inspiring to me today as it was thirteen years ago, when I first heard of him.  Both he and Carson made painstakingly clear that the church must speak up about this issue, costly as this may be, culturally speaking.

I am thankful that TGC is hosting such nuanced and helpful video discussions, and I hope this video proves constructive to you as you sort out this issue.  God’s glory is in this.

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Christ Plus: Gospel Coalition Interview on Christ-centered Preaching

From the Gospel Coalition:

When you are preaching Christ from the Old Testament, do you actually preach the Old Testament? Owen Strachan, a regular TGC contributor and professor of theology and church history at Boyce College, wants preachers to not simply preach Christ from the Old Testament, but to preach the Old Testament in a way that apexes in Christ.

Strachan warns that if a preacher is so jazzed about Christ-centered preaching that he leaps the context in order to get to the cross, or if he mines the the historical and linguistic context but never gets to Christ, the sermon won’t be a rich, Christ-centered sermon. He explains these points and more—including a word for preachers whose churches aren’t growing—in a short but packed interview with Mark Mellinger.  Download

It was very fun to do this interview.  Mark Mellinger asked great questions, and we had a fun conversation on the themes mentioned above.

If I sound a little, uh, shredded, that’s because my Louisvillian allergies had timed their emergence to coincide with Together for the Gospel, where this interview took place.  No, I was not out partying at the 9Marks Church Bash the previous evening.  The previous sentence is a joke.

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Interview with Eugene Peterson on Reading Rich Literature

Recently in Manhattan I had the opportunity to sit down with venerable pastor and author Eugene Peterson and interview him.  Peterson has championed a rich reading life on the part of pastors over the years, and I had the chance to talk with him about how to cultivate such a life.  Not everyone will agree with all of Peterson’s stances and theological ideas, but I commend his comments to you.

A selection from the pastor:

Good writers are people who pay attention to language, are interested in telling the truth, and are in some ways finding themselves inoculated against the fads of what will sell, what will please. Good literature almost always goes against the grain of the culture: interpreting it, subtly criticizing it, maybe not polemically. Pastors are right in the center of deceit and corruption and bad use of language. We have a commitment to use words accurately and honestly.

Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, “You don’t want to write, you want to get published; you’re not willing to go through the disciplines, the rejections.” Rejections are often compliments, because we’re not writing for popular taste or the stuff that just titillates people, what makes them feel good or bad or whatever. Propaganda is the worst kind of writing; there’s almost something pornographic about it. It just dehumanizes what’s going on, and we’re just filled with it right now politically, so I think of the importance of poets and novelists, because I think of poets as the high priests of the language. No poet writes in order to get published, not in America, so anybody who takes the path of poetry is going a lonely way and a not lucrative way.

Read the whole thing.  If you haven’t read his book The Pastor,  you might want to give that a look to become familiar with his material.

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The Gospel Coalition Goes Existentialist (!)

Collin Hansen of TGC announces a fantastic new project chaired by Leland Ryken: “We’re thrilled to welcome Wheaton College professor Leland Ryken as a sort of literature scholar in residence to guide us as we read classic books together. Every week he’ll lend us his decades of learning to help us understand why these works have come to be regarded as timeless treasures. Have you ever thought, I’ve heard that book is great, but I’m intimidated to read it myself without any help? Then we’ve designed this series precisely with you in mind. You get the benefits of a reading community who will help you along and a gifted professor who will answer your questions.”

Ryken, venerable professor of English at Wheaton, introduces the first book, The Stranger by Albert Camus:

Camus is also a towering modern philosopher. It is true that Camus repeatedly disavowed belonging to modern schools of thought. Yet these traditions are obvious in his writings and interviews. All I can say by way of explanation is that Camus was distrustful of organized systems. Thus when he claims not to be an existentialist, it means that he did not wish to be identified with all facets of that movement and its adherents. Additionally, we need to read Camus’s statements carefully. When he claimed in a 1950 essay that he had made a lifelong attempt to “transcend nihilism,” it is not necessarily the case that his attempt was successful.

In his own day and subsequently, Camus was regarded as an existentialist. The protagonist of The Stranger (whom Camus professed to admire) is an existential hero: encompassed in a world of total subjectivity, regarding his own existence of the moment as the only reality, denying the possibility of supernatural reality and its consolations, living under the shadow of death, and operating on the premise that life itself is the highest value.

It is incorrect to say that such existentialism died long ago. Existentialism is not only a philosophic movement of the mid-20th century; it is also a universal. Many people in our society live and think as existentialists, and if we want to understand them, assimilating Camus’s existential novel is a great help.

Christian pastors and thinkers who want to deepen their understanding of world-shaping texts will be richly benefited by this new TGC initiative.

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The Church Is Hungry for Teaching on Vocation

Just had an interview published at the Gospel Coalition that I did with Gabe Lyons, a leading thinker on how to infuse Christian work with meaning and purpose.  Gabe leads Q, a Christian cultural think-tank of sorts that is holding its annual conference in Washington, D. C. tomorrow through Thursday.

Here’s a slice:

With Q we’re trying to learn from leaders who are in those spaces—what they’re working on, what they’re imagining, how they’re trying to shape the values of their companies, how they’re changing the way they’re doing business with people because of how they’re informed by the gospel. We want those leaders, then, to educate the church, which is hungry for this teaching, hungry for more theological development around how to think about vocation.

There’s a huge opportunity for seminaries and schools to come alongside all of us who wouldn’t ever go to a seminary for just theological pastoral training. But we would go and say that we need to ground our thinking in theology that would inform how I’m working in the place God’s called me to work.

Read the whole thing.

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What’s the Gospel Accomplishing in Canada?

John Mahaffey of West Highland Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario just commented on the state of evangelicalism in Canada.  I’m not sure if you ever wonder how things are going up north, but I do.

Very interesting thoughts from his Gospel Coalition interview:

In 1900, 25 percent of Canadians were evangelical in conviction. That number fell to 8 percent in the 1980s, but has since rebounded to almost 11 percent. This resurgence since the 80s is encouraging, but this devastating decline over the last 100 years has left a negative mark on Canada. Theological liberalism was primarily responsible. The United Church of Canada’s (UCC) drift into apostasy from its strong evangelical Methodist heritage is probably the best example of what has happened. The UCC is still believed to be Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, but more people can be found worshiping on any given Sunday in Pentecostal assemblies than in all of the UCC churches combined. The effect of the UCC’s abandonment of the historic gospel can be seen largely in my generation (baby boomers), who attended booming UCC Sunday schools in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. We were left largely untouched by the gospel and for the most part are no longer active in church life at all. This lost generation has produced the next largely unchurched generation in Canada today.

In spite of this I sense optimism today among those committed to gospel-centered ministry. There is a renewed emphasis on church planting, and some churches are experiencing consistent growth. In my own denomination (Fellowship Baptist) we have seen a significant number of new churches started in the last few years. Evangelical churches in Canada support a missionary force of more than 7,000 people around the world. When I travel to new communities and new housing projects and see churches being erected it is undeniable that the vast majority of them are committed to the gospel. French Canada is largely unreached with the gospel, but during the 70s and 80s great strides were made by evangelicals in Quebec. The rate of growth since that time has declined somewhat, but there are signs of renewed vigor, and churches are being planted. There has been an explosion of ethnic churches reaching out to the growing immigrant population.

Read the whole thing.

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Jeremy Lin, The Basketball Star Nobody Wanted: A Gospel Coalition Essay

Just had a new theological essay posted over at the Gospel Coalition.  It’s entitled “The Basketball Star No One Wanted: Jeremy Lin’s Unlikely Triumph.”

In it, I weave in my own experience with the game as I talk about what Lin’s success means for many.  In the end, I try to show that in Lin’s unusual story, there’s a hint of a far greater triumph, the victory of Jesus Christ over the forces of darkness.  He was not esteemed, no one volunteered him for greatness, and thus he was an underdog if there ever was one.  Because God worked in and through him, he persevered, and we are saved.

Here’s a little snatch from the essay:

It never happened for me, the basketball thing. I was born an underdog, and I remain an underdog. It is for this reason that I so appreciate stories like Jeremy Lin’s and Tim Tebow’s. Not because I think sports are ultimately important; they really aren’t. They deserve far less attention than many of us give them, and that realization should be a part of our ongoing discipleship in Christ. But when we see Jackie Robinson stealing bases he once couldn’t touch, Tim Tebow defying pundits who swore him off before he threw a pass, and Jeremy Lin torching teams who couldn’t be bothered to waste a late second-round pick on him, we are getting just a little taste of something bigger, something shaking, something trembling and mighty and earth-defying (Hebrews 12:18-29).

Read the whole thing.

I would just like to say that I am not quitting my day job to become a sportswriter (fun as that would be), nor am I switching my scholarly specialty to sports, much as it might seem otherwise.  We’ve witnessed several unusual developments in the sports world the past few months, and it’s been fun to give a little bit of attention to these things.  But I don’t teach Sports and Christianity at Boyce College.  It’s back to history and theology for me.

But before I go (!), here’s Lin’s testimony from a few months back (this is part one, part two here).

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He Wins Because of God: Essay on Tebow for The Atlantic

Tim Tebow is America’s most popular athlete.  Pretty incredible for a guy who was (un)hailed as the second coming of Ryan Leaf.

A month ago, I wrote on Tebow and John Calvin for the Gospel Coalition.  Just today, The Atlantic has published an essay I wrote on Tebow.  It’s on how to assess what it means theologically if the Broncos lose to my beloved New England Patriots on Saturday in the NFL playoffs.  Has God withdrawn his blessing?  Is he no longer smiling on Tebow?  Wait–was he ever smiling on Tebow in some sort of direct and miraculous way?

You can read my responses to these interesting questions at The Atlantic, one of the more stimulating repositories of thought out there.  I will warn you, though–it involves wood elves.  I won’t say more than that.

Here’s a brief snatch from the piece:

What does this mean in light of a possible Broncos loss on Saturday? It means that there is no reason to believe that God has failed Tebow, that the light of the divine in Tebow’s life is extinguished. God’s Spirit, directed by God’s will, blows like the wind where it wishes (John 3:8). It may be that Tebow will succeed in spectacular fashion; it may be that he will have the worst game of his life. Either way, the Bible assures us that God loves his chosen, God is orchestrating every detail of their lives, and God will lead them through success or failure to the end of all things. Sometimes God grants believers great victories, and sometimes he asks them to walk through the fire. This is true whether it is experienced on the football field, in the office, or in a country that rewards outspoken Christianity with a sword to the throat.

Read the whole thing if you like.

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