There Can Only Be One (Or, Jonathan Edwards and Highlander Theology)


Hypothetically, if there was only ONE person at any one time on the face of planet Earth who qualified as “Christian”…how sure are you that it would be YOU and not one of the billion(s) also claiming that distinction?

That’s a pretty intense question, right? But it’s exactly the type of question that Jonathan Edwards, still widely considered the most influential theologian, pastor, and thinker America has ever produced, asked himself daily.

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At the age of eighteen, Edwards began working on a series of resolutions that would serve as a series of checks and balances for his life and help him evaluate how his daily walk with Christ was or wasn’t progressing. Eventually he compiled a list of 70 Resolutions and decided to review them each evening, each week, each month, etc.

This was far from a legalistic set of rules through which he was attempting to earn salvation or righteousness-at the very beginning he notes that he is “unable to do anything without God’s help.” But his Calvinistic theology was not opposed to effort on his part! Rather it freed him to pursue holiness with all his might and ability, confident that any “good” he achieved was by God’s power and to God’s glory.

I recently read through his list of resolutions and one in particular stood out: his determination to act as if he was “that one” Christian.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 13, 1723.

So how about it? Supposing that there was just one “complete Christian” today, could it (through God’s enabling power) be you?

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Monday Morning Music: “Look How He Lifted Me” by Elevation Worship


It's currently neither Monday nor the morning, but this IS some music! :) So go ahead and hit "play" and enjoy!

Look how He lifted me / His grace and mercy is my testimony / For every victory / I’ve got a song to sing / Look how He lifted me!

I’ve had this song on repeat for the past few weeks-it’s catchy and exciting but (best of all) also contains beautiful truth: When we have things to boast of, it’s first of all because of what He has done for us! “…as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” -1 Corinthians 1:31

Book Review: “Scary Close” by Donald Miller


Donald Miller was bad at relationships. Life had become a performance where even the smallest interaction was (at some level) an attempt to get validation and worth from others. But after a particularly bad ending to a romantic relationship, he’d endured enough pain to start questioning if the problem wasn’t with everyone else but perhaps with himself.

_240_360_Book.1491.coverScary Close is Don’s chronicle of the things he learned about relationships, himself, and true intimacy during the period between getting engaged and his wedding. One of the things that I’m increasingly coming to value is complete, unadulterated honesty and it’s here that Don truly shines. He not only prescribes honesty as the only path to true intimacy and love in relationships: he models it by sharing the ugly portions of his life and journey alongside the rest of it. Don has taken “the long road” (xvi) to emotional health in relationships and shares his story  with the hopes that others will learn from his mistakes and find healthy relationships too.

“Love can’t be earned, it can only be given. And it can only be exchanged by people who are completely true with each other” (xvi). Don spends the majority of the book expounding on these words, illustrating through his experiences what love does and doesn’t look like and how to truly exchange love with others. Some might fault him for being too simplistic or optimistic in his approach. Surely it can’t be that simple! You can’t trust most people! You need to control other people and be always guarded in your interactions with others! To be sure, Don advises that you can’t expect a healthy relationship with an emotionally unhealthy person. But he’s been that emotionally unhealthy person and his empathy for those caught in patterns of manipulation or deception or whatever gives him a unique and grace-filled perspective. I think he sums it up well when he says:

“It’s a hard thing to be human. It’s a very hard thing. Nobody needs a judge or a scorekeeper lording their faults over them.

…Henry Cloud and John Townsend define what a safe person is. They say it’s somebody who speaks the truth in grace. I like that.” (p 113)

Scary Close is a book of truth spoken in grace. It’s refreshing and encouraging and a must-read for any fan of Don’s, anyone seeking insight on intimacy, or anyone simply hungry for authenticity in a world where it’s far too uncommon.

At one point Don shares that an article he read said “in the next five years we will become a conglomerate of the people we hang out with” (74). He finds some truth in that idea and so do I. In fact, I’d extend the idea to encompass the authors we “hang out with” by reading their words and thoughts. Who are you spending the most time with and who will you become most like? I think Donald Miller is worthy of inclusion in that group. If he’s already in your group, keep him there! This is his strongest offering so far. But if he isn’t, I’d like to introduce you to him: he’s a wise, humorous, and humble guide worth knowing.

Scary Close gets 5 stars out of 5 stars.

**Disclaimer: BookLook Bloggers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.**

A Different Sort of Apology for the Crusades


With the President’s recent remarks on the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast, the Crusades are suddenly (seemingly) everywhere. Everyone has their own opinion on why the President was wrong or why the Crusades were wrong or why everyone else is wrong. Unfortunately, it seems many are leaping to share their opinions with nothing more than a passing/pop culture familiarity with the events in question.

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I don’t intend to share much personally on the subject other than to recommend Rodney Stark’s book God’s Battalions[†] to anyone who would seek a first step in educating themselves on the subject at hand. I read and reviewed the book for a class last semester and found it to be an excellent starting point not just for a discussion of the Crusades themselves but for an examination of the lenses through which we we view the past. Stark apologizes for the Crusades not in the sense of asking someone/anyone for forgiveness but rather in the other sense of the word: that is, a reasoned argument or writing in justification of something. Stark aims to show that much of our so-called “knowledge” of the Crusades is actually not knowledge at all but misconceptions, untruths, and anachronistic impositions of modern, Western morality on a most decidedly non-Western and premodern culture. Whether or not you agree with Stark, it is important to acknowledge at least the possibility that we are not seeing everything with the equivalent of “historical 20/20 vision” (…as if that even existed). As historian Christopher Tyerman observed in a book with a similar aim as Stark’s: “To observe the past through the lens of the present invites delusion; so too does ignoring the existence of that lens.”[1]

For those not yet convinced or who want a preview of the book, I’ve excerpted a few paragraphs from my review in the rest of this post. So read on if you’re even just a bit interested in the subject.

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Prayer as Defined by Tim Keller


The following chart is from Tim Keller's book "Prayer"-I thought I'd share it as a helpful guide in defining specific aspects of what prayer is as well as a preview for the book (as it is a summary of what he teaches in the book itself). Enjoy!

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I’d love to know if anyone has thoughts, pushback, questions, or just really liked it. Anything stand out, for good or for not so good reasons? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Calvin and the “Wrong Side of History” Argument (Or, Calvin and cultural peer pressure)


“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, do you?” There are many presuppositions to be found in this oh-so-leading question. For instance: there is a tautological progression from ignorance to knowledge and history is a simple unfolding of this process. The former things are inferior to the latter. We are much closer to a perfect world than those who lived 1000, 100, and even 10 years ago. But what it all really boils down to is the same reasoning undergirding this playground observation: “Everybody else is doing it. You don’t want to be left out, right?”

MTE5NTU2MzE2MTcyNDg2MTU1I’ve recently started reading through John Calvin’s “Institutes” as a supplement to my personal devotions and my class readings. I’ve tried to be realistic and yet aggressive in my goals by only aiming to read 10 minutes or so a day of this religious tome. So my progress has been happily tortoise-like (slow and steady and all that). But it’s been lovely to savor each snippet of Calvin’s magnum opus.

While reading Calvin’s Prefatory Address to the King of France, one of his arguments leapt off the page for its enduring relevance. Calvin’s critics have called him “to the bar of custom,” that is, they are arguing against him because that’s just not the way most people think or things have been done. History has spoken and it is on their side. In reply, he states:

Human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error, or rather that common consent in vice which these worthy men would have to be law.

Calvin’s observation is that, although we may wish that it was that simple, might does not make right. A simple majority does not immediately equate to automatic morality and correctness. How then are we to respond as Christians? What do we appeal to if not established custom or current majority views? He continues:

But be it so that public error must have a place in human society, still, in the kingdom of God, we must look and listen only to his eternal truth, against which no series of years, no custom, no conspiracy, can plead prescription. Thus Isaiah formerly taught the people of God, “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all whom this people shall say, A confederacy”; i.e., do not unite with the people in an impious consent; “neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa 8:12). Now, therefore, let them, if they will, object to us both past ages and present examples; if we sanctify the Lord of Hosts we shall not be greatly afraid.

 

To paraphrase: what are we afraid of more? Are we concerned about not agreeing with most everyone else (and them not agreeing with us)? Or are we concerned about not agreeing with the Lord of hosts? Does the fact that “this is how things have been done by most people” OR “this is how most people are going to do it in the future” rival God’s supremacy in the matter? Shall we fear the opinions of others or the Lord himself?

Would you rather be on the wrong side of history or the wrong side of eternity? 

Book Review: “The Leadership Handbook” by John Maxwell


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I suspect that I am like many others who, upon hearing the mention of his name, would immediately associate John Maxwell with the topic of “leadership.” The classic and most well-known of his books would (I assume) be “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” But simply type his name into amazon’s search function and you’ll see that that is not anywhere close to the last book that he wrote on the subject. Maxwell’s output on the subject is voluminous and extensive, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with this book, “The Leadership Handbook.” What would he have to say on the subject that he hadn’t said some other way in some other book? What fresh insights are there to be gleaned here?

Perhaps it was my admittedly mixed expectations for the book, but the further I got into the book the more that I found myself enjoying, learning from, and appreciating it. Maxwell himself sums up what differentiates this book from many of his previous ones on page 247, where he says:

You’ll notice that there has been a significant shift in my thinking…Now, instead of focusing on who I am to become, my focus is on other people…I want to add value to leaders who will multiply value to others.

 

John Maxwell has gone from wanting to be a great leader himself to wanting to teach others how to be great leaders to wanting to teach others how to teach others how to be great leaders. Thus he suggests two ways of reading the book. The first is to read a chapter a week, spending time to meditate on the lessons and application questions in each chapter. The second is to take 52 weeks to go through the book, spending one week to go over a chapter yourself and then taking the next week to teach that lesson to whoever it is that you are currently mentoring. Each chapter has a “Mentorship Moment” at the end to assist in this process.

In “The Leadership Handbook,” Maxwell seems to be catching sight of the same kind of leadership and discipleship that both Jesus (“Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you” […by inference including making disciples]) and Paul (“and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”) modeled and taught.

Finally, in addition to teaching leadership from his successes, Maxwell teaches from his failures. His honesty about the role that failure has in the growth of a leader is admirable and much needed.

So what’s the verdict?  I see this book functioning exactly as it’s billed: as a handbook to slowly work through, refer to, and learn from as leaders seek to grow personally and pass their lessons on to the leaders they are training up themselves. I know that I personally have several immediate applications from it and also that I’ll be returning to it often as a refresher and reminder.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 Disclaimer: BookLook Bloggers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.