This was really excellent. It was level-headed, insightful, interesting. There's no way I would have read a Thomas Nelson book on this topic by an autThis was really excellent. It was level-headed, insightful, interesting. There's no way I would have read a Thomas Nelson book on this topic by an author I didn't know if Doug Wilson in Books & Culture and someone at the Gospel Coalition (bit.ly/22MCfZK) hadn't praised it so highly. I would have assumed that it was some dewy-eyed evangelical wish-fulfillment book in which some deathbed muttering reported third-hand becomes, in the hands of the kind of person who reports decision figures for revivalistic crusades, a conversion story—despite Hitch's famous "If I convert on my deathbed it's the cancer" statement.
Taunton doesn't do this. He's honest. I quickly came to trust him. And like him. He managed to stay humble while telling a story in which, truth be told, he comes off rather well. That's because he doesn't think of himself as equal to Hitchens in debate skills or intellect. He clearly admires Hitchens. What's more, he clearly loved Hitchens. And that comes through. I already felt, after Wilson's Collision DVD with Hitchens, an affinity toward this particular atheist that I don't feel for his compatriots Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris; it was an affinity I couldn't explain. Now I can. A really special book....more
Classic Marsden. He did his homework and dug up some interesting anecdotes, offering a strong narrative, a clear outline and analysis, and some insighClassic Marsden. He did his homework and dug up some interesting anecdotes, offering a strong narrative, a clear outline and analysis, and some insightful points along the way. He did some "reception history" by looking at ways that people have reacted to Lewis' book, including his famous "trilemma" (Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord).
One insight from the book that struck me: Lewis didn't use reason to prove Christianity so much as to clear away objections and then invite others to see and experience what he did in the faith.
Another point that struck me was that though Lewis has been instrumental in the Tiber-crossings of some prominent Roman Catholics, some of those very people (including a graduate of my [very Protestant] alma mater, Dwight Longenecker) have pointed out that Lewis' famous hallway metaphor in the preface to Mere Christianity is actually itself a Protestant conception of ecclesiology.
Ian Kerr, who acknowledges that Mere Christianity was an "enormous influence" on him in his teens, argues...: "The Roman Catholic Church would have to insist that the envisaged house is the Roman Catholic Church, with the other communions as more or less attached to it as annexes our outbuildings." So, Kerr concludes, "The whole concept of a common hall with different rooms opening off it is not an acceptable ecclesiastical model from the Catholic point of view." (130)
I loved Crouch's two major previous books, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. I felt this oI loved Crouch's two major previous books, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. I felt this one was also very profitable, though not quite as deep as his other two. All the same, I'm planning a second read-through. I want to get this. I think he's on to something big, something abidingly useful and true. What really made me think so was when he finally got to showing how this thing—embracing a life of vulnerability on the one hand and authority on the other—is so thoroughly true of Jesus. He emptied himself, but spoke with authority. He humbled himself, but forgave sins. The Bible was a bit less evident in this book than in the others (particularly Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling); Crouch in this book felt Gladwellian more so than preacherish. But this connection of his thesis to Jesus is so strong that I was persuaded. Crouch writes as a Christian and a theologian, as a gifted popularizer and a not a self-help guru.
Crouch is one person whose books you don't want to miss if you want to do what the Bible calls for: "Those who have believed in God [must] be careful to devote themselves to good works" (Titus 3:8). How can your good works make a difference, truly helping others? What is the best way to work with others to do good for your neighbor? Crouch got me thinking about the role institutions, in particular, play in answering that question. That was in Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. Now he has me thinking about the ways in which I must take risks and increase my vulnerability if I want to lend authority, authority to "make something of the world," to others.
Here's just one comment that he made that was wise and immediately helpful:
When media are tools that help those who have lacked the capacity for action take action, and bring them together to bear risk together rather than be paralyzed in Suffering, they can lead to real change. But when the residents of the comfortable affluence of Withdrawing use media to simulate engagement, to give ourselves a sense of making a personal investment when in fact our activity risks nothing and forms nothing new in our characters, then "virtual activism" is in fact a way of doubling down on withdrawing, holding on to one's invulnerability and incapacity while creating a sensation of involvement. Only when technology serves a genuine, embodied, risky move toward flourishing is it something other than an opiate for the mass elite—the drug that leaves us mired in our apathy and our neighbors in their need. (87–88)
(A little note on the audio: make sure to see Crouch's 2×2 chart before you listen to the book, or you'll have a little trouble following along.)...more
Vintage Andy. Straightforward, rigorous, logic not maybe on fire but fueled by it at some deeper level. Exhaustive footnotes. Multiple helpful and cleVintage Andy. Straightforward, rigorous, logic not maybe on fire but fueled by it at some deeper level. Exhaustive footnotes. Multiple helpful and clear charts. I think he did an admirable job of staying "objective" with regard to a topic he clearly cares deeply about; his autobiographical preface explains that Keswick theology was harmful for him personally in much the same way it was for J.I. Packer before him. But Andy's praises for Keswick's practitioners doesn't feel half-hearted and obligatory; he knows there was true good in their desire for holiness.
I wouldn't have tossed around the word "Pelagian" the way Andy did, even though he was critiquing Keswick theology not for the full-on heretical form of Pelagianism but for a soft- or semi-Pelagianism. Warfield did it before him, however, so perhaps I'm the one who's wrong.
Andy doesn't profess for this work to be a full exposition of a Reformed view of sanctification, only a critique of Keswick using that standard. To get the full benefit of this dissertation you'll need to read some of the books he recommends in Appendix E. He got me particularly interested in reading Warfield's Perfectionism.
This study has contemporary relevance to my very own Facebook feed, and I encourage everyone who can to read it. Didn't take long. As Andy quoted Warfield, I think, as saying, errors like Keswick hang on in the atmosphere, and I was surprised to see the that some of the things one of my Facebook friends are saying come straight out of this 19th century movement. This book will help me help these friends, and it will help me pursue holiness, too—and for both these things I'm grateful....more
I'd had this book on my wishlist for a while; it seemed like the prosperity gospel was as popular as it was egregiously wrong—and it was increasing inI'd had this book on my wishlist for a while; it seemed like the prosperity gospel was as popular as it was egregiously wrong—and it was increasing in both respects. It seemed so impossible to take it all seriously; I was hoping someone could help me understand its origins and teachings.
I listened to an audio version, read well by the Bowler herself. I apparently missed out on the appendices (though I skimmed what I could on Amazon), so my review may be slightly skewed.
I'll start with the (apparent) criticism and end with the praise: Bowler doesn't manage to create much of a narrative. Her chapter titles—Faith, Wealth, Health, and Victory—do develop themes within prosperity teaching, but throughout much of the book, the word "concatenation" kept coming to my mind. I felt like I was being introduced to preacher after preacher, ministry after ministry, with very little coherence to hang all the details on.
I found this frustrating. Bowler is an openly professing Christian (of what sort I do not know)—I was hoping for insight, evaluation, even of the somewhat sallow kind allowed Christians writing for secular dissertation committees. I felt I got more insight into the prosperity gospel from her Times article than from her book.
However, as the book drew to a close moments ago, I found I couldn't resent the author. I think that her "failure" to find a coherent narrative or theology in this group was not indeed her fault. It's instead testimony to the absence of coherence in the movement. It's a "spiritual" marketplace in which product pitches replace ad campaigns replace marketing strategies; I don't expect Coca-Cola to make their new commercials follow in some sort of logical line from their old ones, or to develop some sort of sustained case for why I should consider their beverage. All I expect to hear is to see a gleaming glamor shot of a model saying, "Taste the Feeling™." I expect an immediate appeal to my desire for pleasure. Searching for a unifying philosophical-theological center in the prosperity gospel is like parsing a Twinkie.
Bowler does find something of a story merely by tracing the history of the prosperity gospel from the New Thought of the 19th century through to the Hillsong, Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar of today. But this is a movement which doesn't take its own ideas seriously enough to ground them in anything but the flimsiest appeals to the Bible and the flagrantest appeals to telegenic charisma—what do I expect?
Bowler did her homework for this book, spending eight years attending prosperity churches and conferences, even traveling to Israel with Benny Hinn. She manages to find some genuine praise for the movement, focusing as it does on giving hope to the down-and-out (even if it costs them all their extra money and more). And she speak with endearment for several individual prosperity parishioners with whom she interacted in her research. She has none of the disdain for her subjects that I have felt in certain other scholarly treatments of religious people. She did manage a few wry remarks, but miraculously held herself back from more. For that alone she deserves her Ph.D.
One of the most poignant things Bowler wrote about was the prosperity gospel followers who get sick or poor. They're ignored, she says, and tacitly shamed by their fellow believers. The upside of pinning your health, wealth, and victory on yourself is that you feel you have "agency." You can do something about your trials: just tap into the divine power that is so readily available. The downside is that if you're not healthy, wealthy, and victorious, it's your fault. You didn't have enough faith or plant enough seed money in the pastor's wallet. I am praying as I write for Kate Bowler and for her family as she struggles with cancer. She knows that the prosperity gospel is not good news. May she find rest in the one truly cohering narrative in this created-but-fallen world....more
Some Helpful Insights, But Fewer than I Had Hoped For
Did his homework as a churchgoer and scholar. Writes in a stylistically formalized way. Speaks ofSome Helpful Insights, But Fewer than I Had Hoped For
Did his homework as a churchgoer and scholar. Writes in a stylistically formalized way. Speaks of evangelicals as objects of historical curiosity. Dismisses, it seemed to me, the important question of whether or not the Bible actually can carry divine authority.
The thing I liked the most was his careful rhetorical analysis of a portion of a real-live sermon. He showed how the Bible is used, well in this case I think, to demonstrate contemporary relevance for Americans....more
You are what you love, not what you think, Smith says. What you think is, rather, a fruit of what you love. So far so good. If I may say so, I felt li
You are what you love, not what you think, Smith says. What you think is, rather, a fruit of what you love. So far so good. If I may say so, I felt like Smith was summarizing my dissertation (though with fewer Scripture proofs) at this point in his argument (largely the first chapter).
But then he went in a direction I've been watching him go in for some years and have not yet quite known what to do with, his idea of "cultural liturgies." I'm attracted to this idea, precisely because my own conversion away from "thinking-thingism" has left me with a practical problem: if my heart and not my intellect is the key to my transformation into the image of Christ, then how, day by day, do I go about changing my heart? My answer had been I can't change my heart; only Jesus can, through the New Covenant. And Smith doesn't deny this. But he moves over into sanctification and suggests that there is a spiritual power in habit which God means to be heart-shaping. This seems undoubtedly true, to me at least, on the cultural level. As Smith shows, the mall is full of "cultural liturgies" which shape those who enter it. (It was quite funny to hear the story of Smith's teenage son saying, "Dad, can you take me to the temple?" He knew his dad: he meant the mall.) And Smith adduces other examples, though not as many as I had hoped for.
I think Smith is at his best when critiquing:
Instead of asking contemporary seekers and Christians to inhabit old, stodgy, positively medieval practices that are foreign and strange, we retool worship by adopting contemporary practices that can be easily entered precisely because they are so familiar. Rather than the daunting, spooky ambience of the Gothic cathedral, we invite people to worship in the ethos of the coffee shop, the concert, or the mall. Confident in the form/content distinction, we believe we can distill the gospel content and embed it in these new forms, since the various practices are effectively neutral: just temporal containers for an eternal message. We distill “Jesus” out of the inherited, ancient forms of historic worship (which we’ll discard as “traditional”) in order to freshly present Jesus in forms that are both fresh and familiar: come meet Jesus in the sanctified experience of a coffee shop; come hear the gospel in a place that should feel familiar since we’ve modeled it after the mall. The problem, of course, is that these “forms” are not just neutral containers or discardable conduits for a message. As we’ve seen already, what are embraced as merely fresh forms are, in fact, practices that are already oriented to a certain telos, a tacit vision of the good life. Indeed, I’ve tried to show that these cultural practices are liturgies in their own right precisely because they are oriented to a telos and are bent on shaping my loves and longings. The forms themselves are pedagogies of desire that teach me to construe and relate to the world in a loaded way. So when I distill the gospel message and embed it in the form of the mall, while I might think I am finding a fresh way for people to encounter Christ, in fact the very form of the practice is already loaded with a way of construing the world. The liturgy of the mall is a heart-level education in consumerism that construes everything as a commodity available to make me happy. When I encounter “Jesus” in such a liturgy, rather than encountering the living Lord of history, I am implicitly being taught that Jesus is one more commodity available to make me happy. And while I might eagerly want to add him to my shelf of stuff, we shouldn’t confuse this appropriation with discipleship.
I'm still not ready, however, to sign on to his liturgical program for sanctification. He's a philosopher; I believe him when he says he doesn't intend to diminish the importance of thinking or of the heavily cognitive work of Bible study. But the Bible didn't play a strong role in his book, I'd say, only a supportive one. And maybe it's my dyed-in-the-wool evangelical Protestantism, but I just believe too strongly in the importance of the preached word. I've seen it work. The churches which have been more self-conscious about liturgy do attract me to some degree, but not, finally, if they end up diminishing that preached word. In my admittedly limited experience, that's what I've seen. I feel like I need more help from Smith to know what all this looks like before I can adopt some of the practices he commends. I'm going to give four stars because I'm hopeful. I've dug a bit into his other works, of which this is apparently a popularization.
Don't groan, because I mean it: I was surprised by "Joy." What a tragic and amazing life! It is truly a travesty that this story has not been told inDon't groan, because I mean it: I was surprised by "Joy." What a tragic and amazing life! It is truly a travesty that this story has not been told in this depth and detail before. The writing was perfect. The narrative was paced just right, the prose was smooth and even beautiful, and the perspective was neither hagiographical nor dismissive of its subject. Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis was a remarkable woman whose sins were as prodigious as her gifts. And yet the grace of God extends as far as you and me, why not to her?
As a huge Lewis fan and reader of multiple biographies about the man, I had absorbed a picture of Joy as, yes, a divorcée—but one whose terrible husband somewhat justified her flight from him. The reality is far more complex, and much worse for Joy's (and therefore Lewis') reputation. And I can't deny that the Debra Winger character in "Shadowlands," brashly calling out Jack's name in a men-only room on their first meeting, had also displaced reality in my mind, even though I knew it was a fictionalized retelling. Joy was brash, for sure, but I simply did not know how precocious, brilliant, and accomplished she was.
I was thoroughly taken by this biography. I devoured it in every spare moment. My love of Lewis drew me in, but a love for Joy came to suffuse my reading, too. I liked her. Reading her biography quickly became an unmitigated pleasure.
The reader, Bernadette Dunne, was the best I've ever heard in an audio book, changing her voice subtly during direct quotes, reading with the life and verve of Joy. She *became* Joy, even Lewis, when called upon, but not ostentatiously. (I did prefer Dunne at triple speed.)...more
I don't normally read anything that has "Self Help" on the back, but since my CEO wrote this book and I got a free copy I thought I'd give it a shot.I don't normally read anything that has "Self Help" on the back, but since my CEO wrote this book and I got a free copy I thought I'd give it a shot. I actually happen to think he's a good visionary leader; I don't just say it because I work here. I also figure I might as well get some insight into the way the top guy thinks if I'm going to do well at this company. I felt like I was rewarded with genuine wisdom rather than vapid, platitudinous pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps pablum.
I don't think people can succeed without grace: common grace at least, special grace at best. I'd probably say more about that—I couldn't help it—if I were to write such a book. But if I were to write such a book, it wouldn't have as much wisdom from experience as this book has. I am definitely guilty of not thinking strategically about my career and growth. Coming to a place with higher expectations, a quicker time horizon, and a more entrepreneurial culture—such as Bob's company—has helpfully forced me to think about the future.
A few pointers I got out of the book:
• Just about everybody feels like an impostor sometimes. Just keep doing your job, even if you're afraid that people will discover your incompetencies.
• If you want to reach a goal sooner, increase your rate of change.
• Be a "known quantity" by just doing the things you want to be asked to do rather than waiting to be asked (this precise terminology is actually my father's, and it's one piece of wisdom I already practiced before reading the book).
• TV takes up all your free time and makes it difficult or impossible for you to distinguish yourself from all the other Americans watching 30 hours of TV per week.
• If you want your boss's job, start helping him do his till he comes to rely on you. (I don't want my boss's job and never have, but I'm filing that one away!)
Here's my personal theological reflection: there is an inscrutable mixture of human and divine work in every life. If some Christians rely too heavily on divine providence to get them ahead, failing to "make every effort" to add to their faith the character qualities that might lead to success, then some Christians (I've just been listening to Kate Bowler's book on the history of the prosperity gospel) think they can compel God to give them success by working or believing hard enough (or sending enough money to Creflo Dollar). At the end of my life I want to be able to say, "I planned this for good, and God planned it for better." I am indeed going to try to increase my rate of change and adopt some of the career-forwarding wisdom in this book—not because I love money, nor because I crave acclaim, but because God told us to subdue the earth and take dominion and to lay up treasures in heaven. I want His rewards. And I think Bob's book provides insight on how to do that in our current job culture....more
Never read a full graphic novel like this before. Drawings and coloring were amazing. Story was ok. I had to change a lot of details—scatalogical andNever read a full graphic novel like this before. Drawings and coloring were amazing. Story was ok. I had to change a lot of details—scatalogical and worse—to read it to the kids. But the job was not impossible....more
5 stars for clarity and the classically excellent Packer prose - 2 stars because my heart just isn't with him and the Bible was not given anywhere nea5 stars for clarity and the classically excellent Packer prose - 2 stars because my heart just isn't with him and the Bible was not given anywhere near its due weight = 3 stars....more
One of my favorite evangelical jokes showed up in a Christianity Today a number of years ago. It was an ad for a (fake) new book called The CollectedOne of my favorite evangelical jokes showed up in a Christianity Today a number of years ago. It was an ad for a (fake) new book called The Collected Blurbs of J. I. Packer. The joke, if you don’t already get it, is funny on two counts: Packer is always blurbing books, and he’s always having his occasional works collected by editors.
Because Packer is so ubiquitous in evangelical literature, he's one of those figures you think you know. But as I listened to his biography I put together the narrative which made much better sense of the pieces I’d gathered.
But not perfect sense. While the picture of a humble, godly, gifted, diligent Christian is quite clear, and fills me with genuine gratitude, there are these "paradoxes" (Ryken’s word): a man who helped bring the Puritans back and yet became one of the major architects of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a man who never separated from the Anglican church until it finally separated from him (he then joined another Anglican group). I was disappointed to hear Ryken at the beginning of the book disclaiming any necessity to explain these paradoxes, but I'll come back to this.
I've read Knowing God, and The Quest for Godliness. I've read Packer's introduction to Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ—in it I find a model of excellent theological writing (even if I disagree with one point!). And I was moved by Ryken's biography to finally pick up Packer’s “Fundamentalism" and the Word of God. I was indeed struck immediately by the paradoxes that this first book of his (1958) introduces into the Packer life narrative. Packer wrote,
Types of Christianity which regard as authoritative either tradition (as Romanism does) or reason (as Liberalism does) are perversions of the faith, for they locate the seat of authority, not in the Word of God, but in the words of men (21).
I was also struck by how little seems to have changed since Packer wrote that book: his taxonomy of tradition, reason, and Scripture as major loci for religious authority is as brilliantly simple and helpfully descriptive now as it was then. Ryken gives a personal aside in which he tells how helpful this was for him, too, as a young man. I admit I cannot understand why Packer seems to have changed when the situation he so ably describes—I think—hasn't.
But Ryken later did do some of the work he said he didn't have to do. He provided some helpful, though partial, explanations for these paradoxes of Packer's life. The main one was pointing me to Packer's own defenses of his position, in the essay "A Kind of Noah's Ark" and "The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem." I listened to the biography (all the way through); I did not read it, so my memory may not be serving me, but the only substantive self-defense I remember Packer giving within the pages of Ryken's biography was an allusion to Christ's command to the church of Sardis: "strengthen what remains" (Rev. 3:2). Packer felt called to bloom in the denomination where he was planted, pretty much no matter what. Rkyen points out that the Puritans, too, in fact, stayed within the Anglican church. And quite a number of the men who produced the Westminster Confession were Anglicans.
But how a Packer who saw his job, and that of all the “plumbers and sewage men” who are called to do theology for the church, as “ridding the church of theological effluent”—how such a man signed ECT, remained Anglican, and retained an editorship of a Christianity Today that Ryken himself perceived as "more liberal than" Packer, I still don't really understand. Understanding these paradoxes was not my main goal in listening to the biography, though it did help—but I've got more study to do.
The book is a little indulgently long—its length, not so much its content, was what made me think a few times “yes, we’re in hagiography land…” But Ryken is willing to make criticisms, and he most certainly seems to have done his homework. Ryken writes smoothly, and I very much enjoyed his little asides about a successful teaching career and about service to the church through scholarship. I also enjoyed the little anecdotes about the way Packer took stairs two at a time during the meetings of the ESV committee, and the characteristically Packerish way he argued for his points in their translation work.
If I got one major reward for my hours of listening to this book on the bus, on my bike, and while doing dishes, it was this model of a man who sought above all to serve the church, a man who entered the lists time and time again but didn't seem to develop a pugnacious spirit. Indeed, in that 1958 book he said that "Fundamentalism was...somewhat starved and stunted...—shrivelled, coarsened and in part deformed under the strain of battle" (33). Packer, on the other hand, seems clearly to have been motivated in controversy by love for Christ's body. I delight to give honor to whom honor is due, while urging the Christian church not to relegate the paradoxes of Packer's life to the footnotes of history. Ryken, I thought, did a good job keeping the honors and the paradoxes before the reader.
(The reader for the Christian Audio version of the book, David Cochran Heath, was great. Unobtrusive, as always.)...more