#FridayFive: 5 Takeaways from #SBC19

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Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.

This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?

Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:

  1. The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
  2. We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
  3. True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
  4. The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
  5. There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.

There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.

…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!

  • I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
  • Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
  • Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
  • That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
  • The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
  • One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
  • I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
  • One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
  • JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
  • Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
  • Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
  • I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
  • You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.

I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.

Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!

If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well. 

Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back next week with new content!

Common Bond.

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I was recently enjoying an overnight hotel stay with my very pregnant wife–a combination anniversary and “baby-moon” getaway. After breakfast, she went back up to the room to sleep a bit longer, while I stayed down in the lobby, drinking coffee and finishing up my day’s reading from the #SamePageSummer reading plan.

(Are you participating in this challenge? We’re reading through the New Testament this summer. It’s not too late to start–we’ve only read the Gospel of John so far!)

I had just finished reading John 19, the account of the Crucifixion, and was meditating on the commentary notes from Charles Spurgeon about the “ocean of meaning in a drop of text” (the word tetelestai). Suddenly, I noticed a gentleman approached me, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Hey, brother, what’s the word?”

The term “brother” tipped me off, so I hesitated just a moment and then said, “The word is ‘It is finished’.”

He broke into a wide grin. “Amen to that!”

This sparked a ten-minute conversation about the interplay between trusting in the finished work of Jesus and taking up the active obedience of His disciples, and how Christians use the “done-ness” of our salvation as an excuse not to walk as Jesus walked.

The man then told me a bit about himself: his name is Daniel and he’s the pastor of a local non-denominational church, married with older kids, and he previously worked with Chuck Colson’s prison ministry. I shared a bit about myself as well, including the fact that I recently became an elder and that my wife and I are expecting our second daughter very soon.

Then he said, “I know you’re busy, and I hate to interrupt your study, but can I pray for you?” We took turns praying over each other, praying for each other’s walk, family, and ministry. We then shared a warm handshake, and he left to join his family. We didn’t exchange info or anything. We just got to share a moment of fellowship and encouragement in a hotel lobby.

I share this as a reminder: Christian, you’re part of a big, big family. And you don’t agree with all your brothers and sisters on every point of theology. I’m sure there are probably things I would disagree about with my brother in the hotel lobby. But we shared the same Lord and the same faith, and that binds us together in a way that I will never be connected to my unsaved family members or friends, no matter how close we may feel. Because as far as I can discern, Daniel and I will both be there in that glorious throng on the Last Day, praising our King together.

So, even as we believers wrestle with doctrinal distinctions and rightly guard against error, we should also be quick to recognize that even among those with whom we disagree, there is still a bond of brotherhood and fellowship that gives us family and welcome, no matter where we are, all over the world.

Be encouraged, believer: we are a large and rambunctious family, but we are a family nevertheless. Amen and amen.

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Request: Please keep this week’s Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in prayer. This year, our denomination is wrestling with some big issues, such as how to deal with sexual abuse and cover-up in a way that is transparent and light-filled, and how to understand and promote a Biblical understanding of gender roles as it relates to church practice. Pray for wisdom, clear thought, and a deep sense of our brotherhood and common bond as believers.

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Your Turn: If you’re a Christian, have you experienced unexpected fellowship in an encounter with a fellow believer you’d never met? Tell us about it!

And if you’re not a follower of Jesus, I’m actually curious as to why, if you’re willing to discuss that–either in the comments or via email, if you prefer.  Hit me up.

Giving and Taking.

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In my experience, the interactions with people that frustrate me the most tend to reveal or reflect my own sinful habits.

I was given a few opportunities in recent months for this kind of hypocrisy to be revealed. In one case, a friend who needed help moving made a few decisions during the course of the move that I thought were pretty inconsiderate of those who were volunteering to help. In another case, people who were invited over for a potluck dinner brought little and ate much. (This happens a lot, actually.)

In both instances, I felt slighted. Taken advantage of. Wronged.

James writes that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. As one preacher put it, our sinful anger is sometimes motivated by a desire for justice or setting-things-right. But we are not God, and our wrath is just as often corrupted by self-interest.

My frustration in these events wasn’t simply that the people involved made these decisions, but that I felt personally slighted by them. I felt like I was being used or disregarded.

Yet, to paraphrase Nathan the prophet, “I am that man.” 

I can think of instances when my own self-interest has motivated me to contribute little and take much more (sometimes specifically when it comes to food, an area of personal struggle for me). My own pursuit of preference and convenience has inconvenienced others.

The greatest example of this is, of course, the Cross. I had nothing to offer except guilt and just condemnation, and Jesus took these things from me and gave me His righteousness and inheritance. And yet, even now, I still treat this great exchange as an after-thought, something to be taken for granted.  Sure, I appreciate the promise of resurrection and of abundant life and a source of joy and peace that cannot be quenched by the worst of life’s tragedies–but what have you done for me lately?

So after I left my friend’s new home, and after my guests made their exit and left my wife and I to sweep up and wash the dishes, once my grumbling had come to an end, I was forced to consider the fact that I’m no better than anyone else in this regard. Truth be told, I’m often tempted to take more than I give, to consider myself more highly than others, to pursue my own agenda.

I’m in danger of becoming the ungrateful and unforgiving servant, forgiven a fortune yet demanding a pittance to be repaid–the result of not spending enough time contemplating how great a debt I owed in the first place.

Do you also struggle with this tendency toward double-standards? If so, let me encourage you, as one sometimes-hypocrite to another: remember that there’s nothing we have that we have not been given by God, nothing we build or create that we aren’t graciously enabled to do so by the gifts and kindnesses that God bestows.

And whenever we are “blessed” with the opportunity to bear with what we see as the failings of others, may we both remember to take a breath, release the frustration, and thank our Savior that He is infinitely more patient and gracious than we are.

 

The4thDave Reviews: “Competing Spectacles” by Tony Reinke

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In a culture wholly driven by the moving image, we feed on spectacle every moment of the day. We are awash in the blue glow of screens almost from the moment our eyes open in the morning, until we collapse into sleep at night. While a library of books has been written about the good and bad (mostly bad) of a digital or image-driven culture, there have been considerably fewer authors in the last half-century who have focused on the deeper spiritual ramifications of constant spectacle.

In recent months, I have enjoyed (and discussed) books by Andy Crouch, Cal Newport, and Senator Ben Sasse, regarding the need for distance and perspective when it comes to digital media, but these arguments have been overwhelmingly pragmatic and relational. As I noted in my review of Digital Minimalism, I was keenly aware of Newport’s lack of spiritual perspective; that is, he had a good sense of the effect of digital obsession on the mind but no sense of how it bends the soul.

This is why I am thrilled to recommend Tony Reinke’s latest work to you: Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.

In Competing Spectacles, Reinke fills in that missing piece in the important discussion of screen addiction and digital distraction by focusing on the cumulative effect such diversions can have on our spiritual life and growth.

In this follow-up to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke examines the prevalence of “spectacles” in our culture, and how spectacle saturation affects the spiritual appetites. The good news is, he doesn’t simply take the anti-tech position of “screens bad, stay away!” Rather, in the first section of the book, Reinke examines the nature of spectacle in several facets of cultural life, the power that spectacles have on us, and the way our appetites for such entertainment are developed.

In the second section of the book, Reinke considers what Christianity has to say about spectacles–particularly, which spectacles can and should capture our eyes and minds. This section really sings, as he applies the transforming truth of the Gospel gently but directly to our tendency toward amusement and distraction.

Near the end of Part 2, Reinke provides “Summations and Applications” that help the reader think through how we can put these truths to work in our hearts and daily lives. He concludes with a beautiful vision of what happens when our gaze is rightly fixed on a Spectacle worth observing.

Throughout the book, I was struck by by Reinke’s eloquence, recalling the proverb about words fitly spoken being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Had I been reading a paper copy, there would be several sections with entire pages highlighted, underlined, and starred. Once in a while, I had to just stop for a moment to appreciate a perfectly crafted sentence. Reinke outdid himself in the mechanics and construction of his prose in this book.

Final Recommendation

In the very first chapter, Reinke calls Competing Spectacles “a theology of visual culture,” and the description is apt. This isn’t just a book about screen time and self-control, social media addiction and the degradation of societal decorum. This book is inherently and blessedly theological in scope, and as such, it fills a glaring gap in this important discussion.

I heartily recommend Competing Spectacles to all my readers, and particularly those who (like me) have been wrestling with the effect of digital media and entertainment on their hearts. This book should be part of every Christian’s library, where it can be revisited from time to time for reconsideration and reflection.

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Note: I have been provided an advance copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are entirely my own.

The Bad News that comes before the Good News. [Reposted]

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[Reposted from 2015 and slightly revised]

About 5 years ago, at lunch after church, a friend invited me to sit with her and another girl. They asked if I could take a few minutes and explain what it meant to be “saved.” The only place I could think to start would be answering the question, “Saved from what?”

That conversation and others like it have affirmed in my mind the vital importance of helping non-believers understand the Bad News.

No, that’s not a typo; I’m very serious. If people do not seriously consider the Bad News, then the Good News (that’s what “Gospel” means) won’t mean what it should. Without the Bad News, the Good News won’t seem as good or as compelling.

Bad News for People Who Like Good News

So what is the Bad News?

1. The Creator and Judge of the universe is storing up righteous wrath against His rebellious creation.

No one likes talking about the wrath of God. Everybody’s on board for the love and mercy and grace of God, but the wrath of God is the theological equivalent of a long record scratch in any conversation. However, the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.

The story the Bible tells is that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind. However, our first parents rebelled against God’s rightful authority, choosing to disobey His command and be their own gods. Because of that, every one of their descendants has been born with the natural bent toward rebellion against God. All of us desire to sin, and all of us willfully commit sin. We not only sin deliberately (sins of commission), but we also fail to do what God has commanded and give Him the honor and glory He deserves (sins of omission). We deny the plain truth of the God who made us and give our worship to created things. All the evil and suffering of the world is the fruit of humanity’s sin. And because God is a just Judge, He must punish lawbreakers. So His great wrath is being saved up for the last day against all wickedness and law-breaking.

You may think, “Come on, Dave, is one little sin that serious?” Well, James the brother of Jesus writes that anyone who keeps the whole law of God yet fails in one small piece is still considered a lawbreaker, as if he had broken all of it (James 2:8-11). In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the people of God are told to be holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. A perfectly righteous and just God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. It must be punished.

That’s pretty bad news—but it gets worse.

2. Religious practices and good behavior won’t take wrath away.

If you grew up religious or moral, you may feel pretty good about yourself, compared to the rest of humanity. You see the evil and cruelty of mankind reported on the nightly news and think, “I’m glad I’m not like those people.” Well…the Bible says differently. Even the people of Israel, who were given the Mosaic Law and the prophets and the writings of Scripture were still guilty of breaking that law over and over. Those outside the people of Israel didn’t have the written law, but they had the law of the conscience—God’s law written on their hearts. Yet our consciences cannot keep us on the narrow path; we make excuses for our behavior, or find ways to justify what our consciences and God’s Word clearly call sin. If you grew up in church like I did, you might try to convince yourself that exterior righteous deeds are sufficient to please God, but your righteous works will do nothing to take away the stain of your sins. Even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags.

“But surely, Dave, there are good people in the world, even outside of your narrow religious belief system. You can’t pin all this on them. What about the noble Muslims and devout Hindus and God-fearing orthodox Jews and good, moral people of no faith at all? Are you saying that all of them are going to Hell?”

Fair question. Okay, let’s check what the Bible says. *looks* Uh-oh…

3. Everybody’s guilty.

Everybody. Every single one of us. We’re all lawbreakers before God. Even the tiniest infraction makes us guilty, and if we’re being really honest, we know that we’ve done much, much more than that. What the Bible actually teaches is that none of us are “basically good, deep down.” We are in fact by our very nature “children of wrath.” What the Law of God, revealed in the Bible, has done is show us the depth of our sin and our rebellion against God.

Despite all that, you may still consider yourself a good person. Okay, do you mind if we test that?

  • Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who tells lies? (A liar)
  • Have you ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, no matter the value? What do you call someone who takes things? (A thief)
  • Have you ever looked with lustful intention on another person who is not your spouse? Jesus said that one who looks with lust has committed adultery in their heart.
  • Have you ever used God’s name flippantly as a curse or exclamation? That’s called blasphemy.

How are you doing? Still a good person? Or, if you’re like me, have you admitted that you’ve been a liar, thief, adulterer (in heart, if nothing else), and blasphemer?

Let’s be gut-level-honest, you and I: If that’s all true, how can we honestly claim to be “good” people?

And if God is a just judge who punishes sin, do we really expect Him to just “be a pal” and overlook our many sins?

At this point, reader, we have a choice:

If we reject what Scripture has said about our true nature and standing before God, then let us go on with our lives. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. But keep this in mind: on the last day, we all will give an account before the God of the Universe, the One who judges justly. If we decide to stand on our own merit in the face of that Judge, we will receive the full measure of justice. Considering we have already demonstrated that we are lawbreakers, how do you think that will go?

However, if we accept what Scripture says about our true nature and standing before God, we must admit that each of us are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath against our rebellion. And for those of us who recognize the Bad News that we are facing a divine wrath we have earned…there is also Good News.

Good News for Sinners who Need Good News

What is that Good News? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to save sinners. God the Son stepped into time and space and chose to be born as a human being for the specific purpose of paying our debt. He lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, by completely obeying God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place to pay for our sins. The wrath we deserve was poured out on Him for our sake. The justice of God was satisfied, and the mercy of God was revealed, in the cross of Jesus.

And then, 3 days later, Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating death itself, demonstrating that His sacrifice satisfies the righteous demands of God’s Law, and forever declaring that He is Lord of all creation.

Friend, if you know you are a sinner, and you have never turned from your sinful rebellion, confessed that you need God’s forgiveness, and believed in Jesus who died and was raised for your sake, today is the day. There is no time to waste.

My email address is the4thdave at gmail dot com. If you want to talk about this, shoot me a message.

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Tomorrow, we’ll revisit the Good News that comes from the Good News! See you then!

#FridayFive: Five Books I Finished in January (2/8/2019)

Happy Friday, y’all! I’m back with five books that I finished reading (or listening to) in January. Hope you find something you might want to check out soon!

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Somewhere A Band is Playing, by Ray Bradbury

I’ve already written about this a bit. Technically, this was one of 2 novellas by Bradbury, published under the title Now and Forever (along with “Leviathan ’99,” a futuristic take on Moby Dick). After finishing Band, I wasn’t eager to keep reading Bradbury’s later work, so I stopped with the first novella. That said, if you like light science fiction, Somewhere a Band is Playing is a pleasant-enough diversion (though you could do better, especially with Bradbury).

The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch

This short hardcover volume by Andy Crouch is a must-buy if you have any concerns about how you and your family engage with technology. Crouch details ten commitments that he and his family seek to follow, so that they can learn to be more in control of their relationship with technology and social media. I appreciate that the author is also honest about how successful he and his family are at keeping those commitments. Using a large amount of research from the Barna Group, Crouch describes the typical family’s use of technology and helps the reader think through the potential dangers of its “easy, everywhere” promises. This is a book that I’m still thinking about, weeks after finishing it, and I encouraged my wife to read it as well, so that we can discuss how it may influence our household.

Them, by Senator Ben Sasse

In some ways, Senator Sasse’s book Them reminded me of Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage–a warning that life is more than politics and that we need connection and community to help address cultural issues as individual citizens. While Sasse is a professing Christian, what he proposes is not a theological solution as much as an ideological one: make the decision to see people who disagree with you politically as neighbors and fellow citizens, and work for their good as well. (Could you make the argument that you can’t do that well or effectively or for long without Christianity? I think so, but that’s not what he’s getting at in this book.) Sasse makes some pretty pointed observations about how our national conversation has become fragmented and fractured, and make suggestions about what we can do to try to shift course. I listened to the audiobook (read by the senator) and enjoyed it immensely. He gave me lots to think about and discuss with others. His chapter on political media and the monetization of outrage is stellar. He also suggests pulling back from overuse of technology by not only referencing Tony Reinke’s excellent book 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You but also talking through Andy Crouch’s commitments from Tech-Wise Family. In other words, my favorite senator and I have a similar reading list. I wonder if he likes short stories…

All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson

This short-but-deep volume by Puritan pastor Thomas Watson is a 125-page meditation on one of the most misapplied verses in the Bible, Romans 8:28. However, in All Things for Good, Watson slowly considers each phrase (almost each word) and encourages the reader to meditate at length on God’s sovereignty and kindness. This was a rich and rewarding read, that I consumed a few paragraphs at a time before bed over several weeks. Just a page or so gave me enough to think about in the few minutes before I drifted off to sleep. As someone who struggles with nighttime anxiety, I can’t think of a better cordial (other than the Scriptures themselves) for soothing my worried heart.

Family Shepherds, by Voddie Baucham

I am reminded that there is no greater earthly role for me to take on than husband and father. Voddie Baucham’s excellent book Family Shepherds is a direct and bracing charge to men to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. In the book, Baucham looks at the man himself as a disciple, what it means to be a shepherd, the primacy of a man’s marriage in how he leads his home, how he should raise his children (with both formative and corrective discipline), and how he engages the world as a family shepherd. If you don’t know Voddie, I can’t recommend his preaching and speaking highly enough. Add this book to the list, especially if you are a Christian man who is or aspires to be a godly husband and father. In a culture that is currently debating the value and place of masculinity, it is imperative that Christian men seek to portray and exemplify Christlike leadership and care for their families, and so let their light shine.

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What have you read so far this year? Share your recommendations below in the comments!

The4thDave Reviews: “American Gospel: Christ Alone”

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What is the Gospel?

How is that word used and misused, especially in 21st-century America?

American Gospel: Christ Alone, a new documentary by filmmaker Brandon Kimber, seeks to answer those very important questions.

American Gospel sets out to accomplish 2 goals: to present a clear and unmistakable presentation of the Christian message we know as the Good News (or “gospel”); and to contrast that message with the most popular imitation of the Gospel in American culture, commonly know as the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity” gospel.

Kimber takes on the biggest names in popular American religion, not by attacking these figures personally with sarcasm or snark, but by directly comparing what they teach to what is written in the Word of God and has been passed down as the historically orthodox, protestant Christian doctrine.

The film’s main premise is built on one of the 5 “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: the idea that we are saved by Christ alone–not Christ plus works, not Christ plus others’ accomplishments, not Christ plus pedigree. Furthermore, when we turn from our sins and put our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are coming to Christ alone for Christ alone–not just for what He can offer us in this life, as if He were a butler or genie.

The juxtaposition between orthodox Christian teaching and the claims of popular prosperity preachers and faith healers could not be more striking. Kimber takes the first 30-45 minutes to establish the truth claims of historic Christianity, and then sets them against the modern substitute in stark contrast. The history, doctrinal characteristics, and key figures of this theologically poisonous movement are then examined in detail.

In short: American Gospel: Christ Alone is a stunner of a documentary, rich with theological truth and unflinching in its critique of the most popular preachers and miracle healers today. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The cinematography, editing, and video production work is absolutely top-shelf. The sheer number and calibre of Christian pastors and theologians featured in the film is astounding.

Rather than get into more details, I’ll just say: You really need to watch this film. Watch it with your family, your friends, your church small group or Sunday School class.

The documentary is almost 2 1/2 hours long, so it could be broken up pretty easily into a few viewing sessions with time for discussion afterward. I can’t think of a more fruitful and edifying film that has been released in the last several years. Don’t miss out on this one!

You can rent/purchase digital copies of American Gospel on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vimeo, and the Google Play store. Most of those rental options are around $4-5. You can also purchase the film on DVD/Blu-Ray at the distributor’s website.

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Have you seen American Gospel yet? Share your thoughts below!

Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More.

Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I don’t have much to talk about today. We are now in the full-court-press of holiday preparation and festivities, getting ready to spend tomorrow morning with my folks. My toddler has been particularly rambunctious and playfully destructive around the house this week. We’re dog-sitting a very young and vocal pup for some friends of ours. All of this means I don’t have any deep or contemplative meditations on the holiday for you this year.

This year, I’ll just leave you with this:

I’m a Christian, which means this holiday is not about Santa Claus and stockings hung with care, talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer. It’s not even about the fact that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie, or that It’s a Wonderful Life is possible one of the best films ever made, period.

It’s about the fact–the historical fact–that Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem. It’s about the cosmic reality that Eternal God took on flesh and tabernacled among us. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God came near. He is with us. And He did so not merely to teach us how to love one another or to encourage peace among men. The baby Jesus grew into the perfect and sinless man Jesus, who laid down His life (no one can take it from Him unless He lays it down) as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all whom He would redeem. Jesus the God-man, the second member of the Trinity, the Messiah of Israel, died for His people, all His people from all the nations. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him. By His stripes, we are healed.

Jesus bled, Jesus died, and Jesus rose. It is finished. The war is won. The dragon is vanquished. And Jesus the King, the Lamb who was slain and is yet alive, walked triumphantly out of the tomb, carrying the crushed head of the giant He conquered.

Now, in the millenia since that stone rolled away, we must bear with the death rattle and the flailing gasps of a defeated devil. But the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for Him. His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.

This week, as you “rejoice, rejoice,” you sons and daughters of true Israel, take heart and have peace because Immanuel has come and is here and will return in triumph.

And if you are still reading, and all of this talk of Jesus’ death is strange and awkward and weird to you, know this: my hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you would meet Jesus, truly meet Jesus, and come to know Him as Savior and Lord this year. If you want to talk to me about that, I would love that. Hit me up on Twitter (@the4thdave) or email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) with any questions you have. It would be a gift to me to get to talk to you about this.

(Okay, I guess I had more to say than I thought!)

Merry Christmas, fam. God bless you.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

black and gray angel statue decor
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

Growing up, my family never had any “Advent” traditions. We never went to churches that celebrated or even really acknowledged the season of Advent (other than the pun of “The Christmas ADVENTure” children’s activity event a week or so before Christmas). While my current church doesn’t have any set Advent teaching or programming, we have been singing Christmas songs more regularly during worship over the last month, but that’s about it.

I haven’t been in much of a Christmas mood this year, to be honest. I know the day is just around the corner, but it just hasn’t felt Christmas-y. We hardly decorated around the house this year, and it’s just…I don’t know. We’re busy. Tired. Fighting off winter illnesses. We even missed going to our church’s “Christmas celebration service” because the kiddo was sick and my wife and I were both wiped out as well. On top of that, work has been a bear this season, and it’s just… *shrug* Anyway. No matter how much “holly jolly” music I listen to in the car or around the house, I haven’t felt all that merry and bright–with one exception.

A few weeks ago, we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in church. As soon as I uttered that first line, my heart thrilled and I felt chills up and down my spine. My spirit resonated with that longing. I felt that ache. No, I haven’t suffered under the cruelty of foreign occupation or strained against economic oppression. The circumstances of my life are extremely blessed, and I have it very easy in many respects. But nevertheless, my heart feels weary this year. My mind is taxed. I am longing for the Kingdom of God and the end of the darkness.

And yet.

The Kingdom is here. Now. The wriggling form of a baby in a manger, the agonized moans of an innocent man nailed to a wooden cross, the charged and energized stillness of an empty garden tomb are all evidence of this good news.

The Kingdom invaded earth. The revolution has already begun. And the petty little conflicts I face every day are actually part of a war against the darkness that has already been won, as the Champion of Heaven has slain the bloody giant and redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession.

The good news that I have been given the privilege to proclaim is that God-with-us has ransomed us. Unholy rebels who have sinned against their Creator have been offered forgiveness and adoption as sons and daughters. Because of the great love of God, we who deserve destruction may instead have life.

Sometimes, that proclamation begins by reminding the man in my mirror that there is hope. There is hope. There is hope.

We are not alone. God is with us.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has ransomed you, sons and daughters of the true Israel.

Currently Reading: 12/19/2018

 

book stack books classic knowledge
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

I don’t have any new book reviews to post this week–my reading progress has both  slowed down and scattered this month! So instead, I decided to update you on my “in-progress” reading list, with minimally-spoilery reviews of each book on my nightstand:

Illusion, by Frank Peretti — It has been years since I’ve read a novel by Frank Peretti, so when I looked up his recent work, I was intrigued by the premise of this 2012 release. In Illusion, Dane and Mandy are a married professional magician duo enjoying the twilight of a successful career together, when they get in a deadly car crash, killing Mandy and leaving Dane broken and struggling to move on. Meanwhile, a young woman who appears to be Mandy from 1970 (having all her same memories and thoughts) suddenly finds herself in present day, with no memory of how she got there. I’m around 100 pages into the story, and I’m quite enjoying it. Peretti is a great writer, and his pacing and characterization are keeping me engaged. There are some hints of a science fiction explanation for this mysterious scenario, but I have no idea where the story is going or how it will resolve. At any rate, I’m enjoying the ride.

Katharina and Martin Luther, by Michelle DeRusha — In the last few years (since getting married, I suppose), I’ve become curious about the married life of different figures in church history. There isn’t a marriage more famous (or infamous) in the Protestant church than that of this former monk and runaway nun. I was excited to dive into this story and find out more about the home life of the bombastic reformer and the hospitable homemaker. I’m about halfway through this book, and I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. There’s not a lot of substance here about the Luthers themselves. It’s not the author’s fault, either. There is almost no documentary evidence directly from Katie Luther or specifically about her. DeRusha spends several pages on general information about the conditions for women in the Reformation era, fills in some gaps about the Luthers from secondary sources, and generally assumes what Mrs. Luther might have been thinking or feeling. The general history aspect is interesting, but this book feels like a bait-and-switch. The information DeRusha provides may have been better served as part of a broader book on the home life of the Reformers, rather than an entire book that is too narrowly focused and awkwardly padded.

How the Nations Rage, by Jonathan Leeman — I’m not quite halfway through this book, which examines the intersection of Christian faith and public politics. While I have mixed feelings with some of Leeman’s points, I’m finding several points that are helpful in framing the discussion of if and how my Christian faith directs my function as a citizen of this republic. I thought his point about the falsely-presumed “neutrality” of a pluralistic society was particularly observant; specifically, Leeman suggests that a “secular” culture is inherently religious, but that the amorphous nature of secular “religion” prevents it from having to abide by the same restrictions that formalized religion faces in the public square. I look forward to engaging further with his ideas.

Gospel Eldership, by Robert Thune — I’m being considered for a lay-elder position at my church, so I’ve started working through this material with another one of the elders. I’m not very deep into it, but I appreciate the seriousness with which Thune addresses this topic, as well as the fact that this book is designed to be interactive. There are not only discussion questions but also practicum sections with blanks so you can write in your answers to the questions the author raises. I’m looking forward to benefiting more and more from this in the next few weeks!

Them, by Ben Sasse — You may love him or hate him, but right now, Senator Ben Sasse is the congressperson I most respect. I appreciate his remarks on the state of conservatism and partisanship, in a time when American politics are becoming more starkly tribal and fragmented. In this vein, Sasse wrote Them, a book about addressing the tribalism of American culture through a focus on community involvement, understanding, and mutual respect. I’m only a chapter or so into this one, but I’m interested to hear what Sasse has to say. However, I have noticed already that Sasse’s focus and approach is (predictably) horizontal and thus may fall short of fixing the root issue–a malady that needs a Great Physician. Perhaps reading this along with Leeman’s book can help me think through this subject in a more well-rounded way.

All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson — Every Christian should try to read the Puritans on a regular basis. This short but very dense tome is a meditation on Romans 8:28, and the truth that, for the follower of Jesus, all things (good, bad, or otherwise) work for their good because God is in control of all things and directs them for the ultimate good of His children. I have been reading this book a page at a time, right before I go to sleep. I do this for 2 reasons: first, it’s often difficult to digest more than a few paragraphs at a time, since there’s so much to unpack; and secondly, this gives me something true and good to meditate upon as I fall asleep. (If you don’t do this, I would recommend it highly, especially if, like me, you struggle with anxiety at bedtime.)

The Spurgeon Study Bible (CSB) — Last month, I finished reading through the hardcover ESV Reader’s Bible, so I decided to begin my next read-through of the Scriptures by using a study Bible. My sister and brother-in-law gave me this beautiful “Truth for Life” edition of the Spurgeon Study Bible for my birthday. I’ve never read the updated CSB translation, so this seemed like the perfect way to do so. I love the insight gleaned from Spurgeon’s notations on the text. I would recommend this resource for people who are considering a new Bible for personal reading and study. I’m still firmly in the camp of using the ESV for teaching/preaching since it’s a more literal translation, but I am enjoying the CSB’s smoothed-out wording and helpful notes in my personal study and meditation.

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I *think* that’s all the books I’m currently reading. It’s no wonder I haven’t finished any books recently–I keep starting new ones! Hopefully, I can carve out a bit of time to read over the next week or so, in order to add a few more titles to my “2018 Reading List” (which I will share on January 2nd!).

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re reading these days! Feel free to post your “Current Reads” in the com-box below! See you on Friday!