30 May 2014

Book Review: The Social God and the Relational Self

I read The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (2001) by Stanley Grenz on the recommendation of Larry Crabb. When I attended his School of Spiritual Direction, there were several books and authors that he mentioned. Other than CS Lewis, who he mentions frequently, Crabb often spoke fondly about this book. 

The Social God is an ambitious academic text. In seeking to explore the relationship between the Trinity, our notions of self, and the Imago Dei, Grenz covered a lot of ground. Briefly, he discusses numerous theologians from Iranaeus to Calvin to Barth to Moltmann. He also dives deeply into the psychological literature of the self from William James to Sigmund Freud to Abraham Maslow. Throw in discussions of Nietzsche, Kant, and Locke and you have a broad exploration of God in relation to the self.

I will confess that this was a challenging read for me. Academic neuropsychology is often difficult enough, not to mention a broad-ranging academic theology that relies, in some cases, on reference to original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. He also seemed to be balanced in his approach. Regardless, I found my thinking challenged, trying to understand topics like Rahner's Rule, the LaCugna Corollary, and the economic versus immanent Trinity. At at a more base, or practical level, this book was helpful to me in terms of understanding the importance of relating as a component of the Imago Dei. The penultimate chapter on The Imago Dei and Human Sexuality deserves a second read as it explores how the Imago Dei may be specifically expressed in our maleness and femaleness. I suspect that in what he wrote, both conservatives and liberals could find something with which to be offended.

I would recommend this book, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Happy All the Time

Somewhere along the way, Christians have adopted the (what I believe to be mistaken) notion that emotions are bad, or at least that negative emotions are bad. If we are to believe the song above, we are to be "inright, upright, outright, downright happy all the time."  Is that true?

This morning, I was reading in John 13 where verse 21 says, "Jesus was troubled in his spirit." Don't skip over these words. Ponder what they mean.  When you read them, does it suggest to you that Jesus was "inright, upright, outright, downright happy all the time" or does it suggest something different? If you were one of the 12 others in the room and you looked at Jesus, what do you think you would have seen? Would he have looked happy?  How about peaceful, disconnected, or aloof?

Jesus was troubled.  He was bothered. Eugene Peterson suggests that he was "visibly upset." In other words, he was experiencing negative emotions. He knew he was about to die on the cross and bear his Father's wrath. He also knew that one of his friends and companions was about to betray him for a meager 30 pieces of silver. I even wonder if he was feeling sorrow over knowing the internal turmoil Judas would face when he came to his senses.

Christian, please do not be one who perpetuates the idea that Jesus--and by extension, Christians--are to be "happy all the time". Jesus wasn't. We won't be. Rather, be real with your emotions, with yourself, with others, and before the throne of grace.

PS, parents and Sunday school teachers, stop singing this song with your kids.

29 May 2014

Longing to Connect

"Hey dad, why do people smoke?"
"Hey dad, what's your favorite sea creature--other than a killer whale?"
"Hey dad, if you could be any Marvel comics superhero, which one would you be?"
"Hey dad, how much does God weigh?"
"Hey dad, does Jesus love Satan?"
"Hey dad, I was playing this videogame and there is a character. He's a frog, but he's red.  It's weird. In the game the frog battles with a blue rabbit. Dad, I rock at that game. I have earned 10,000 diamonds so far, which means that I can get a new suit for my frog. That will help me play the game."

Our children ask a ton of questions, don't they? My two little ones, ages 5 and 8, talk incessantly. My 14 year old doesn't talk as much, but she used to.  Many kids just talk a lot.  As parents, it often seems like they are talking about meaningless things. Sometimes, we just want to tell them to shut up.  Often, in our frustration, we simply ignore them. 

I was talking with a friend of mine this morning who has had similar experiences with his children and finds it equally frustrating. We sat wondering why children seem to ask so many questions. As he was talking, I pondered aloud, "what if the questions our children ask us have much less to do with their curiosity than they do with their longing to connect with us? What if our children ask us questions because they desire relationship?" 

Recently, there has been a significant shift in my thinking about what it means to be human. In particular, I think I am beginning to see the centrality of relationship in what it means to be a person created in the image of God. God created us to relate, to Him and to one another. In that light, I think the questions our children ask come first from their longing to connect and only secondarily from their interest in the answer. 

Ideally as parents, we will begin to appreciate the importance of relational connectedness. Perhaps instead of ignoring others or becoming frustrated with our kids, we can stop, listen, and connect.

27 May 2014

Book Review: What's Best Next?

 What's Best Next (2014) by Matt Perman addresses "how the gospel transforms the way you get things done." Perman tackles the issue of what it means to be productive as a Christian. This 351 page book is broken down into 24 chapters over 7 sections. Perman begins by establishing the groundwork for how and why a gospel-centered productivity is important. He then progresses into more practical matters, presenting the reader with productivity principles and then discussing his mnemonic: DARE, which stands for Define, Architect, Reduce, and Execute. In the final section, he addresses how we can live this out societally and missionally. 

I initially didn't know what to expect from this book. I have often joked that one of my spiritual gifts is efficiency, so when his second chapter was entitled "why efficiency is not the answer," I started to pay more careful attention. I began this book with the assumption that Perman was going to suggest ways for me to be even more efficient so that I could get more stuff done.  However, there is a nuanced difference between what we might classically think of as efficiency and what Perman describes as productivity. Productivity seems to have greater worldview implications. How we live out our lives in our work, homes, church, and society should be looked at through the grid of productivity. 

Perman's influences weave their ways through his book.  His thinking has clearly been affected by the likes of business-minded people like Stephen Covey, David Allen, and Tim Sanders, but also the more theologically minded like Tim Keller and Jonathan Edwards. John Piper's influence is palpable, which is unsurprising given Perman's work with Desiring God ministries. I have been deeply affected by Piper's writings, so to see the theological ideas that formed Desiring God in something so practical was a real treat. 

What's Best Next crescendoes through the chapters.  At the outset, I found myself thinking, "this is a decent book," but the more I read, the more I wanted to read.  Perman's wisdom and broad knowledge base shine through.  I received this book for free through a book review program and I began to think of different people to whom I could give this book. By the end, I decided I would keep it.  I envision myself recommending this book to several people from church, to my manager at work, my patients, and to you the reader.  If you want to understand better what a God-exalting view of productivity would look like, I would highly recommend Perman's book. 

 I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers 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.”

25 May 2014

Book Review: Men of courage

Men of Courage: God's Call to Move Beyond the Silence of Adam (2013) by Larry Crabb is the best book I have read on masculinity. Crabb begins the book with a brief discussion of how Adam remained silent, commenting, "the silence of Adam is the beginning of every man's failure."  Against that backdrop, he spends the rest of the book encouraging men to "remember and move."  In other words, we are to remember what God has said and have the courage to move into darkness, confusion, and chaos.  Unfortunately, in our fallen society men hear a cacophony of voices telling them what it means to be a man, with most voices missing the mark. Though we may enjoy adrenaline pumping activities, we have the tendency as men to stay on the surface, to avoid real risk. Relational risk.  Crabb writes, "Men are called to move into darkness, to keep moving ahead with purpose and strength even when they cannot clearly see the path before them" (p. 70). Most of us are reluctant to do this.

Crabb also argues that "the design of every man is to talk and be talked to" (p. 104). This runs contrary to what many modern notions of manhood imply.  However, it seems to me that our failure to talk is rooted in fear of uncertainty and confusion about who we are. To counteract this trend, Crabb encourages us to get into real relationships--with fathers, with brothers, with other men.

Father's Day is coming soon.  This may be one of the best gifts for men who desire to live a godly life. I would like to get this message out to every man that I know. 

21 May 2014

Marriage and Perichoresis

Recently, I was blessed to share a gospel message at the wedding of two beloved friends, Jerry and Michelle Woods. I talked about marriage, the centrality of Christ, and perichoresis.  If you are saying "peri-what?", read what I shared.

Jerry and Michelle asked me if I would be willing to share a few words with you today.  I am so thankful to be given this privilege.  I have known these two for some time and I deeply love them both. 

The best thing I know about Jerry and Michelle is their deep love for God and their desire to serve and know him more. If you have spent any time around them, you have hopefully seen this love as well.  In fact, today is not primarily about Jerry and its not primarily about Michelle, it is about bringing God glory through this relationship. I suspect those words may be shocking to some of you, but I know these two will agree. I hope you could hear the centrality of God in the “opening” hymn we just sang together.  Christ is their center, their vision.

 Today, Jerry and Michelle desire to give themselves to one another for life in this marriage. And they desire to express their love for God and one another through this act of worship. But, they also hope that you all will get a glimpse of this beautiful God who is their center and to whom they have both dedicated themselves. 

They asked me to talk about how God reveals himself to us through the marriage between a man and a woman. I pray that wherever you might be spiritually that here today you may understand the God of the Bible better and be drawn to Him through the picture of the marriage relationship.

Ephesians 5, the passage that Daniel just read, helps us to see why marriages reflect God and his love for the church. This chapter is about human marriage but it is also about the marriage between Christ and his church.

But before we get into it, we need to understand that our God is relational. The Father, Son, and Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship with one another. Their relationship has always shown perfect love, peace, mutual submission, intimacy, cherishing, and commitment. For the benefit of my friend Jerry, because he and I have talked about theology many times, I am going to use the word perichoresis. The Trinity is a perichoretic relationship.  Perichoresis refers to the divine dance between the Father, Son, and Spirit, the way in which they are part of one another, interpenetrate one another, and move together perfectly as three in one. This is a mystery, but it starts us on the way of understanding how our God is eternally and perfectly relational.   

Yet, God also desires relationship with you; He wants to dance with each of us too and he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to make a way for us to join in the dance. In our natural state, we all stand outside the party and there is nothing we can do to enter the dance on our own.  We are wallflowers, but God is inviting us to dance, Jesus is offering us his hand.

We just heard the reading of Ephesians 5, which paints for us a beautiful picture of Jesus’s love for his church, which the Bible calls His bride. Jesus love for His bride is perfect. He poured himself out completely, he came to earth as a man, and died a brutal death because of his love for his bride.

Christ cherishes his bride, the church. He loves her so much that he did exactly what was required to draw her back into relationship. 

He purifies his bride. It says that he cleanses her so that he might present her in splendor.  One interpretation says it this way, “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives.”

Christ sacrifices, and he cherishes, and he purifies and he loves all out.  Finally, we learn this, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Christ holds fast to his bride.  In other words, he will never, never, never, never leave her.  Christ will never leave his church. God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Never.

In turn, the bride submits to the husband. In other words, she is devoted to him.  She shines a light on his character and goodness. She treats him with respect. She loves him and is joined to him.  You see, those who make up the church submit to Christ, they are devoted to him. I once had a conversation with a young woman who was about to be married and she was excitedly telling me about how their marriage would be 50/50.  I responded by saying, “You give 100 percent and don’t worry about how much he gives.” Christ, who is our model for marriage, gave 100 percent.

Hear the gospel message: every one here is invited to the wedding feast. Jesus, the perfect bridegroom says to each of us, “I’ve made all of the arrangements, I’ve done everything necessary, I’ve paid the price in full. I've removed the veil. Come and let’s dance”.

20 May 2014

Book Review: The Gospel--How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ

I really like Ray Ortlund Jr. I have appreciated the gospel saturated wisdom that I read on his blog and that I have heard in his teachings, so I was excited to read The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (2014, Crossway). This short book is exactly what I would have expected from Ortlund--a cool, refreshing drink of the gospel.

In this book, he explores the themes of gospel doctrine and gospel culture as equally essential. In the introduction, he writes, "if a message so good lies at the defining center of our churches, why do we see such bad things in those same churches--ranging from active strife to sheer exhaustion? Where is the saving power of the gospel? Why don't we see more of Tyndale's singing, dancing, and leaping for joy in our churches, if the good news is setting the tone?" (page 16) This question, it seems to me, is exactly the right one.  Why are our churches not more routinely thought of as joy-stations?  A few pages later, he sets forth his thesis: "the need of our times is nothing less than the re-Christianization of our churches, according to the gospel alone, in both doctrine and culture, by Christ himself" (page 19).

Ortlund moves out with the gospel in concentric circles, starting with its importance to the self, then the church, and eventually "for everything". He rightly argues that the gospel transforms at each of these levels.  In other words, Christ's redeeming work is not just for the individual soul, though it is assuredly for that, but it is also for the whole world.

One of the things that I very much appreciate about Ortlund and which was evident in this book is how my spiritual hero, Francis Schaeffer, leaves his mark. For a small man, Schaeffer was a giant of evangelicalism in the late 20th century who valued doctrine, sound thinking, and loving people. On page 66, he quoted Schaeffer: "if we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim."  Indeed, chapter 4 bore many similarities to Schaeffer's well known The Mark of the Christian, and these two would do well paired together.

I loved this book.  Ortlund is a clear communicator who writes about the most important truth we can consider.  I would recommend this book to church leaders, apologists, worldview teachers, evangelists, disciplers, sinners, and saints.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway Beyond the Page Bloggers 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.”

15 May 2014

You Will Never Be Thirsty Again

Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.-John 4:14

Over my lunch hour today, I was reading and pondering about the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the well. In the heat of the day, he asks her for a drink, opening a conversation with her about Living Water, which is salvation and satisfaction found in him.  As I was thinking about this today, I began thinking about the notion of never being thirsty again. For most of us in the United States, I don't think this strikes the chord that it would have for the Samaritan woman. Five times today, I have walked to one of the five coffee pots within 30 seconds of my desk, pulled a black lever and filled my cup to the brim with steaming hot coffee.  In nearly every home in America, you can walk to a sink, pull a lever and get a cup of cool, clean water. Any time of day. So for us, its not really a big deal to be thirsty again.

But for the Samaritan woman and anybody living at that time, they knew what it was to thirst.  To get a jar of water was a challenge.  She maybe had to walk a long distance, carrying a heavy clay jar over uneven ground to the well.  Then she would have to draw water from the well with her strong arms and back, working up thirst in the process. To be told by this man that she would never thirst again meant something. The metaphor had real meaning to her, a meaning that may be lost on us. 

Like the woman at the well, Jesus will supply your deepest need, whatever it might be.

13 May 2014

Book Review: Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition

I am taking my final course for a certificate in biblical counseling through the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, which is entitled Counseling in the Local Church. Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (2001) by Andrew Purves is one of the required texts.  In this short text, Purves explores pastoral care and what we might now call counseling or soul care through the works of five men separated by over a thousand years: Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Martin Bucer, and Richard Baxter. I suspect that even most well-read evangelicals have little knowledge of these men, except perhaps Richard Baxter.

In each case, Purves provides a short biographical sketch and then explores aspects of their works that contribute to pastoral care and shepherding. Although there was wisdom in each, I was particularly drawn to Gregory of Nazianzus, the earliest of them. Purves wrote, "according to Gregory, the pastor is a healer, even more so than the physician for the pastor treats a sickness that is a deeply subtle foe of healing a sickness of the soul" (p. 17).

Also, in the chapter on Gregory, Purves makes this point: "the godly pastor is not only a psychologist and rhetorician, but above all else also must be a theologian" (page 22). I would love to see this wisdom penetrate the pastoral office today.

Book Review: The Holy Trinity

In my goal of reading through all of Larry Crabb's recommended reading list he provided at the School of Spiritual Direction, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (2004) by Robert Letham was the third book on the Trinity and far and away the most detailed and scholarly (The first two being Delighting in the Trinity by Reeves and Experiencing the Trinity by Johnson). Letham's book provides some 550 pages exploring the Trinity for evangelicals who he argues have "underachieved" in this arena.

The book is divided into four general sections: biblical foundations, historical development, modern discussion, and critical issues. Each of these sections goes into some depth. 

I as glad that he opened with the biblical foundations exploring both Old and New Testament justification for the Trinity. How these biblical foundations then gave way to developments in the early church toward the development of a trinitarian theology was quite interesting. In the second section, Letham examined how the doctrine developed and the heresies that also arose. After reaching Calvin, he jumps forward to more modern explorations, in large part because there were apparently many silent years in terms of doctrinal development.

The four chapters that made up the final section, critical issues, were the most important to me. Though the historical development was interesting and quite beneficial in terms of understanding why certain decisions were reached, this final section dealt much more with practical matters.  In other words, how does trinitarian thinking influence worship, prayer, missions, and relationships. In the chapter on worship, Letham I believe rightly assesses that the modern church lacks a distinctly trinitarian worship and that we need to rethink our hymnody. Trinitarian thinking also affects how we treat others, which he explored in chapter twenty. 

All in all, this is a comprehensive balanced book on the Trinity, but it is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a more accessible book on the Trinity, I would strongly recommend either of the others mentioned above, but if you want to go deeper, I can happily recommend Letham's text.

12 May 2014

Fast Food Prayer

"I'll take a number 7. Supersize it. With a Diet Coke."

Too often, my prayers feel this way. I quickly make my requests known to God so I can get on with the "important" stuff of my day. I'm a good Christian, so I make sure to throw in a few well placed thanks to God.

"God, today, I need you to watch over my family, and my friends, and my church. Provide me with the things that I need today God. Thank you for being God...oh yeah, please meet the needs of all of those people I told I would pray for them." 

Perhaps I should expect this response: "If everything on the screen looks correct, please pull around to the first window." This type of exchange is fast and efficient and I can go on about my day.  But this morning, I felt convicted (again) about this approach. In fact, the great irony was that in the middle of my prayer time, I felt this conviction and I wanted to hurry up and finish so that I could write this blog post because, well, [sarcasm on] you all needed to hear my wisdom. [sarcasm off]

Please don't hear me saying that it has anything to do with the length of the prayer, it really doesn't. Jesus said we should not heap up empty phrases (Matthew 6:7). Rather, it has to do with a heart attitude.  When I pray fast-food prayers, I have no relational goal.  I am speaking my wants into a microphone. I have no relationship with the girl who hands me a Sausage McMuffin and a coffee. She is merely there to quickly service my "culinary" desires.

However, God desires relationship and relationship doesn't happen this way. He wants our hearts. That happens not through an impersonal exchange, but through regular fellowship around his table of grace, speaking with him and listening to his voice. Psalm 34:8 says, "taste and see that the Lord is good." We must savor Him and his presence.

My challenge, and I hope yours too, is to grow in our relationship with Christ through our prayer lives. Whether our prayers are short petitions or long conversations, may we seek to know Him.Yes, He provides many good gifts, but those are secondary things. Knowing Him and being known by Him, now that's a meal worth savoring.

07 May 2014

Atheism and selfish ambition

 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.-Philippians 2:3

This morning, I was pondering atheism and I began to wonder how highly correlated atheism and selfishness are. When one believes there is no higher thing in the universe than oneself, when one believes that "survival of the fittest" is the name of the game, it seems to me that selfishness is an expected outcome. Atheism flows from believing one is the most important. The effects of this viewpoint are wide-ranging and unfortunate--from cheating to abortion to genocide, considering oneself as better than others can have profoundly unfortunate effects.

Sadly, it seems that our society is increasingly moving in a direction in which selfishness is viewed admirably. We dress it up with language like "self-esteem", but if you examine it more closely, the message being taught is "there is no one more important than you are." The admirable goal of teaching people how to think rightly about themselves has given way to thinking more highly of themselves than is appropriate and I believe this is damaging.

Our society is increasingly structured around those who make much of themselves. It is impossible to turn on the television without seeing some celebrity reveling in his own "awesomeness."  It seems that politics has moved from the good of the people to the good of the politician. Examples are legion.

In this cultural light, Paul's words to the Philippians seem foreign, even stupid. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." I like the way the NIV renders Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves". What a countercultural message! Be humble. Count others better than yourselves. Don't be selfish or vain.

What would politics look like if our politicians did nothing from selfish ambition? What would the sports world look like if top athletes did nothing from vain conceit? What would families look like if members counted others as more significant than themselves? I believe we would see significant improvements in our families, in our schools, and in our society.  But to be sacrificially loving and truly humble...well...that could require divine intervention. 

06 May 2014

Paul and Timothy, servants

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.--Philippians 1:1

When you are reading the Bible, do ever just skip over the salutation?  I do.  I think, "let me just get to the good stuff," but what if the opening is also a part of the good stuff?  All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, and that includes the opening.

This morning, I was struck by the opening of Paul's letter to the Philippians. The heading for this book in my Bible says, "THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE PHILIPPIANS", but look at the opening salutation.  It begins, "Paul and Timothy, servants..." Now, Philippians is a distinctly Pauline epistle, but it opens as though it were from both of them. The rest of the letter also refers to "I", as if from one person, presumably Paul. Yet it opens by mentioning "Paul and Timothy."

You may not know, but Timothy was a young preacher for whom Paul had a particular affection. Two books in the New Testament are letters from Paul to Timothy. Paul seemed to take this young man under his wing, but Timothy was not Paul.  He was a fearful, young man who was trying to grow into a leader in the church.

I remember as a young trainee, I was eager to attach my name to greatness. I published many papers, often written in conjunction with other people, but one in particular stands out to me. I was asked to write a book review and I in turn asked one of my mentors, Kenneth Adams, to co-write it with me. When he graciously accepted, I was thrilled. It was one of the best pieces of writing I have ever been privileged to be a part of, but it was unmistakably his style. Anyone who knows Ken, knew that this piece reflected his writing style, and his hand influenced my contributions as well. But we wrote it together, a nobody and a famous neuropsychologist. Jason and Ken.

I know how I felt writing with Ken. I was so excited and thankful for his mentorship and guidance. I knew that I was truly a nobody, but his willingness to have something authored by "Kenneth A Adams PhD and Jason E Kanz MS" was a highlight of my training days.

I wonder if young Timothy felt the same way.  I wonder how he felt when the wise, godly Paul said "let's open this letter with 'Paul and Timothy'". I would imagine that he felt enlivened by the encouragement that Paul set upon him.

I think the lesson here is that we all should seek to encourage one another. To whom can you be a Paul?  Who could be your Timothy?

03 May 2014

Book Review: Experiencing the Trinity

Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W Johnson (2002) is a good, basic introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity.  Composed of five chapters over 111 pages, this book is a very quick, accessible read.  Johnson's five chapters are:
1) Finding the Trinity
2) Understanding the Trinity
3) Joining the Trinity
4) Entering the Trinity
5) Experiencing the Trinity. 

The first chapter was essentially a biblical defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. Johnson provided several biblical references to support the notion of the Trinity even though the word does not appear in the Bible.  Frankly, though this chapter is important for establishing the groundwork, I did not find it particularly engaging.  However, as the book continued, I became more and more drawn in.  He opened chapter 2 with these two sentences, "'At the center of the universe is a relationship.' That is the most fundamental truth I know." He then proceeds to shows the ways we have misunderstood this mystery (e.g., tri-theism, modalism) and what the consequences will be if we get it right. 

In chapter 3, we are exposed to what for Johnson is an absolutely essential thought, one he retrieved from the writings of Thomas Torrance. In his book on the Trinity, Torrance wrote, "God draws near to us in such a way as to draw us near to himself within the circle of his knowing himself." Several times throughout the book, Johnson repeated this phrase, reminding the reader how, next to the Bible, it may be the most important thing he has ever read. In other words we are "co-lovers with God," which has foundation rattling implications for our relationships with God, with one another, and with the world.

I particularly appreciated the seven words he chose to express "inter-Trinitarian dynamics": intimacy, joy, servanthood, purity, power, creativity, and peace.  Oh that our relationships would manifest some of this!

He concludes the book with a beautiful reflection on Paul's prayer in the middle of his letter to the Ephesians. I have never looked at it in quite such a Trinitarian fashion before, but I am seeing with new eyes. 

01 May 2014

Book Review: The Solomon Seduction

I have long been intrigued by King Solomon. David's second son with Bathsheba really had it all going for him.  He was the son of the archetypal king of Israel, a king committed to seeing his son succeed. He was rich beyond measure. God granted him the wisdom that he asked for and, after Jesus, was the wisest man that ever lived.  But his life turned out to be a mess. 

In The Solomon seduction: What you can learn from the wisest fool in the Bible (2014), Mark Atteberry explores these themes in depth.  By examining Solomon's life, the author issues 10 wake up calls men in the church should heed carefully: 1) sin seems like a good idea, 2) God's commands seem out of touch, 3) your glory is more important than God's glory, 4) you're more influenced by enticements than warnings, 5) sin management seems like a better choice than repentance, 6) your faithful friends are troubled by your behavior, 7) your drinking glasses cost more than some people's houses, 8) there are a thousand women lined up outside your bathroom, 9) the throne of your heart goes from being a chair to a sofa to a sectional, and 10) God draws a bull's-eye on your chest. Atteberry is gifted at identifying themes in the life of Solomon and repackaging them into practical wisdom taking into account current culture, the brokenness of our flesh, and the reality of Satan's continued work. 

Under the heading of the first wake up call, he discusses Satan's strategy of making sin seem like a good idea.  As 21st century people, we tend to gloss over, or even glorify, certain things such as privacy or moderation. Indeed, maybe they are good, but it often leads to a slippery slope. Once he identified the potential landmines, he also offers solutions on how to address them with particular attention to the word of God.  He, I believe rightly, surmises that men in the church lack biblical literacy and therefore lack the ability to fight against Satan's best, most seductive work.  In fact, under wake up call #2, he wrote, "all of Satan's various attempts at seducing believers must include an attempt to undermine Scripture" (page 18).  Yes and amen.

I was also particularly drawn to wake up call #5, which discusses the notion of sin management.  Our churches are filled with many men who think they can manage their sins.  They do this by compartmentalizing, misrepresenting or rationalizing sin.  This is a dangerous, and all too common thing.  On the heels of this, he issues a stern call to repent and turn back to our gracious God. 

Overall, this is a good book.  Atteberry offers practical advice in an accessible style. Men who are put off by theology won't be put off by this book.  He writes in such a way that he speaks effectively to wear people are at.  This book seem most directed to men, though I suspect women would benefit from it as well.  There were a few places where he came across as legalistic, though the overall message of the book is well worth considering.

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