Writing tip of the day – avoid distractions

If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write. I work to loud music – hard rock stuff like AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses, and Metallica have always been particular favorites – but for me the music is just another way of shutting the door. It surrounds me, keeps the mundane world out. when you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you no? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.

………………………~Stephen King, On Writing (Pocket Books, 2000), 156.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/24)

Arminians affirm everything necessary for a fully evangelical soteriology; Calvinists require more.  Why?

I simply want to introduce you to a side of him that you may not know, and hopefully to persuade you that he does, after all, belong to the human race. And I want to do that by focusing on two of his close friendships.

I have been taught the historical-grammatical approach to biblical hermeneutics both as an undergraduate student and as a graduate student. It has been useful, but it always left me wondering how this approach allows for the Scriptures to be the book of the church rather than merely an open source. It was not until this last semester when I encountered the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer that my paradigm was shaken.

  • Denny Burk offers a lengthy discussion of the textual problem in Luke 23:34 and why think thinks many experts are wrong when they conclude that Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them…” was not original.

Is social media making us “alone together”?

Are technologies like Facebook and Twitter destroying intimacy and contributing to social and personal breakdown today? That’s what one prominent sociologist, Sherry Tuckle, argues in her recent book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

As an article in the Guardian noted yesterday, Sherry Turkle’s argument is pretty simple:

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

The article goes on to summarize a number of other recent books that have come out in criticism of social media and their impact on us today. But, the article also goes on to explain that this “backlash” against social media has it own critics and that there is much work yet to be done. 

If you’re interested in this, you should also check out Stephen Colbert’s interview with Sherry Tuckle. Colbert, of course, plays devil’s advocate and argues that constant use of social media is a good thing.

That’s multitasking; that’s productivity; that’s how we’re going to beat the Chinese.

Tuckle responds  by arguing that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with social media. She isn’t arguing that we should get rid of social media, but she does think that we have to come let it dominate our lives in some extremely unhealthy ways. So, she calls on us to “take a step back” and reconsider the role social media should play in our everyday life.

And, she makes an argument at one point that any educator should take note of. In response to Colbert’s suggestion that her book is too long and should have been written in 140 characters or less, she responds:

We have lost our respect for the fact that some arguments really do take…the long form.

Now, as one who blogs regularly and has both a Twitter and a Facebook account, I definitely think that social media can be used in a balanced manner that leads to greater communication and creativity. But, I do think we need to be aware of the  problems that an unbalanced use of social media might be causing in society. So, books like this are worth paying attention to, regardless of whether you agree with the alarms being raised.

A Jerk after God’s Own Heart (When He Comes 3)

[Read When He Comes part 2 here.]

If only they had known.

The simple truth was that in both of these stories, the kings were deeply flawed. King Arthur was often naïve, jealous, and angry—eventually tearing his own kingdom apart and driving it to destruction. Richard the Lion Hearted, the real-life king of the Robin Hood stories, was so focused on crusading and gaining power in France, that he completely neglected his own kingdom. Neither of these guys was someone that you wanted to pin your hopes on.

Too bad they weren’t like King David.

David, of course, was the great king of Israel, a man after Gods own heart (Acts 13:22). He defeated most of Israel’s enemies and established a kingdom of note in the ancient world. Indeed, he was such an amazing king that after his death, all future kings of Israel would be measured against his standard. Did they love God as much as he did? Did they rule as wisely as he did? Were they a king like David? David was the gold standard for kings in Israel.

David was a jerk.

You heard me right. David spent most of his life killing people. He got so good at it that people sang songs about how many people he’d killed. Now, you might want to excuse all the killing because he did most of it in battle. Still, you don’t get to be really good at slaughtering people by being a nice guy. Nice guys get dead. David was not a nice guy. Indeed, he even stole another man’s wife. As the king, he could have had any number of available women. Instead, he chose a married woman. And, to make it worse, when she got pregnant and his attempts to cover up his adultery failed, David had the husband killed. Even late in his life, David was still making decisions that ran contrary to God’s will. Just before he died, he led Israel to do something that he knew full well God did not want him to do. The result? Thousands of Israelites died (2 Sam. 24).

So, David was a violent, adulterous murderer who repeatedly acted against God’s will.

David was a man after God’s own heart.

What? How can that possibly be? Surely God does not want us all to be violent, adulterous murderers. Of course not. David made some terrible mistakes. But, what made him a man after God’s own heart was that he understood grace. David knew full well that he was broken and sinful, unable to love God perfectly, and prone to error. But, David also knew that God was loving and gracious, always ready to forgive, and constantly calling his people to return to him. So, when David blew it, he threw himself before God and called on his mercy and grace (Psa. 51). Even in his brokenness and sinfulness, he was a man after God’s own heart.

So, Israel had a pretty good king. He was a great warrior, a talented leader, and more importantly, he was a man after God’s own heart. But, he was still flawed, broken, and sinful. David defeated Israel’s enemies and established his kingdom in the land, but David could not restore shalom. Indeed, his life often resembled shoah more than shalom. And, like all of us who are locked in bondage to sin and death, David died. His reign ended. And soon after, his kingdom shattered. David was a great king, but the people needed more.

And God promised to send them precisely what they needed. God promised that one day he would establish David’s kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:29; Dan 2:44). And, the king who would sit on this throne would be unlike any previous king. This king would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and there will be no end to his government and his peace (Isa. 9:6-7). His reign will be characterized by true righteousness, leading God’s people into the kind of security that only a perfect king could provide (Jer. 23:5-6).

Just as he did in the Garden (Gen. 3:15), God looks at the plight of his people and he promises.

I will send someone. And, when this one comes, everything will be better. I will establish my king on my throne, and he will accomplish my purposes. David was good, but the coming king is far, far better.

When he comes…God’s kingdom will be established forever.

[This is the third part of a chapter on OT promises for the future of God’s people. Read the rest here.]

The Word Cloud Bible

Here’s an interesting video showing the word clouds for each book of the Bible. It can actually make for a good devotional aid as you reflect on those words that each book emphasizes the most. HT



A prayer for Sunday (John Donne)

[Since it's John Donne's birthday tomorrow, this morning's prayer will be from him.]

O ETERNAL and most gracious God, who, though thou have reserved thy treasure of perfect joy and perfect glory to be given by thine own hands then, when, by seeing thee as thou art in thyself, and knowing thee as we are known, we shall possess in an instant, and possess for ever, all that can any way conduce to our happiness, yet here also, in this world, givest us such earnests of that full payment, as by the value of the earnest we may give some estimate of the treasure, humbly and thankfully I acknowledge, that thy blessed Spirit instructs me to make a difference of thy blessings in this world, by that difference of the instruments by which it hath pleased thee to derive them unto me. As we see thee here in a glass, so we receive from thee here by reflection and by instruments. Even casual things come from thee; and that which we call fortune here hath another name above. Nature reaches out her hand and gives us corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but thou fillest her hand before, and thou openest her hand that she may rain down her showers upon us. Industry reaches out her hand to us and gives us fruits of our labour for ourselves and our posterity; but thy hand guides that hand when it sows and when it waters, and the increase is from thee. Friends reach out their hands and prefer us; but thy hand supports that hand that supports us. Of all these thy instruments have I received thy blessing, O God; but bless thy name most for the greatest; that, as a member of the public, and as a partaker of private favours too, by thy right hand, thy powerful hand set over us, I have had my portion not only in the hearing, but in the preaching of thy Gospel. Humbly beseeching thee, that as thou continuest thy wonted goodness upon the whole world by the wonted means and instruments, the same sun and moon, the same nature and industry, so to continue the same blessings upon this state and this church by the same hand, so long as that thy Son, when he comes in the clouds, may find him, or his son, or his son’s sons ready to give an account and able to stand in that judgment, for their faithful stewardship and dispensation of thy talents so abundantly committed to them; and be to him, O God, in all distempers of his body, in all anxieties of spirit, in all holy sadnesses of soul, such a physician in thy proportion, who are the greatest in heaven, as he hath been in soul and body to me, in his proportion, who is the greatest upon earth.

6 Megatrends impacting the church today

The American church is quickly “morphing into something new.” This is the conclusion the Barna group drew after analyzing 5,000 interviews conducted in 2010 and identifying the following 6 patterns or “megathemes” from the research. (HT Charles Savelle)

  1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
  3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
  4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

Although I think the research done by the Barna Group is always worth noting, I do worry that their interpretation of the data tends to skew in a notably negative/pessimistic direction. As Bradley Wright argues in his book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media, we need to be much more careful with how we use statistical analysis to draw conclusions about the health of God’s people. So, we may need  a more nuanced look at some of these megathemes (particularly the last one).

I’d also like a little more explanation of what it means to say that the church is both “more ingrown” and more “interested in participating in community action” at the same time. Or, how the church can have a greater role in community action and yet still have a largely invisible impact on society. That’s an interesting juxtaposition of themes.

And, I’m a bit surprised by #2. Based solely on the churches that I’m involved with, I would have said that there’s a growing trend toward greater outreach (mainly “soft” evangelism and community action). But, that could be just my limited exposure to the church as a whole.

Nonetheless, these themes are worth reflecting on and clearly identify a number of “systemic” issues that we need to wrestle with today.

Saturday morning fun: Dante’s Inferno – the short version


The latest issue of ATI looks outstanding – check it out

If you’re not following the American Theology Inquiry journal (ATI), you really should. It’s a free online journal that just seems to be getting better with each issue. The latest issue of the journal just came out and it looks great. I’ll definitely be digging into some of these as soon as I get the chance.

Here are the articles in this issue:

  • “Reassessing the Relation of Reformation and Orthodoxy: A Methodological Rejoinder”, Richard A. Mueller
  • Discovering the Sacred in Secular Art: An Aesthetic Modality that ‘Speaks of God’”,  Christopher Evan Longhurst
  • A Match Made in Munich: The Origin of Grenz’s Trinitarian Theology,” Jason S. Sexton
  • “The Best Man Is Only a Man: Reflections on Some Enchantments and Disenchantments of the Grail,” Charles M. Natoli
  • “There Is No Sex in the Church,” Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov
  • “The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree,” J. Lyle Story

What’s your “go to” systematic theology

Which systematic theologies are beginning to show a little wear around the edges because they’re the ones that you constantly pull off the shelves when you need to wrestle with some theological question?

Earlier today, Michael Patton posted his Top Ten Systematic Theologies. Clearly  not impressed, Nick Norelli quickly labelled this Maybe the Worst Top 10 List Ever. Obviously, the question of what qualifies as a “top” systematic theology is rather contentious.

I’m curious. What are your “go to” systematic theologies? I’m thinking about posting my own list of top systematic theologies, but I’d like to hear  your thoughts first.

So, let us know. What are your favorite systematic theologies?