Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Book Related Reading Links

It’s hard to believe that it is Christmas time again, already. Where does the time go? Well, time flies when given good things to read, I guess! In this last post of 2008, I would like to highlight some book related weblinks and let you know of some new things coming up ahead.

There is a link on the sidebar highlighting the Hearts & Minds Bookstore of my good friend, Byron Borger, but I don’t think I have mentioned him directly in a post before. Please visit his Booknotes Blog. He updates it regularly featuring books that we all should be aware of… and he often offers “Blog Specials.” Although you may never have a chance to visit his store in Dallastown, PA, you can still order books online. The staff at Hearts & Minds are as reliable as any “internet bookstore.”

Don Opitz and I have a website for our book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: We try to update it regularly and are currently featuring an Advent Sermon preached by Don a few Sundays ago. Enjoy!

CPYU’s Winter 2008 edition of Engage is now available for FREE. Along with articles helping parents and youth workers navigate the often confusing world of teenagers, we also provide a well rounded review of books to consider. Of special “book interest,” in this issue we have an excerpt from John Stott’s excellent book, The Living Church.

And COMING IN 2009…

Be on the lookout for CPYU Bookshelf Book Awards in early January!

Looking for a chance to win FREE books? Well do I have news for you! Coming soon: CPYU Bookshelf Question of the Week. Spread the word. You won’t want to miss it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

David Naugle on Reordering Our Loves and Lives

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness, David Naugle (Eerdmans, 2008)

David K. Naugle (DN) is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. He is also the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans), selected as a 2003 Christianity Today Book of the Year.

CPYU: What motivated you to write about love?

DN: Over the years, I have become convinced that people don’t necessarily do what they say they will do, or behave according to their beliefs, or act on the basis of their thoughts or ideas. However, at the end of the day, people will do what they love!

Augustine put it like this in his book Enchiridion: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.” We are motivated to do what we do by the things we love, care about and desire. Our lifestyles follow our loves; our loves lead to our lifestyles.

It seems to me that this has been the missing element in various Christian programs of moral and spiritual formation. We can’t just impart biblical information and expect much to happen. Our deepest loves, affections and desires must be reordered for lives to change in a Christ-like way.

But our loves and lives remain severely disordered, especially because of cultural influence. No one knows this better than CPYU! In light of the biblical teaching on love which is the nature of God, at the heart of the greatest commandments, and is the chief of virtues (1 John 4; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 13), a book on love and the necessity of reordering our loves, seemed like a good idea.

CPYU: On the surface, it does seem obvious that love is related to happiness, but what is the deeper meaning? Where do we often get love and happiness wrong in our culture?

DN: If we follow the main outline of the biblical story, we discover that God intended for us to enjoy the deep meaning of happiness (or shalom, as it’s called in the Hebrew Old Testament) rooted in rightly ordered loves for God and for everything else under and in Him.

When we sinned, however, we lost this deep meaning of happiness found in God and in his good creation, rightly related. However, we did not lose our love or longing for happiness; in fact, it may have even deepened, even if it was distorted and disordered.

As extraordinarily needy and ignorant people in search of a fulfilling life in a deeply fallen world, we attach our loves in intense ways to whatever we think will make us happy, whether it be people, places or things.

But these people, places or things that we love for happiness’ sake fail us every time. They promise the satisfaction we have been longing for, but they fail to keep their promises. They simply are not made to do so. We end up frustrated once again. As Bono famously sings: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”

Out of this disordered love in search for happiness, our lives become a mess, a wreck, especially because of our idolatries, vices, habits, and addictions. We will turn to crime, violence, and even warfare, if that’s what we think it will take to get what we want, since our deepest sense of self and overall well-being depends on it. See James 4:1-2, for example.

Not only our own ignorance, but the false, misleading messages of our culture through music, TV, films, and advertisements also misdirect us and lead us into a big, ugly ditch (to put it mildly) … all in search of happiness! As Augustine once said, “… what am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”

This is precisely where the Christian gospel enters the picture. When we believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we are reconnected to God. He then enables us to love God and everything else in God in reordered ways. We don’t reject the world, but worldliness; we don’t reject creation, but its corruption. In other words, we seek to love the created world in a reordered and right way in God as its creator and redeemer.

This, I believe, is the key to discovering the deep meaning of happiness both now and forever! Reordered love and reordered lives and the discovery of the deep meaning of happiness are the primary benefits of the Christian faith and God’s good news about Jesus Christ!

Thus, the connection between love and happiness, as I try to develop it, follows the major points of the overall biblical narrative, and I can summarize the story like this:

- The deep meaning of happiness in God as He intended at creation rooted in rightly ordered loves and lives;

- Happiness lost in the fall of humanity into sin and replaced with devastating ignorance and disordered loves and lives;

- The deep meaning of happiness already redeemed and one day fully restored in Jesus Christ who graciously reorders our loves and lives through the Christian gospel.

CPYU: This is from the review of your book in Publisher’s Weekly: “Many Christians will enjoy this book and be renewed in their quest for true happiness. Others will not, given the author's insistence that accepting Jesus is the only way to real happiness. In a religiously pluralistic world, the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.” How do you respond to this?

DN: Well, actually, though PW (Publisher’s Weekly) didn’t intend it as such, I take their criticism as a compliment. I DIDN’T CAVE INTO POLITICALLY CORRECT RELIGIOUS PLURALISM!

Furthermore, my goal was to do what PW said I should have done, namely to show how “the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.”

PW thinks I failed at this, but I think I succeeded (Lord willing), especially by appealing to various expressions of popular culture that show how our disordered loves can disorder our lives and make us miserable. For example, Alan Jackson’s C&W song — “Everything I love Is Killing Me” — hits the nail on the head! And Johnny Cash’s return to faith shows how his reordered love for God reordered his life, and brought him into an experience of the deep meaning of happiness. And what happened to Cash can happen to us as well.

In this sense, then, my book is a form of cultural apologetics, showing how Jesus Christ is the sweet fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires as we search and find the genuinely happy life in Him (I am employing Charlie Peacock’s thoughts from his endorsement on the back of the book).

CPYU: What are some practical ways that parents and youth workers can help teenagers “reorder” their loves?

DN: In many ways, this is what the seventh and last chapter in the book are all about. There I point out that the deep meaning of happiness we experience now is not perfect and never will be. Presently, we live between the cross and the consummation, at the “hyphen” between the “already” but the “not yet.”

Consequently, at this time in God’s narrative plan for history, we must enroll in the school of Christ for the ongoing mending of our hearts. In Christ’s school of followership, the Christian practices make up the curriculum for life change and consistency. It’s unnecessary to reinvent the wheel on this subject of the Christian practices since so many good books are already available by authors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. I recommend them highly.

However, what may be of particular interest to parents, youth workers, and students is my own autobiographical description of “The Disciplines and Me” on pages 193-203. Here I talk about the Christian practices I learned from my mentors early on as a student that have served me well over the years. I talk about the Bible and books, church and community, prayer, the enemies of the christian life, virtue and vice, thinking, loving and doing, and so on. Hopefully a portion of my own story may be of inspiration in the “how to reorder our loves” department.

Related Links:
Reordered Loves, Reordered Lives website

David Naugle’s website (full of great information and articles)

Learn more about David Naugle’s award winning book Worldview: The History of a Concept

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Fine Line Blog Tour with Kary Oberbrunner

The Fine Line Teaser (HD) from josh franer on Vimeo.

The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap Between Christ and Culture, Kary Oberbrunner (Zondervan, 2008)

Kary Oberbrunner (KO) is the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio.

CPYU: What motivated you to write The Fine Line?

KO: I grew up in a Christian home. I did the whole Christian school, Christian college, and Christian seminary gig. One day I guess I woke up and said, gee, I have nothing in common with anyone in the world. In fact, I don't even know many unbelievers. I found myself extremely judgmental toward culture and I knew God wasn't impressed. Jesus told his followers he wanted them to be in the world and not of it. But here I was, removed from the world, isolated in my little Christian subculture.

I knew my problem, but I didn't have a solution. And believe me I looked. Everywhere! CD's, seminars, conferences, you name it. Sure there was the book Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr, but that was written well over fifty years ago when times were different.

Niebuhr, a genius faculty member of Yale Divinity School, named the Sterling Professor of Theology and Christian Ethics, attempted to describe the variety of ways in which Christians interact with culture, and make sense of it. His book was profound, for its time. Many classify it as one of the most influential Christian books of the past century. No other book has dominated an entire theological conversation for so long.

But as a twenty-something at the time, I wasn't impressed. It's not that I didn't like the topic of a believer's role with culture—I was fascinated by it—but I couldn't understand Niebuhr's book. Even though I'd been a pastor for years, graduated from two seminaries, and have a doctorate in ministry, I couldn't grasp Niebuhr's style. It's written for the elite within the academy not for the masses within the church.

You see, in 1951 the world was very different. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness. The divorce rate was less than half of what it is today. Prayer was still allowed in school. Abortion was illegal. There was no Internet or cell phones. And attending movies was considered a sin by many.

A book about Christians transforming that type of culture is a little bit different than today. One might argue that our culture back then was much more Christian. On some levels it was easier. Even though culture has changed God hasn't. Our generation needs to re-envision what it means to live in the world and not of it. Christians today want to know how they can transform culture not separate from it or conform to it. We need a new paradigm for a new time.

CPYU: How do you think this book will benefit parents and youth workers?

KO: I've seen enough of the next generation leaving the church. According to some estimates, fifty-eight percent of young adults who attended church at 18 no longer attend by age 29. This number accounts for more than 8,000,000 twentysomethings who are simply "missing in action."

Why is much of this generation voting on spiritual matters with their absence? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is little difference between the attitudes and actions of believers and unbelievers. Rather than drawing people to Christ, many Christians are pushing people away because of the disconnection between what we say and how we live. That cannot continue.

Christ followers are supposed to be the most liberated, grace-filled people on earth. We're supposed to have what people want—a message so powerful it will cause the dead to rise and the blind to see. We're supposed to have the Living God, living inside us. We're supposed to know how to live in the world but not of it.

Most believers I know don't know. Most are either out of the world or they're of the world. No wonder Christians have so little impact, so little relevance. Now more than ever, we need understand how to live in the world but not of it. And that's exactly what this book will do: discover the fine line.

You see, Christians fall into one of three camps: the Separatists, the Conformists, and the Transformists. Only one camp is relevant. The other two have alienated themselves from the conversation. Separatists reject culture. Conformists embrace culture. Only Transformists change culture.

The Fine Line explores the meaning of relevance. Many teens think it has to do with externals like the clothes you wear or the music you listen to. But ironically relevance has little to do with externals.

The Fine Line shows how we all lean tend toward irrelevance. Separatists think they love God and end up failing to love people. Conformists think they love people and end up failing to love God. But only Transformists love God and people. They're the Christians who walk the fine line and they're the people who are re-envisioning the gap between Christ and culture. Each generation of people who follow Jesus must wrestle with the question- how does one live in the world and not of it. Each generation must emerge with some kind of answer. This question of relevance is, as Michael Joseph Gross puts it, "arguably the most basic ethical question of the Christian faith."

Teens don't want to be sold a product. They don't want to hear a sermon or handle a Gospel tract. Teens want to see a changed life. And that's exactly what this book does. It is changing their lives because it puts words to an age-old mystery. It is our generations' answer on how to live in the world and not of it.

CPYU: If churches took the central message of your book seriously, what changes do you think they would need to make?

KO: Many Christ followers for many years have misunderstood what being in the world, but not of it truly entails. For fear of being of the world, the Separatists (in the book "deceived God lovers") have forever attempted to escape the world. Their motives are correct, wanting to be righteous, but their outcomes are always skewed.

Sometimes the Separatists have built a Christian subculture -a cheesy, vanilla flavored, sanctified copycat version of pop culture. Other times Separatists have done some fairly epic, but irrelevant acts, like a guy named Simeon Stylites a monk type figure alive in the 400's who lived on top of a 50 ft. pillar for over 36 years, in order to escape the wicked world. The plan backfired and he became a rock star in his own right, only attracting more "worldly" fame.

For fear of going out of the world, the Conformists (in the book "deceived people lovers") have forever become of the world. Their motives are correct, wanting to be relevant, but their outcomes are always skewed too. Many Conformists become church haters and hypocrites. Conformists want to change the stereotype of Christians being lame, but they cross the line and the limits by simply conforming to the world, instead of transforming it.

If churches took the central message of my book seriously, they not only would need to make changes, but so would the people in the church, including the pastor. Let me give you a few concrete examples from my own world.

My church (Grace Church) has started a free medical clinic called Grace Clinic (check out the video clip). Doctors, nurses, and volunteers show up every Wednesday night to offer free health care to those who have no insurance. We offer prayer first. Some people accept it and some refuse.

We give people a taste of the Kingdom and some want more. Some just want a prescription. We now have several people in our church who started out as Grace Clinic patients. Although initially unbelievers, they made the decision to follow Jesus. Some of these people are hardened people: ex-convicts, drug addicts, and people wanting sex changes. Still Jesus has freed them from their addictions and given them holistic peace in this life and the next.

Because not all readers can do a "Grace Clinic" I'll share a less glamorous story. A few months back I'm at the YMCA doing my routine workout. I see a man next to me obviously struggling with his mp3 player. I asked him if he needed help. Turns out Bob, a 71 year old, African American, needed an introduction into the technological age.

After several encounters and several lessons with iTunes, Bob started attending our church. Just last month he stayed after the service and informed me that he wanted to give his life to Jesus. Evidently, the light he saw in his mother's eyes before she passed was the same light he saw in people's eyes at our church and he wanted it.

Related Links:
Kary’s website

Recent media coverage of the book

Thursday, December 4, 2008

David Wells on The Courage To Be Protestant

The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)

David F. Wells (DW) is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

CPYU: What motivated you to write The Courage to be Protestant?

DW: What I tried to do was to make the substance of my four previous books more accessible to people. So, this is a summary of what I have been writing about for the last two decades. The bottom line to this is that Christianity is having a hard time sustaining itself on contexts like our own which are highly modernized—urbanized, linked by technology, consumer-oriented. Statistically speaking, Christianity is leaving the West. This is less evident here in the U.S. and much more evident in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So, what’s the problem? Why is biblical Christian faith now so weakened and confused? I travel quite a lot outside the U.S. Christians in other parts of the world all see this but it is hard for those of us living in the U.S. to see ourselves as others are seeing us.

CPYU: In the book, you write about the "inside God" and the "outside God." What is the distinction between the two? And what is the end result of embracing each?

DW: This distinction is simply my way of trying to make a point that is crucial to understand. What happens in contexts like our own—though the reasons for this are quite complex—is that people are living only within their own self and only see the world from within that self. They process all of reality in psychological ways. They therefore look for therapeutic benefits from Christian faith. This is not unnatural because living in our culture today is extraordinarily difficult and stressful and so many know the consequences such as broken homes and marriages. Nevertheless, God is not simply there to make up for what I don’t have in myself. He is not a fix for me. He is not there to be accessed on my terms, when I want, in my own way, as if I were a consumer and he a product. On the contrary, he stands over against us. He is not a part of our self, not an extension of it, but separate from it and, as such, in his character of total goodness and purity, he calls us to come before him on his terms and in his way.

CPYU: You equate "bottom-up spirituality" with paganism. What can parents and youth workers do to battle this trend while fostering a top-down Christian spirituality?

DW: Yes, the bottom-up spirituality—the spirituality I am here describing—is indeed what paganism was about. It was about sensing meaning inwardly. We miss this today because the way this kind of spirituality works is the way consuming works… and we are all consumers! In Christian faith, however, we cannot come before God as consumers! Why not? Because consumers all define their own needs and choose their own solutions. Before God, we do neither. He defines our need and only he can provide the solution. We come empty-handed to receive it.

CPYU: You tend to be critical of the seeker sensitive and emergent strains of Christianity that are so quickly embraced in today's world. Why is that?

DW: The market-driven churches—like Willow Creek—are now imploding. Hybels’ own study, “Reveal,” itself demonstrated that this approach had failed and, in fact, it could never have succeeded. It took the model of consuming and put Christian faith into that: the gospel is a product, the pastor is the sales person, the people in the audience are the consumers. The whole approach undercut biblical truth, however unintentionally. The emergents have recognized the failure of marketed faith but they are thinking that instead of casting Christian faith in consumer terms, they will do so more in generational terms, specifically Gen. X and the Millenials. Both approaches are producing a kind of cultural Christianity which really is the explanation as to why biblical faith is not sustaining itself in the West.

CPYU: If you were to address a room full of youth workers and you had the opportunity to communicate one message to them, what one message would you communicate?

DW: It is time to get brave. Let’s stop the pandering. Kids see right through it. Let’s give them the real thing. They are looking for it. No one has demanded anything of them; let us tell them that if they come to Christ, he bids them die. No one has told them that they can know truth as something other than their own private perspectives; let us tell them there is Truth and those who know it, lose their lives. No one has told them that there is a different way of life. What many churches have done has been to run after the kids fearing that they will be lost irretrievably to MTV, rock, sex, and drugs. So, better to give them small, undemanding doses of Christianity that won’t interfere too much with their lives and which they will be willing to accept, than none at all, we think to ourselves. Wrong! If we tell them that they can have Christ on their own terms, we are selling them down the river. They instinctively know that. So, let us not make fools of ourselves anymore.

Related Links:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Recommended Reading for Advent

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

Watching the news on Thanksgiving Day quickly reveals the often uncomfortable tensions in which we live. The lead stories are always the same: homeless shelters serve Thanksgiving meals to the poor and people campout in tents to receive deep discounts on Black Friday morning. The homeless are thankful to be inside, enjoying good food and company, while others take to the streets, sleeping outside, fighting the cold and crowds, in hopes of paying less for things they don’t really need. And then the bad news on Black Friday: gun shots at a Toys R Us, a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death, fights breaking out at outlet stores. What’s going on here?

And then in a blink, it’s the first Sunday of Advent. A candle is lit, parts of the Christmas story are read, and if you’re lucky, you get to sing a Christmas carol at church. Blink again: you’re at home, eating leftover turkey, watching football and commercials, hoping for “good news” later on 60 Minutes.

This is not meant to be an anti-consumer diatribe. I’m not trying to sound overly pessimistic. Here’s the truth: I desperately want Advent and Christmas to mean more. And the reality is that I’m included in any indictment on our North American culture. I long for the poor to fed, but do very little to help make that happen. I have so much stuff that I don’t need, but I still bargain shop with the best of them. My hunch is that I’m not alone in these struggles. Here’s what I’m learning: recognizing and acknowledging the tension and frustration of the Holiday Season is what Advent is all about. We will only be ready for the Messiah when we come to grips with how much we need His salvation.

Helping me to remember the true meaning of this season, yet again, is a splendid new collection of Advent readings edited by Nancy Guthrie: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas. The 22 readings include works from classic theologians (e.g. George Whitefield, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards) and contemporary pastors (e.g. John Piper, Tim Keller, J.I. Packer, Randy Alcorn). In the preface, Guthrie explains that she wanted to put together a book of short readings from writers that “reflected a high view of Scripture and that put the incarnation in the context of God’s unfolding plan of redemption.” This is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind collection that challenges and encourages readers to remember Jesus’ arrival and long for his return. Read it after the nightly news for maximum benefit! And, of course, I’m sure you can find it at a discounted price somewhere!

Related Links:
More about Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus and see the full list of contributing writers

More about Nancy Guthrie and her ministry