27 February 2014

Book Review: Understanding People

Understanding people: Why we long for relationship (1987/2013) by Larry Crabb is an excellent book essentially dealing with anthropology. The book is divided into three sections. The first, entitled "A Sufficient Bible" begins by exploring how people come to know things and then Crabb moves on to an argument for the sufficiency of scripture, rightly conceived.  He effectively addressed the common ways in which people tend to treat the Bible when it comes to psychological difficulties: 1) it has no place because it doesn't directly address every human problem, 2) it is our only focus because it does answer questions, and 3) it is sufficient because it provides categories for thinking and conceptualizing.

Having made his argument that the Bible is a sufficient guide for relational living--again, rightly conceived--in the second section he addressed the issue of anthropology on a deeper level, with specific attention to how he understands what it means to be made in the image of God. After some more theoretical and foundational writing, he comes to the point where he describes all people as personal beings who long deeply, rational beings who think, volitional beings who choose, and emotional beings who feel. Too often, various segments of the church downplay some of these aspects rather than trying to keep them in right balance. He concluded the book with a short third section discussing the evidence and essence of Christian maturity.

Overall, I really appreciated this book.  I read one reviewer who lamented that earlier sections of the book were too academic or theoretical, but I admit I didn't see that at all. Understanding people, as Crabb clearly suggests, cannot be accomplished by 5 easy steps. He effectively described an effective model for understanding God's image bearers.  

22 February 2014

Book Review: When the Darkness Will Not Lift

It has always seemed to me that John Piper, in many regards, understands depression or melancholy better than many pastors do.  Perhaps it is because he has admitted his own tendencies to struggle through some dark nights. When the Darkness Will Not Lift (2006), a short, 79-page book that was originally appended to another book When I don't Desire God was a treatment he gave to the issue of melancholy.

In classic style, Piper harkens back to those who have gone before him, particularly the Puritans, in understanding depression. In particular, he brings up the wise writings of Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and John Newton, to name a few. Piper recognizes that older writers often have much to say about the Christian life.

Piper has a particular way of knitting theology to life. He applies his understanding of the nature and character of God to the human condition.  While this is a strength, I fear that many people, particularly in the throes of depression, may miss the application of theology to their daily life.  Having said that, my desire is that more people would understand the importance of our thinking about God and how it can have a profound impact on how we live, even in the midst of darkness.

Book Review: What's Your Worldview?

As a certified Centurion through the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, I have continued to grow in my interest in how people talk about the issue of worldview. As I began to hear rumblings about James Anderson's book What's Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life's Big Questions (2014), I was very excited.

Anderson took a novel approach to this book.  Essentially, by posing a series of questions and providing a brief discussion of each, this book was modeled after the popular Choose Your Own Adventure books of several years past. I spent much of my time reading CYOA books, so this was an intriguing approach to a more "academic" book.

As an example, the second question, the freedom question, asked "is there any objective truth?" Over a single page, Anderson discussed this question in language that is easily accessible. At the end, he directs the reader to one of two different pages. This leads to a series of questions that, when the reader follows through, leads to the conclusion that a person fits into one of 21 different worldviews, such as Christianity, Panentheism, or Atheistic dualism, to name a few.  The reader is then encouraged to explore different avenues to develop a fuller understanding.

On the positive side, this was a unique book exploring issues of worldview in a clear, concise manner. I fear that many people will think that it is too "concise"; in other words, the nature of the book limited the author's ability to explore questions and worldviews in any depth, which Anderson himself admits. His questions were well chosen. His worldview descriptions enlightening. His viewpoint relatively balanced.

The only negative I would point out is that although I found the CYOA approach novel at the outset, I came to the point where I found it cumbersome. Perhaps if I had been reading a paper copy rather than digital it would have proven more engaging.  In retrospect, I would have preferred a more linear book, something along the lines of Glenn Sunshine's Portals, which is another excellent, concise volume regarding worldviews.

I would happily recommend this book to someone in the beginning stages of worldview exploration, either a believer or not. Readers will probably come away with more questions, but that is probably a positive thing as well.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway Publishing Beyond the Page book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

19 February 2014

Are you depressed?

David Murray is, in my opinion, one of the wisest, most balanced pastors writing today when it comes to issues of mental illness and particularly depression.  He wrote a book entitled Christians Get Depressed Too that you should check out.  They are releasing a set of videos associated with the book.  This is the first one.

If you have struggled with depression, I would commend it to you.  If you don't know what depression is, I would commend it to you. If you are not sure if you are depressed or if you believe Christians cannot or should not get depressed, I would especially commend it to you. 

13 February 2014

Book Review: Notes from a Blue Bike

I wish I could easily say what drew me to choose Notes From a Blue Bike (2014) by Tsh Oxenreider as my next read. Perhaps it was the comforting hues of blue on the cover. Perhaps it was her intriguing name; I confess I spent too much time trying to figure out how she pronounces it. I suspect, though, that it was the hope of learning "the art of living intentionally in a chaotic world."

The author, whom I confess I had never previously heard of, is the founder of TheArtofSimple.net.  She is a prolific writer and blogger who has focused much of her work on learning to slow down and live with greater awe and presence in the world we occupy.

In four dozen chapters, each just a few pages, she discusses the notion of intentional living in several areas of life such as education, travel, and food. In each case, she honestly explores not only their family's struggles to accomplish some of her hopes. It seems she is very much describing a life in process, which is a strength of her book. 

I typically do not read books like Notes from a Blue Bike. I am much more prone to read Christian theology, what I might call "meatier" stuff, though in its own way, this book was very earthy and organic as well.  I requested this book through a Christian book reviewers program, yet I would not characterize this as a "Christian" book per se. A Christian worldview permeates her thinking, but this book is anything but "churchy," if you know what I mean. Additional influences seem to be represented by a culture that follows after people like Michael Pollan, Ann Voskamp, or Lisa Leake.

The briefness of her chapters was refreshing. A bit longer than a blog post, she was able to speak to a variety of subjects grouped under several different headings, yet many were fairly complete thoughts. My favorite chapter was entitled "Desert Irrigation", which unsurprisingly dealt with books. Oxenreider establishes the importance of access to books as essential to a children's educational success and not just for them, but to see their parents reading. May it be so!

I had few concerns about this book. I could see how some might read it and come away with the conclusion that Oxenreider is anti-American, but I don't think she is at all.  In fact, near the end of the book, she comes right out and says so.  Rather, I think that her argument is compelling that it is harder to live the lifestyle she is describing, or perhaps prescribing, in our typical fast paced American culture.

Whenever I read books, I think of people to whom I would like to pass them along. This book is no different. Her way of communicating the art of intentional living would be good for many of us. 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

11 February 2014

Norm Geisler on the Age of the Universe

Norman Geisler, a pre-eminent apologist and clear thinker wrote 6 brief pages on trying to better understand the age of the universe.  You can read them here. I thought this was perhaps the most important paragraph:

If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let the biblical and scientific evidence be mustered to demonstrate it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is Old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is. 

06 February 2014

Book Review--Dear Friend: Letters to Christian Ambassadors

I received this short book from Stand To Reason for supporting their ministry, which you should do too.  Dear Friend: Letters to Christian Ambassadors, is a series of short letters penned by Greg Koukl, who is the president of Stand To Reason.  In the introduction, he wrote, "So as a kind of spiritual father, I am always looking for new ways to help you shine for those who only know about Christ through you. I know yours is a weighty responsibility, but in the enclosed letters I offer some ideas that might help."  This book includes 32 short letters covering a wide variety of topics relevant to the issue of being an ambassador for Christ.  Koukl ranges from very practical, technique focused suggestions to issues of character.  He, and Stand to Reason, are committed to the development of complete Christians and this book serves as one evidence of that commitment. 

For me personally, as someone who has come to know and love the ministry of Stand to Reason in general and Greg Koukl in particular, I am very fond of this short volume. There were some familiar stories to me and some I had not heard before. In every case though, I could seemingly hear Greg's voice as I read.  He is a fantastic teacher and that comes through in this book

If you are unfamiliar with Stand To Reason, let me strongly encourage you to check out their website, but also recommend to you this book.  If you are engaging others on a regular basis, this book may be one tool to help you "bloom where you are planted." 

05 February 2014

Reflections on the Creation Debate

Last night, at debatelive.org, Ken Ham of the Creation Museum and Bill Nye the science guy debated one another loosely regarding the question, "Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?" I wasn't going to watch it.  I have spent a lot of time over the last several years exploring questions regarding the intersection of faith and science and whether Christians who hold to a creation model can in fact be scientists. Though I am assuredly interested in these questions, I anticipated that I would be more irritated than enlightened by this debate. My wife said she was going to watch and several people from our church also were planning to gather to watch the debate.  Rather than watch re-runs of 7th Heaven, which is what I did during the Superbowl, I thought I would take in the debate.  Turns out, I was one of over a half-million people who tuned in.  Since last night, I have had a number of thoughts triggered by the debate that I want to share.  This will probably turn out to be a long post, so bear with me.

First, I was pleasantly surprised with their willingness to treat one another rather cordially.  Part of the reason I was reluctant to watch is that Ken Ham has developed an unfortunate reputation of being aggressively dogmatic, though last night I saw less of that than I typically have when I have seen or read his materials in the past.  He clearly holds to a specific point of view, but he was generally engaging last night.  Bill Nye too is dogmatic in his belief and yet he also engaged reasonably well.  Closer to the end of the debate, they began to become a little more aggressive, but overall, it was reasonably peaceful.

Second, they were unfortunately talking past one another much of the time. Ham was attempting to make his point that historical science differs from observational science. Nye tried to assert that in order for the United States to stay competitive, they need people trained in science and engineering, but stayed away from the notion of whether Christians may fit there.  The longer the debate proceeded, the less they were listening to each other, but were doubling down on their positions. When people only talk and don't listen, no real dialog can take place.

This relates to another point.  Most people who watched the debate last night already hold a certain viewpoint on the issues that were discussed. I doubt that many people changed their minds, but I did pray for that last night.  Before Jesus was crucified, he was mocked by a whole battalion of soldiers, which was about 500 men (Mark 15:16); however, when he was crucified, a centurion standing by (presumably a part of the battalion), said "Truly this man was the son of God" (Mark 15:39).  One of the 500 turned. May it have been so last night.

Third, Christians hold to different viewpoints on the creation of the world. Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, and his Creation Museum represent the young earth creationism viewpoint.  However, there are other believers who believe the earth is quite old, but otherwise are biblical creationists.  One example is Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, who founded Reasons to Believe. A third subset include those who hold to theistic evolution, such as Francis Collins, head of the NIH and others in the Biologos community. There are other viewpoints as well that are often less discussed (e.g., framework hypothesis, gap theory).  Science is complex.  Hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, is also complex.  Simple answers will never suffice.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many in the science community treat all Christians the same and vice versa. This can lead to the problem of talking past one another as I indicated above.  The only way to know what viewpoint a person holds is to ask them and deal with their perspective, avoiding ad hominem attacks. 

Fourth, there should have been a clearer acknowledgement of presuppositions. Christians operate from the perspective that God is true and therefore the supernatural is true. Because we believe in the supernatural, and an intervening God, miraculous events can occur.  Materialists, by their worldview, reject the supernatural a priori and so do not allow for an intervening God, even when it explains their data better than their worldview can.  They are more inclined to produce fanciful theories (e.g., the multiverse theory, directed panspermia) that also require faith, rather acknowledge God. Romans 1:18-32 actually predicts this suppression of the obvious. 

Fifth, I have some specific criticisms of Bill Nye.  Bill Nye clearly operates from a worldview of scientific naturalism. For him, science is king. Unfortunately, this leads to a gross denial of history and of reality.  Nye failed to acknowledge that historically, science emerges from a Christian worldview.  The God of the Bible is not an impetuous, ever changing deity, but a God of reason.  Because early scientists believed that God ordered the universe, they were able to develop a system of experimentation and replication.  Indeed, most scientists through history have been theists including some of the most influential in history.  A strict reliance upon science also fails to account for the metaphysical realities of inquiry.  Ham attempted to get Nye to address issues like meaning, morality and origins, but Nye could not respond well because these are not really under the purview of observational science.  Not everything is scientifically provable and without a foundation in the philosophy of science, which is sorely lacking, it is impossible to consider some of these metaphysical realities.  Just once, I would like to see a scientist acknowledge that though they understand science well, they are not philosophers.  As just one example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow wrote a book a few years ago saying that philosophy is essentially dead, then they made philosophical assertions to try to make their point.  I discussed that here

Bill Nye also began to make assertions about biblical interpretation.  In doing so, he was out of his element.  One example is that he claimed the Bible is thousands of years old and has been interpreted over and over.  English translations are made from the earliest texts available, not from existing English translations. It is not a game of telephone. There are existing texts dated within one generation of Jesus. Further, the number of early biblical manuscripts eclipses the number of any other writing of antiquity.  We have very good manuscript evidence that is surprisingly consistent.  The tenacity with which scientists approach their fields of inquiry is similarly held by biblical scholars and textual critics to make sure they get it right. 

Another thing about Bill Nye that I disliked was his increasingly pejorative approach as the debate proceeded. He kept referring to things like "Ken Ham's model", though this was the model held by the majority of people through history. He also made off-handed references to the "people of Kentucky", which I think was an indirect jab at them.  Alternatively, he kept referring to himself as a "man of reason".  This is a common ploy among atheists.  They characterize themselves as reasonable, with the unstated assertion that those who do not think like they do are by necessity, unreasonable.  There are many theists who are able to reason quite well.  Indeed, I would pit JP Moreland or William Lane Craig against Bill Nye any day when it comes to "reasoning" ability.

Bill Nye misstepped. when he talked about the Big Bang. Yes, the big bang is an accepted scientific fact; however, the Big Bang supports the notion of a creator.  There was an absolute starting point to the universe.  The typical response of scientists has often been that at some point in the finite past an infinitely small, infinitely hot point in the nothingness exploded expanding outward rapidly.  Where did this come from? Theists confidently state this came from God, who is ever existent.  William Lane Craig makes this argument compellingly in the Kalam Cosmological arugment.  Or, as Greg Koukl would say, "the big bang needs a big banger." 

I also had some criticisms of Ken Ham.  One of the first things is his appeal to authority. He shared videos of several scientists who are young earth creationists.  This may be one useful technique, but appeal to authority on its own merits is a shaky foundation. He is lucky that Bill Nye did not trot out the scientists who disagree with young earth creationism because then it would be an issue of my expert versus your expert. And they have a lot more. Unfortunately, appeal to authority does not indicate whether something is true or reasonable. 

Ham also had a tendency to dodge questions, which I don't like. For example, he was asked a question that was something to the effect of "what would it take to change your mind?" He responded by saying something akin to "well, I'm a Christian and this is what I believe, so my mind won't be changed."  I wish he would have taken a different tack. If I was asked that question, I hope I would have responded by saying, "if Christ had not been raised from the dead, I would consider changing my viewpoint." To my believing friends, 1 Corinthians 15 is so important here.  As Paul is addressing them, he tells them that he delivered to them of first importance, that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in accordance with the scriptures.  And then, he comes to this section:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.-1 Corinthians 15:16-20

Do you see what is of first importance?  It is not the age of the earth or by what means it was accomplished. It is that Christ died for our sins and was raised again from the dead, bearing the burden for our iniquities so that all who call upon him will be saved. Christ is the center.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Besides Jesus, nothing has any significance. He alone matters."

So perhaps the earth is young; perhaps the earth is old, but I believe the evidence for a Creator God is compelling.
Philosophically, it is hard to explain the beginning without Him.
Scientifically, there will be a struggle to explain life from non-life.
Morally, good and evil are meaningless without a moral law giver.
Anthropologically, your worth comes because you were created in the image of the One who made you.  You are so much more than a self-aware blob of cells.  You are an image bearer of the King and, regardless of your view of science, He wants you to come to Him. 

For those who are further interested in this topic, may I also suggest the following videos: 

Stephen Meyer and Eric Metaxas on Darwin's Doubt