Book Review: The Portable Patriot by Joel J. Miller & Kristen Parrish, eds.

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In honor of Independence Day, I am reviewing The Portable Patriot. This is a collection Revolution-era documents compiled to highlight (as the editors claim), “The American Soul.”

First of all, I want to say how glad I am that this book is a collection of documents rather than a book about those documents. Studying history from source material is extremely valuable but seldom done. This book provides a wealth of source material in studying the build up to revolution and the founding of the United States.

Given the sheer amount of source material, it is important to consider the intent of the editors in selecting material to include. Editors, Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish are attempting to show a connection between ideas and action. To do this, they have included the major documents one expects (Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, Federalist Papers, etc) alongside correspondence amongst those involved. It is a combination that works to show this connection.

However, to truly compile such documents and such correspondence together would require volumes of work, not one, small, 265 page book. The work here is brief. It is, at best, a summary. It’s a start. My hope for this book is two-fold: that it provide a much needed relief from the amount of punditry being passed off as serious political discourse, and that it sends people to the source documents of history for further understanding.

Though not a scholarly work in history, I would recommend this book to anyone caught up in the political fervor of our times or to the apathetic that need to begin to understand.

Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers provided this book to me free of charge in exchange for a review. I am under no obligation to recommend the book and the opinions here are my own.

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Book Review: Scandalous by D.A. Carson

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“The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago. Attempts to make sense of the Bible that do not give prolonged thought to integrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are doomed to failure, at best exercise in irrelevance.” This statement, taken from his preface, demonstrates the importance that D.A. Carson places on the cross. It is the center, the fulcrum of redemptive history. Yet, more and more, evangelicals are put in a position to defend or reclaim the historical doctrines which focus on the cross. This book is ammunition for that defense. Taken from five messages given at the 2008 Resurgence conference in Seattle, Scandalous examines five biblical passages and the contrary way in which the cross prevails.

Revealing the scandal of the gospel is not Carson’s primary goal with this book. He does that to some extent by looking at the ironies found in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion as well as the “surprises” found in the resurrection of Lazarus. However, his main objective is to prove that the cross is the pivotal point of redemptive history. It is the central moment of scripture. He proves this by examining Romans 3:21-26 as well as Revelation 12. In fact, the examination of Romans 12 is so thorough, it connects the dots – so to speak- for all of scripture and lays to rest many mistaken theories on the book of Revelation. This book is a great, readable help for anyone wishing to grasp the whole of scripture. Further, this treatise is a comfort to those worried about uncertain times and end-times prophecies.

Finally, Carson addresses doubt by examining none other than “doubting” Thomas. In the final chapter he looks at Thomas’ skepticism, his belief, and the purpose he serves as a witness to the resurrection.

There are many aspects of the crucifixion and resurrection that may be scandalous. What is most so is that it was that moment, that weekend in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, on which all salvation hangs. Carson does an excellent job of bringing this to light and I highly recommend this book.

Politics, Classically Defined

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Recently, I posted my concerns that politics is becoming a new gospel. I have taken some criticism for not standing by a “classic definition” of politics. I’m not sure that I can get any more “classical” than Aristotle’s τα πολιτικά which is essentially “Affairs of the State” (literally, “having to do with the polis”).

The gospel, on the other hand is literally, “good tidings” or “good news.” Biblically, that good news is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

It is absolutely crucial to note that the good news is not simply an affair of the state. In fact, one could seek to bring Biblical principals to affairs of the state and still ignore the gospel.

This is not to say that a Christian should have nothing to do with politics. On the contrary, it is important that people who have embraced the good news of Christ bring this understanding to the affairs of the state.

The issue at hand is priority. When politics comes first, the gospel is lost. When the gospel comes first, politics are greatly empowered.

The difference in priority is important. It is as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ” Many have attempted to define the gospel as politics. They work feverishly trying to imitate the Kingdom of God in our society. This is nothing but a facade. The Kingdom of God is only realized through Christ.

The gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ: that He was crucified for our sins, buried, and raised again is key. Everything else false in to place, but one does not have the kingdom of God without it.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, NKJV).

Book Review: Generation Ex-Christian by Drew Dyck

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Some say it’s an epidemic. Young people, raised in church, professing Christians are leaving the faith as young adults. I spent six years in full-time youth ministry. I can look back on the young people I encountered and see the reality of the problem. They are not statistics, they are real people. These are kids I taught, counseled, and guided. These are kids that were active in church and enthusiastic about their faith. Now, they are gone. In some cases, long gone.

This is not news. People have been sounding the alarm for years now. Youth ministers have been arguing as to what method or model will cement these kids in before they leave. Others wonder how to get them back. Some say, wait, they’ll be back…but they won’t.

There are many questions to be asked: Why are they leaving? How can we get them back? How do I share my faith with someone that already knows the answers? In his upcoming book, Generation Ex Christian, Drew Dyck explores these very questions. He has interviewed many of those who have left and shares practical answers for reaching them again.

Dyck outlines seven types of leavers. This is important, because not all leavers are the same. No one method will reach everyone. For example: apologetics will not impress someone who has adopted a postmodern worldview. Expecting the “Rebel” to come back makes assumptions with drastic consequences. There are nuances to each case and Dyck does a great job exploring those differences.

The careful reader will apply the knowledge Dyck shares to the situations they see all around them. They will begin to see the heart of the leaver and reasons they left. Then, the gospel can be shared at that point.

The reasons for leaving discussed in the chapters on the “Drifter” shed light on a different question: how can we keep them from leaving? Those who drift into Christianity as teenagers are likely to drift out. Are churches encouraging this drift by failing to provide any substance in youth ministries? I was ready to cheer when I read, “They don’t want pizza and video games. They want revolution and dynamism. They want unvarnished truth.” Churches must realize that a solid understanding of the gospel is absolutely crucial.

I recommend this book to anyone dealing with young people in church. The epidemic is real and this book has a lot of knowledge that can help solve the problem.

Gospel Confusion

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My recent claims that the gospel is confused have not been without criticism. I want to try to explain just how confused the gospel is among evangelicals today. Every time I make a claim about the gospel, someone is quick to offer a definition of the gospel. However, before looking at those definitions, consider Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. That is a term for what researcher Christian Smith has given the dominant religion of the United States.

A quick look at the five tenets that are most common among American teenagers will not surprise anyone. It is easy to see that many people (teens and adults) believe:

1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

What should concern Christians is this question: How dominant is MTD in our churches? After all, Smith found that these tenets are common among the churched and unchurched alike. Michael Horton claims that MTD is dominant among evangelicals as a majority believe that people are basically good, that the purpose of church is to make one a better person, and that the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” is from the Bible.

Lately, my reading, studying, preaching, and some blogging has been centered on the need to better understand the gospel. My critics have taken it upon themselves to prove that my concern is valid. In just a short while, I have heard the gospel defined in a few different ways:

1. The gospel is essentially found in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution
2. The gospel is “who gets what and why”
3. The gospel is taking care of the poor
4. The gospel is a command to be obeyed.

The apostle Paul defined the Gospel this way:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NKJV).

Notice that Paul’s definition has no place within the five tenets of MTD. Now notice that definitions which suggest working for a better world, obeying certain commands, or affirming patriotic values fit better within MTD than in the biblical definition of the Gospel? It appears that many Christians have simply let the world, and not scripture, define the gospel.

Some might argue that I am making too large an issue of something that is nothing more than a difference in semantics. It is more than that. Once the definition of the gospel is lost, even for good things, everything begins to fail. Pastors stop proclaiming the good news of Christ, and instead preach self-help instructions. Christians stop studying God’s word and instead buy up books on having “your best life now.” Churches stop holding members accountable and instead allow everyone to move away from Christ together. All in all, the church stops being the bride of Christ and becomes nothing more than a social club.

Clearly, it is not enough to simply encourage people to do good. That theology is heartily embraced. It is the theology of the cross that is neglected. For a pastor to preach anything but the cross is to preach to the choir.