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Overthinking Christian

Our scope here is to rattle evangelical norms that threaten Biblical norms (as well as pretend we are smarter and more "spiritual" than we actually are).

Katharina and Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha (book review)

martin-and-wifeI admit that more than once I have wondered about Martin Luther’s relationship with his wife and who she was exactly. In this sense author, blogger and speaker Michelle DeRusha does us a favor in uncovering who Katharina Luther was in her newest book Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Baker, 2017). This being her third book, DeRusha is very articulate, the reading at hand proving to be very readable. Noting the lack of material on Katharina Luther the author sets out to fill this gap, using, admittedly, speculation at times since there is not much surviving material on Katharina Luther to work with. (We have much more surviving documentation on Martin Luther.)

Early on DeRusha delves into the life of Katharina before her marriage to Luther, going into detail of her life as a nun. Bringing us into the world of that time, the author tells the story of Katharina doing the socially unacceptable: running away from the nun-hood. Not only was it most certainly frowned upon for Martin Luther to marry a runaway nun but Katharina was was also older in age, making her undesired for marriage. Yet both of these factors did not stop Martin Luther from marrying her.

The author shares of this couple’s love as well as suffering, especially Luther’s many health complications which proved to worry his wife very much. Still Luther would insist on keeping busy in ministry up until the point of his early death.

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The reading is fairly light and I’m grateful for that. I was also surprised to hear of the great Reformer’s humor since he is more often than not portrayed as a dead-serious religious man who simply quotes Bible verses all day; an emotionless dry academic-type person. But this book puts flesh and blood on him, portraying him for what he is: a real life human being! I was surprised to learn that he had a very playful relationship with his wife and was not a “master” over her as much as he was a companion. He proved to not be a man of his time in that regard, especially when male-dominance was the (church) cultural norm.

This book teaching me things I had not known before as well as having an easy-going and lax style, I would recommend this book as a resource, especially since so much is said and written about Martin Luther and so little about his marriage and life-companion.

*I received my electronic review copy for an honest assessment from NetGalley.

“If God isn’t anti-earth or anti-culture, then why are we?” Keith Green and Reflections on the Incarnation (Video Included)

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-001This Christmas season I studied John 1, falling in love with John’s simplistic and creative depiction of a God who becomes (hu)man. Here we encounter a God who chooses to enter our world, engaging with our “worldly” culture (at least that of the Jews and Romans 2,000 year ago). In John 1 the author utilizes metaphors of “light” and “darkness” which are common in the Old Testament (OT). While we tend to automatically think that darkness=wickedness, in the OT it has the connotation of disorientation, of people stumbling because the light has been switched off. It’s John’s opinion that God Incarnated as a human is the hope for humanity to be able to “see”once more, so that we can finally stop stumbling over things and each other. But what does it mean for us today that Jesus the “Light” entered the “darkness?” The outward “darkness” that covers the earth, as well as the inward darkness that plagues every human soul?

The late Keith Green wrote a song titled “Asleep in the Light” which I grew up listening to, thanks to my dad. Green, a radical follower of Jesus (he let homeless folk use his house while he and his wife moved into an apartment!) had a lot of beef with the church after he became a Christian. His complaint in this song is that the church is hoarding the light and simply saying “God bless you” to people while proceeding to shut the door on them. I think his argument is valid and still applies to today’s church in America. This is the church which tends to be so focused on the spiritual as to forget that our relationship with God is meant to spill over into how we relate to those around us, those in our non-Christian (“secular”) culture. The spiritual and the natural are not sworn enemies. At least, they’re not supposed to be.

Why is it that we feel the need to retain our Christian bubble and keep the light only where the light already is? Jesus the Light entered darkness. In the Incarnation he provides us the model for how we are to live our lives; as lights in darkness, bringing clarity where there is disorientation. Or rather, Christ in us bringing clarity (light) to situations which call for it. No one would think to place lamp posts in a neighborhood one or two inches away from the next lamp post. What a waste of resources and lack of common sense! But I fear that’s exactly what we do when we only retain Christian friends and only “do life” with other Christians.

The Incarnation reveals a God who enters our world while many times we want only to escape ours. It reveals a God who interacts with humans while too many times modern Christians shy away from non-believers. Ultimately the Incarnation is incompatible with an escapism that solely cries to God “Take me to heaven!” while turning a blind eye to an earthly neighbor. Jesus taught his disciples that the model prayer to pray includes “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as well as “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.” Meaning, it’s not just about our relationship with God; it’s equally about our relationship with our fellow man.

While we many times cry “Come Lord Jesus” we don’t realize that those praying such a prayer in Revelation were being slaughtered like cows. Why is this our “go-to” prayer, our prayer by default, when we face not even 1/5 of the persecution of the early church? Now I know that we still suffer here in America; my point is solely that the United States is among the most fortunate nations of our planet. Christians of the early church did not lead lives of comfort.

Two Takeaways

1)A personal relationship with God is never meant to equal a private relationship with God; our neighbor is always involved. And 2), true Christian spirituality requires that we interact with our culture and world, not create an “us vs. them” outlook.

Recommended reading: They Like Jesus But Not The Church, by pastor and teacher Dan Kimball.

Paul Behaving Badly (2016 Book Review)

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Drawn in by the title as well as some of the endorsements, I am currently finishing up the November release by IVP titled Paul Behaving Badly: Was The Apostle A Racist, Chauvinist Jerk? It’s refreshing to discover a new book written by academic authors that is not dense, (you won’t need to keep a dictionary close by for this one!). A delicate handling of individuals texts is definitely a trademark throughout the reading as the authors (E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien) pay very close attention to detail in their examination of Paul’s letters. Though proving to be basic, Paul Behaving Badly is definitely not ‘dumbed down’ in its content.

An undertone in the book is the importance of context. “If you want to understand someone’s motives and the significance of their of their beliefs or actions, you have to consider them in light of the age and culture in which they acted” write the authors (p. 18, Introduction). We cannot overstate that Paul was a man of his time and not a “twenty-first-century American” (p. 19, Introduction).

I found Paul Behaving Badly to be very refreshing in many ways, one of them being that the authors don’t try to give easy answers to a complex topic, leaving room for ambiguity as well as room for the reader to come to his or her own conclusions. There is no shoving of an agenda down the reader’s throat, something that is a problem in both “liberal” and “conservative” Christian literature.

WHO IS THIS BOOK FOR?

Anyone who tends to avoid Paul’s letters, preferring perhaps Jesus (or the Psalms?), should pick up a copy. For those also who have made up their minds about Paul as a sexist or homophobe, this book may (or may not) prove to challenge such common assumptions.

I would also recommend this to anyone interested in NT studies and yet doesn’t want to delve into the heavy academic reading right away. This book bridges the gap pleasantly between the academy and the lay person.

*I received an electronic copy of this book for an honest assessment from NetGalley.

Black Earth, Timothy Snyder (book Review)

black-earth-picInside the head of Hitler it is very dark and eerie, and no one should want to go there. Timothy Snyder, in a very large format, brings the reader face-to-face with the very twisted and corrupt (as well as mad) mind of Hitler whose name alone carries with it connotations of hell itself. But Snyder also reminds us of an important fact; that Hitler and the Nazis are not the only contributors to the holocaust, the air having been so permeated with anti-Semitism to begin with (and certainly not only in Germany). The silence of many religious institutions contributed to this horror as Christians, politically-powerful and influential (and great in numbers) stood idle and watched, some even cheering, the destruction of the innocent. As Snyder writes, “Much of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church , in Poland as elsewhere in Europe, continued to explain that Jews were responsible for the evils of modernity in general and communism in particular” (p. 70). The holocaust to some, then, was not a horror but a relief.

Snyder writes very matter-of-factly and in a “textbook” format, Black Earth leaning towards being a heavier read. Noting that though the Jews were definitely seen by Hitler as the lowest of the low, they were certainly not the only ones to suffer. He writes of one “Erich Koch, chosen by Hitler to rule Ukraine, [who] made the point about the inferiority of Ukrainians with a certain simplicity: “If I find a Ukrainian who is worthy to sit with me at table, I must have him shot”” (p. 18).

The author makes the argument that Hitler was not in fact a nationalist but simply played on the high nationalism of his day in Germany, “his fellow Germans [being] of interest [to him] only insofar as they could be rallied to join a mindless war for future racial prosperity” (p. 33). Hitler viewed the Jew as the root of all evil, a view that was popular in that day, although Hitler added his own unique twist to such a notion (see p. 5, Introduction). Snyder informs us that to Hitler the Jew could be likened to the deceptive and cunning serpent in Eden who ruined it for humanity, Jews themselves not having a part in humanity since they were a “nonrace” (p. 4) or a “counterace” (p. 5). Hitler’s tendency towards paranoia is made evident throughout the many pages of Black Earth as is his sole reason for living and breathing which is to destroy the Jew.

Who is this for?

As someone who has not studied the Holocaust in depth I found Snyder’s book very informative. I believe it’s a great resource to have at at hand to simply reference to. It could serve as an introduction to the Holocaust for some though the reader should take into consideration that the book is both extremely long as well as a heavy read. But, if you enjoy reading historical books that are more dense as well as matter-of-factly, this may be one you’ll enjoy.

 

*I received my copy of Black Earth from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest assessment.

A Thought on Hitler’s Naturalism

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As I currently read through Black Earth which details with the atrocity of Hitler’s worldview and regime as well implications for today, I am interested in a theme which keeps popping up; the conviction Hitler held that said humans are really no different than animals. I don’t suggest that if someone believes this they will become a monster (as Hitler was clearly one) and likewise this is not an anti-evolution rant as I think that Christianity and evolution are not in fact sworn enemies. Rather I am simply reflecting on how a set of ideas can be interpreted so differently by different people. To some the belief that we and animals are equals is a call to repent, a call to respect God’s creation (our fellow creatures); whereas to someone like Hitler such an idea meant that we must become like animals who viciously fight for dominance, competing to survive with blood to pay and no regrets. I would love to hear your thoughts and initial reaction.

Leave your comments below.

Should we “do away” with Doctrine? Brian McLaren’s new release (book review)

Speaker and former pastor Brian McLaren has given us a book which will prove provocative to many Christians. In The Great Spiritual Migration (Convergent, 2016) McLaren utilizes superb communicative skills throughout all 205 pages (228 counting the three Appendixes), speaking into the dissatisfaction among “Catholics, Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians…that there must be a better way to be Christian” (p. 3-4, Introduction). While I agree that such a dissatisfaction is evident and needs addressing, McLaren has some interesting “solutions.”

Get rid of doctrine

This is a sentiment throughout all of the book. Although I very much was intrigued by the opening pages of the book (I’ve never encountered a book by this author), it became very apparent that McLaren is not a fan of doctrine but actually seems nauseated by it. Doctrine, according to him, needs to be replaced by love, by inclusivity, by living like Jesus. McLaren is of course reacting to the serious problem in Christianity in which believers are more consumed and concerned with believing the right things than they are living the right way. But why cannot right living and right believing coexist? Are they really incompatible? The New Testament (NT) seems to hold both in balance. If some Christians highly stress doctrine and neglect right living, should we really throw the baby out with the bath water?

Become a Relativist

Besides flirting with universalism (p. 91-92), McLaren pushes for Christians to wander from what he perceives as close-mindedness and into the realm of anything is possible here as he hints often that there may be no absolute truth (see especially p. 211 where he equates an openness to absolutely anything with an openness to the Holy Spirit (as well as makes more implicit here his stance that there is no absolute truth)).

I happen to be a big advocate for maintaining mystery in our relationship with God as it has nurtured my awe and wonder of him. I don’t, however, throw a staple of Christianity (=Scripture and doctrines extracted from it) out the window. An open mind is never a bad thing. But once you wander into relativism, it is not too speculative to say you’ll never return. McLaren shares stories of his personal faith journey and of how he has almost left the faith. In reading the book I honestly did wonder if he in fact hasn’t already left the faith and replaced it with relative ambiguity.

Use your experience as the lens through which you read Scripture

I’ve never used the phrase “a low view of Scripture.” It’s a phrase that many fundamentalists may use when they disagree with you. Nevertheless these words are what my brain came up with when writing this review. McLaren implies greatly that our culture (as well as our emotions and experience) act (or rather should act) as a lens through which we read Scripture rather than Scripture being a lens through which we view culture (and our experience). Spiritual Migration disregards the importance of the Bible left and right, a confusing thing to ponder since historically this book has been a great anchor of our faith.

Throughout the book the idea is put forth of moving on from what we know (doctrinally) and moving into the unknown and mysterious. I am very much an advocate of maintaining mystery in the Christian faith; but I cannot enter the relative oblivion that McLaren holds on tightly throughout the pages in Spiritual Migration in which there may not really be any truth, only love.

At the start of ch. 2 he uses an analogy of the changes made in science, stating that just as there new discoveries which change how we view science, so we need to let our beliefs undergo change and evolve. To what end are we to evolve or adapt? McLaren doesn’t say. I’m all for being subversive, something that is sadly not always happening in the church’s interaction with culture because of the dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular.” But what McLaren calls for throughout his new release is not just an evolution which calls Christians to be subversive; but rather McLaren seems to call Christians to give up on Christianity (historical Christianity) and yet still call it ‘Christianity’! (This really is mind-boggling to me.) A call for Christians to give up on doctrine/trust in Scripture and just love people.

McLaren will use Scripture at times to prove points but then will contradict himself by making statements which downplay Scripture and doctrine.  He constantly pits love and doctrine against one another all the while quoting from the likes of Jesus and Paul. What McLaren needs to realize is that Jesus and Paul are both Jews and therefore doctrine is a given, as the Jews historically held very tightly to their “doctrines”; that there is one God, that the Law is from God, that it is a light to Israel’s feet, etc. Paul and Jesus were not products of America in the 70’s and the “make love not war” era; there were Jews (from Israel) 2,000 years ago.

One section, noting many terrible things done in the name of God (by apparent Christians) implies that because much in the past was terrible, we cannot trust the past exegesis of church history. Once again this is an example where the author throws the baby out with the bathwater. Many of the terrible things noted in his book (conquests, slavery, etc.) of course arose from different factors, one of them being a mistreatment and abuse of Scripture; a projecting of cultural norms onto Scripture to make Scripture align with our own twisted (or fallen) agenda. This happened in America when “Christians” used Scripture to justify slavery (=a cultural norm) and what McLaren does throughout Spiritual Migration to justify his modern agenda full of modern cultural norms (of inclusiveness, universalism, relativism).

*(When I refer to “inclusiveness” I mean by it the support of gay marriage.)

Ultimately McLaren’s new release scoffs at the idea that both love and values can be held in high and equal esteem, utterly rejecting such a notion.

In closing, I am happy to have read this book as I have been interested in what Brian McLaren has to say (as I hear him quoted often among my progressive brothers and sisters in Christ). This book does seem to indicate that he has given up on the church as we have known it for 2,000 years. That said, I am grateful to have a voice which stresses the importance of social action/justice and calls for us to reexamine not just what we believe but why we believe it.

(I received my copy from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest assessment.)

The Prayer of Protection, Joseph Prince (book review)

j-princeIf there was one word that I had to choose to describe how I felt as I read best-seller, sought-after speaker and pastor Joseph Prince’s newest release The Prayer of Protection, it would be astonished. This book has very much blown my mind like no other book I’ve come across. I have never read a book which manages to insult so many different people in so many different generations, as this reading will prove offensive to anyone who suffers, anyone with diseases like AIDS, anyone with an addiction, and anyone who takes the New Testament (NT) in historical context seriously. But Joseph Prince has succeeded in doing just that.

In all my past reviews I have engaged a book with an open mind, looking for the good (even when it’s hard to find). That said, there is no good in this book. I hate to give very bad reviews, so on that end I will provide a longer-than-usual post to defend my position that this book is a very poor read.

Undeniable Laziness

In every chapter (there are 12 total) there is at least one self-promoting testimonial listed in its entirety. These are letters from people who are thanking God for Joseph Prince and speaking of his ministry’s influence in their life. As stated, these letters are listed in their entirety! (Not a snippet or a paragraph here or there). That is a lot of pages! I counted 25 pages altogether of these testimonials, 3 1/2 in ch. 2 alone and 3 pages in ch. 11. It’s evident that besides advertising himself in his own book, Prince is trying to fill in more and more pages. That the editors didn’t point this out to him is beyond me (maybe they didn’t care?).

Laziness is also evident in the writing style, as in many parts of the book it feels as if Prince is trying to teach a very small child big grown up things. The tone of the book switches back and forth from a type of over-polished mechanical tone to a very joyous pep-talk that reminds me of someone simply trying to hype up a crowd. Phrases like “Hallelujah! Isn’t God great!” in every section are not only repetitive but also seem to indicate that Prince is just trying to insert more words in each chapter.

A preoccupation with a life of ease 

Joseph Prince evidently has forgotten which side of heaven he lives on. According to the reading, we are not (as Christians) to experience any discomfort and no amount of suffering. To defend his strange stance he mentions Job and says that Job’s suffering is abnormal for those in Christ. He says that the apostle Paul had authority over death to live a long life but gave up such authority in order to be with God sooner. All the martyrs in the time of the NT also could have lived long and fruitful lives but they, as well, gave up this authority. In making such remarks Prince spits on the grave of all those who have been martyred in history as well as in the present day: he is spitting on the cross of Christ which is about a God who suffers with humanity.

Uncountable exegetical fallacies

There are simply too many to count (I plan on having a few posts dedicated to the individual texts themselves which are, it seems, on every page).

Hyper-triumphalism is a constant motif, as Prince seems to think that those in debt just need to have more faith, those who live in dangerous places simply need to pray his special prayer of protection, etc.

Highly Offensive on (it seems) Every Page

Prince (as noted at the start) insults many different people. Anyone who is going through hardship is doing so (according to this book) because of lack of faith, or because they haven’t learned to activate God’s angels (see ch. 8, Activating God’s Angels where he makes a straw case that we actually control angels). In one chapter he makes absurd claims that we have authority over death in that we (not God) control and determine when we will die. If you have AIDS (according to the theology presented in this book) it is because you let that happen and don’t have faith. If you die young, it is your fault (as “Jesus died a young death so that we can live a long life”; once again Prince is spitting on the very cross he claims to proclaim).

All of us have a free choice to use our faith to believe God for a long life. How long a life? That depends on you–according to your faith and satisfaction be it unto you (p. 150). 

This is insulting to any Christian who has lost a Christian family member or friend prematurely, as it pretty much says they did not activate some special authority and were not in the special realm Prince apparently is in (in which he controls when he will die).

The amount of people he insults is inexcusable and unforgivable (Prince evidently does not know what it means to be pastoral, though he, in fact, is a pastor).

For anyone who experiences danger, they simply haven’t activated the Protector’s protection. If this is true, Christians in China need Prince’s book and theology! They simply haven’t activated God’s angels; or perhaps the Christians who give their lives in martyrdom don’t pray Prince’s prayer of protection and don’t live in the realm he is in (in which one can decide when one dies!). This goes beyond the triumphalism that I’ve encountered in Pentecostal/charismatic circles and from motivational speakers, as Joseph Prince tries to present the cross without the obvious element of suffering that is part of the package; after all if we want to follow Jesus we must pick up our cross daily according to Luke.

The NT shows us we are to live between the tension between glory and suffering and informs us of the expectedness of Christians to suffer. While the Western church seems to not want to always hear this, Joseph Prince in his book would blatantly deny this!  On p. 201 he notes that God’s divine protection is something we must “receive” and in that chapter also contests that God’s protection is purchased for Christians by Christ’s blood; ch. 12 insults the loved ones of anyone who has died prematurely (or hasn’t lived a long life) as it states a promise to every Christian is not only a long life but a long and healthy one, as well as “fruitfulness” in old age. Here he writes a most peculiar statement: that “Our Lord Jesus died young so we may live long” (p. 194). That sounds really great, but to anyone half-serious about exegesis this is an obvious and flat-out imposition on Scripture.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge, no plague will come near your dwelling. Protection from strains of viruses that science does not yet have a cure for–Ebola, Zika, or AIDS–is God’s promise to you and your household (p. 100).

On p. 100 Prince states that this is God’s promise for our families, stressing that this is God’s guarantee. This is an insult to any Christian suffering from a disease listed above, as it implies your lack of faith (and not God’s sovereignty) stands in the way of you being healed. Here Prince is giving false hope to those who are suffering.

There is safety and protection when we draw near to Him and dwell in His sweet presence, His Word, and His house (p. 101). It’s important to note that Prince is not talking about a kind of spiritual protection but a very literal one.

 On p. 103 he notes that protection is guaranteed to all believers of all times just as forgiveness is. (He has equated God’s forgiveness with God’s healing.) He, throughout the whole book, notes that he believes Christians should never have to suffer-they only allow themselves to suffer. From p. 104-105 he “exegetes” (can that word even be used?) the Parable of the Lost Sheep, explaining that it’s about a Shepherd who protects his sheep. Strange: I always thought it was about God finding the nonredeemable (the sinner) and bringing him or her back to his flock. I guess generations of church history got it all wrong.

After reading the book at hand I don’t think it’s speculative to say Prince has a fear of suffering and a fear of not being protected.

Prince has a very strange and scary preoccupation with being protected from any type of suffering and an evident (to me) fear of suffering. As someone passionate about the gospel and about faith in Jesus, I find Prince’s notions to be threatening to the foundations of historical Christianity. His newest release promotes an idea which is utterly contra-Christ and the cross, the idea being ‘Jesus died for you to not suffer and for you to be comfortable.’ I know of nothing which is more anti-Jesus (anti-Christ?) than that. It is evident that Prince does not take half-serious the concept of studying Scripture as he has on every page plunders Bible verses to make them captive to his own pre-determined individualistic theology. He constantly comes up with “unique” interpretations to Bible verses when Bible interpretation 101 states that if you have a “unique” interpretation of a passage, it’s probably wrong and could be more rooted in pride than in an actual revelation from God’s Spirit.

I write this review as a continuist who believes God still operates in the “spectacular.” That said, I cannot identify with the type of Christian who does not see the cross and its implications (namely that it’s normative for Christians to suffer) as central (which is what Prince does without apology throughout this grotesque and terrible excuse for a book). As a student of the Bible I must say that Prince does preach another gospel, a gospel of “think-positive-thoughts” rather than the gospel of “follow me to be crucified” (a pretty negative notion). It does not take a Bible scholar to figure out that Prince is way off in his ill treatment of Scripture.

My friend (and the newest contributor to Overthinking Christian) Alex Pasqal, has this to say about the book:

Joseph Prince goes out of his way to prove how holy and amazing he is; what a great Christian he is; how much he’s done for Christ and for the church. He even gets other people to do it for him throughout dozens of pages of his book. How clever! It is pretty despicable to brag about yourself like that, especially in a book that is supposed to be about something as holy and sacred as prayer. You do not even have to read the first page to see that what comes out of this man’s mind and mouth is lackadaisical and uninspired (just look at the titles and descriptions for his many other books provided in the reading). This book is nothing more than tepid words masquerading as life-changing principles. 

I think the worst thing about this book (and there are many bad things) is that Joseph Prince implicitly and explicitly states that you have control over your life-all you have to do is follow his miraculous advice! If you are getting on a plane, well, you can control that plane to the degree that it won’t malfunction or get overrun by terrorists! If you are in an area where a certain disease is prevalent, you can control not getting that disease (of course, the diseases he mentions are diseases that are prevalent in today’s society)! Joseph Prince seems to always go back to the fact that God is in control, but that really is not what he is saying. He truly reminds me of a salesman trying to sell snake oil. If you read enough of the book and compare and feed it through the Bible, you will see this man for what he is-a poor salesperson trying to make another buck off of someone drawn in by a sales pitch.

The amount of hubris this man has is proven throughout the book, as he states that he has the key to being protected from anything and for any reason. The “key” he mentions reminds me of magical wards that good wizards use to protect themselves from evil wizards in today’s popular books and movies. The only reason I would ever encourage someone to read this book is to understand what is being put out into the world and digested by Christians. This book is a lesson to be very careful with what we receive and process in terms of religious literature. 

*I received this from the Hachette Book Group for an honest evaluation.

“Jesus is Lord, Trump is not:” Re-examining our loyalties

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During these past months I have read some very absurd claims on social media from both a more “liberal” type of Christian and those deemed “conservative.” On the liberal side, I read a fellow Christian I greatly respect make the claim that if you aren’t a part of Black Lives Matter you’re not a Christian. I read later by someone else that you cannot be a Christian and vote democrat. One side (the former) seems to feel that Christianity is simply about mending social issues (which veers greatly towards the social gospel) whereas the other side (the latter) seems to feel that the gospel is the good news of the Republican Party. I do think both of these pictures are incomplete and are gross distortions of what the gospel really is and intends to do.

To make the gospel more about a movement of our day than about Christ and the Cross (and all the radical implications that go with this) is to water down the gospel, sanitizing it beyond recognition. When one cannot fellowship and worship alongside a fellow Christian because he or she belongs to a different party (or voted for someone other than our choice candidate), that is the moment one ceases being Christ-like; that’s when displaying a political candidate has become more important than displaying Jesus to a dying world. Or honoring our party’s virtues has become more important than honoring Christ’s. Or when our political agenda overtakes our primary agenda of pursuing love of God and neighbor.

This isn’t a call for Christians to stay out of politics and social issues of the day but rather a feeble call for a reexamination of our loyalty/loyalties. If you are a Christian and a democrat, remember that you first are a Christian (=your allegiance is first and foremost to Christ); if you’re a Christian and a republican, remember that God did not call you to be pledged to a party but to be pledged to Himself. As Christians we are called to engage issues of our day and yet always remember that Jesus is Lord, Caesar (=Obama/Trump/our party of choice) is not.

If push comes to shove, I will never die for a political party. I hope that as Christians we will bring back the heartbeat of early Christianity, which said that to live for Christ (not a finite and passing institution) is highest gain and honor, second only to dying for Him (an honor which far exceeds even dying for one’s own country).

The Bad Habits of Jesus, Leonard Sweet (book review)

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From my reading of The Bad Habits of Jesus it’s evident that Leonard Sweet is an experienced writer as well as a very creative person. Best selling author and international speaker, a unique style is definitely detected right off the bat as Sweet takes us through Matthew-John to examine Jesus’ bad (=unusual to both secular and sacred standards) habits. Ultimately this book labors to bring to the surface aspects of who Jesus was and what he did that might otherwise be forgotten, zoning in on Jesus himself rather than rushing past the pages of the gospels.

The book is a challenge to Christians to not overlook radical implications of Jesus’ words and ministry and to be reminded of these “bad habits” and the unorthodoxy (the “unprofessional” nature-one can say) of Jesus.

“Jesus wants us to go the second mile, give the second coat, and maybe even give the second kidney” (p. 30).

Each chapter systematically takes on yet another “bad habit” of Jesus and does so in a simplistic manner. In one chapter (speaking of Jesus’ “wastefulness”) Sweet writes that

“We, too, like Jesus, must cultivate the habit of being, in everything we do, wasteful in mercy, extraordinary in love, and extravagant in worship of Jesus the Christ” (p. 32).

In another chapter (focusing on Jesus’ unprofessional tardiness)  he writes that

“Though Jesus had the “nasty habit of…disappearing” (p. 43), he didn’t do so “to avoid people so much as to be in tune with his Father” (p. 47).

I have heard rumors that Sweet is a very liberal dude. I did not get a hint of that in this reading but found that Sweet (based on this book alone) leans toward conservatism. I actually find the title somewhat misleading as I was expecting a fairly provocative book and didn’t get it.

Sweet posits that Jesus’ going off on those working in the Temple was not about money but due to the fact that “they stole the grandeur away from God by serving the institution rather than God” which is what we do “when we love a denomination more than [we]…love God” and “cherish…traditions more than [we]…cherish [our]…relationship with God” (p. 65).

This new release though very basic proves to be an interesting take on Jesus, though Sweet’s style may take some time getting used to.

 

sweet

Sweet has a huge imagination and it’s seriously a gift. But it seems to get away from him at times as what he’s trying to say seems to get lost in his effort to make words dance around on the page.

This book contains one-liners and phrases which are golden and worthy of quoting. Later in the book I was especially reminded of the high priority Jesus placed on children, which was extremely revolutionary in his day. Sweet described this in a very creative way, using here (and throughout the book) some seriously “sweet” language.

That said, The Bad Habits of Jesus is ultimately lacking in substance (if I’m to be completely honest). I feel that this book can be compared to a skeleton lacking the meat and muscle to form a complete body. It is, still an interesting read with many thought-provoking one-liners and little gems.

 

In exchange for an honest assessment Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

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