The Case For Life (Book Review)

For a long time I had desired to get involved in the pro-life cause, but I just didn’t know how to do it in a way that suited my abilities and personality.  The church I attended in high school had a way in—but standing outside the local abortion clinic with a sign didn’t interest me.  And in those days there were well-known speakers that would tour around the country, gathering a crowd to make the case for life.  But when the party left town it seemed to be that business-as-usual returned.  Of course that was not the case—that was just my perception.  These were the days before the internet so it was not easy to find onramps to activism and other ways of helping save lives, love the vulnerable and at-risk, and change minds.  My difficulty in finding my way into the pro-life movement led to my desire to help taking a back-seat to other priorities.  And that’s the way it was for a while.

And then I found a local ministry called Care Net.  The church that eventually would call me to serve as a pastor had a simply onramp.  By partnering with a local chapter of Care Net, which I discovered supports one of the largest networks of crisis pregnancy centers in America.  One year our congregational Care Net coordinator invited my wife and me to attend the annual fundraising banquet.  Sensing this was my way in, we went.  The program and presentation that night moved my heart to sign up as a monthly donor and partner.  All of a sudden, it became clear to me that my long-time interest in and exposure to pro-life ministry had prepared me making a difference.  A series of memories flashed before me.  Hearing a pro-life talk during a high school youth group meeting.  Browsing a display table at a campus student organization fair in college.  Listening to the radio program Stand to Reason with their occasional guest speaker: pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf.  Suddenly it occurred to me.  Don’t I have one of his books on my computer?  Yes I did.  The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture [hereafter CFL], a resource in the format I hate to read (ebook) sat tucked away on my hard drive, forgotten shortly after I’d downloaded it years prior.  So I determined to read it soon, putting it near the top of my reading to-do list.  I’m glad I did. Continue reading

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Death and Eternity

The road goes ever onward…

I’m wrapping up a series on what I call “universal human longings.” This one, based on the Bible passage in the book of Romans 8:18-39, I’ve saved for last because, more than any of the others, it makes the transition from this life to the next. You’ll notice the first word in the title: death. What?!? This sound ridiculous. Who longs for death?

People don’t long for their own death because dying is awful and scary, but we do long for life after death. God has placed a deep longing for eternity in every human heart, not merely to live forever, but for the human soul to be with God. And yet, if we’re honest, nearly all of us are not in a hurry to get to heaven because we’re too busy longing for our heart’s desires to be fulfilled in this life. Worship, true identity, righteousness and being known, family, marriage, home, mission, work and rest, wisdom, peace, and justice. We’ve explored these universal human longings, how God’s Word says it is right and good to long for them, and how right now we can have a measure of what we long for—especially as we live by faith in Jesus who is the source of these longings and the blessings that fulfill them. But what about the enormous problem of our suffering, and at the end of this life…death? When we’re in the middle of it, doesn’t suffering feels like it holds us back from getting to God and the blessings he gives? Let me ask you directly: Do you believe suffering is a good or bad thing—does it help or hinder your hope for eternity?

If you’ve ever seriously asked this question, or if you’re asking it now in the midst of a difficult time in your life, then this passage in Romans gives a glorious answer to your longing to know and experience an eternity in heaven.  God will certainly fulfill the hope of Christians to be saved from agonizing sufferings because in the end nothing will separate us from Christ’s love for us. Following Christ’s pattern, suffering will end in death, but death is not our end. By dying and rising in Christ we shall conquer through hope and live forever. Continue reading

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Not You Too, U2!

Yes, but what is this “love” you sing of?

A friend of mine (a fellow U2 superfan) told me about the just-released music video for “Love is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.”  (You can google the video and easily find it online.  I’m not going to link to it here.)  In his words, “I don’t know if I can continue to be a fan or even support them.  I’ve listened to and sung their music from the bottom of my heart for most of my life.  This feels like a death in the family.”  U2, if you are listening to your long-time fans who are incredibly disappointed at the message of this video, please understand what you are doing to us.  Remember that scene at the end of Star Wars Episode III when Queen Padme pleads with her husband Anakin to turn away from the dark side?  “I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”  That’s how millions of us feel.  Yeah, millions.  Just read many of the non-hateful, rational, online comments about your video.  What is U2’s transgression?  It appears they are now “all-in” for affirming the homosexual and transgender movement.

I guess that over the years I have become too enamored with lead singer and songwriter Bono.  Upon reflection I hope that Christians do not turn on him and U2 like it seems the black community has quickly turned on Kanye West for his conservative political voice.  Even so, I miss the old U2 that seemed to believe in biblical justice and righteousness.  Those were their glory days.  U2, please come back.  For our sakes.  But (much) more importantly, for the sake of your Christian faithfulness.  You widely claim that you’re all Christians except Adam Clayton.  If three of you believe, as I suspect you do, that affirming and celebrating those who practice homosexuality is the essence of Spirit-led Christian faithfulness for our day, then I urge you to read a few books that argue otherwise.  Start with Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?  This short book also has an annotated bibliography for recommended further reading.  Christians cannot afford to give in to sexual immorality.  Why? Because it’s a central-to-the-gospel issue, because Jesus Christ is not just the Savior that rescues us from our fallen condition, he is also the Lord who redeems us from a life of sin so that we might follow his ways in thankful, loving obedience.  Another way of putting it: no one can have Jesus as their Savior without bowing to him as their Lord.  Jesus always takes us as we are, but he never ever leaves us as we are.  God’s in the business of making us humble and holy and loving—like Jesus.

“But,” you say, “that’s just your interpretation of the Bible.  My Christianity is more progressive and affirming.”  Historically and biblically speaking, that is actually a foolish thing to say.  Progressive/Liberal Christianity is an altogether different religion than Traditional/Orthodox Christianity.  Continue reading

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The Glory of Their Times (Book Review)

Long-time and hard-core readers of Dangitbill might have guessed that I’m a big baseball fan.  I caught the fever around the same age most boys do.  The year was 1985, I was 10 years old, and my home team Los Angeles Dodgers were in the playoffs matched up against the St. Louis Cardinals.  My dad awakened me one autumn morning to the awesome news that he would pick me up early from school that day because…we had tickets!  Three memories are seared on my mind from that day.  The first, of course, was the messenger sent from the school front office to summon me out of class.  By then all my friends knew I was going to play hookie with my dad.  And with the school’s full knowledge and blessing.  “No way!”  “No fair!”  Excited taunts, objections, and eruptions of jealous disbelief had me riding a swell of pride.  As my classmates waved goodbye and I followed my rescuer to the front office, a shock of baseball adrenaline shot through my veins.  Even the school secretary flashed a bright smile as she signed the permission slip for my early escape, er, dismissal.  Dad was waiting in the getaway car just outside the grounds, poised to burn rubber and beeline down the 405 to beautiful Dodger stadium–the Elysian Fields and Baseball Cathedral of my childhood.  Felt like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!  Over the course of my life I’ve been to dozens of baseball games with dad, but Game 6 of the ‘85 playoffs was the only one we made sure to be on time for. Continue reading

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How (Not) To Be Secular (Book Review)

My wife and I used to frequent the local Barnes and Noble bookstore on our dates out on the town.  Instead of dinner and a movie, for a while it was dinner and a book.  Yeah, we’re a bit nerdy.  I miss those days when a person could discover new books—real, tactile books—without needing to click-surf Amazon’s catalog.  Anyway, one book caught my eye on the Christianity shelf one evening back in 2014.  It had a quirky title and a bizarre cover photo accompanying it.  A scowling old white dude, clean shaven but sporting hoary brows, and with a wayward glance to the left, somehow illustrating “How (Not) To Be Secular” (HNTBS).  That guy is Charles Taylor, one of the most important living philosophers and professors who you’ve probably never heard of.  I hadn’t.  But I did recognize the name of the book’s author, James K.A. Smith, a Christian professor of philosophy, theology, worldview, and cultural analysis who teaches and writes at Calvin College.  Back in my seminary days I read one of Smith’s books that kinda turned me off to his take on things, with appeared to me as a tad too friendly with the post-modern conception of truth and metanarrative.  So when his book-length treatment on reading Charles Taylor jumped out at me, I don’t remember thinking, “I need to read this book.”  But I wish I had.  Because four years later I’m the richer and wiser for allowing Smith to introduce me to Taylor’s insights on what it feels like to live in a secular age.

A Secular Age.”  That’s the name of Taylor’s magnum opus.  From what I gather it is a long, dense, poorly edited (long and rambling), but immensely perceptive analysis of how we, as homo religiosus (religious man), feel haunted by a nagging sense of transcendence in a culture that does it’s very best to concentrate the immanence of this world.  Essentially it’s an attempt to provide a comprehensive account of how the West got to our disenchanted, immanence-dominated secular age from the transcendent enchantment of the medieval age.  No small goal because a lot of happenings and history have transpired in the last 500+ years!

A few people smarter than you and I, who have read and understood Taylor, have taken up the task of translating and explaining him for those of us who profit from a more straight-forward, plain-English presentation.  That is what Smith aims to do in his book HNTBS.  By devoting a short chapter (typically 30 pages or less) for each of Taylor’s corresponding sections, HNTBS functions not so much as an imagination-less summary, but rather something like a good book guide.  The difference is the separate feelings and experiences you might have if you chose to explore a museum with an accompanying tour guide compared to merely ordering the official museum coffee-table book and staying home to browse it.

So what does Smith want us to know about reading Charles Taylor?  It turns out quite a lot, but here are three things. Continue reading

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Refuting Compromise (Book Review)

Yeah, that’s gonna be fair

“Let’s boxers fight in their weight class.”  That’s what I often want to tell folks who are studying a topic.  In order to maintain a fair argument, and not grant an unequal advantage to one side, it is so important to allow polemicists to pick on someone their own size.  When it dawned on me some years ago that I was making this mistake whenever looking at both (or more) sides to a topic, I started noticing that tons of people were making the same “weight class” mistake.  For example, I’d allow a book to refute an article, not realizing that books have unfair length advantages over essays.  Or I’d let a book by a scholar writing in his/her field of expertise trump a book authored by a studious amateur.  That reading strategy unfairly tips the scales in favor of the scholar by the expertise advantage.  Still another way we tend to allow unfair arguments is to give preference to an author’s response to a write who did not know he was in a debate!  I call this the challenger’s advantage.

The length advantage, expertise advantage, and challenger’s advantage are all methods that people try to make it appear they have won an argument.  But none of these advantaged “fighters” are actually boxing in their “weight class.”  Fairness demands when we compare and contrast conflicting ideas, we must allow a fair debate and give preference to venues that foster discussions that aim at discovering truth, not scoring debate points.

My boxing analogy was constantly in my thoughts as I read Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s book-length response to Hugh Ross’s doctrine of “progressive creationism.”  Like two heavy-weights going toe-to-toe in the arena of biblical and scientific creationism, Sarfati attempts a systematic and thorough rebuttal to Ross’s published teachings.  Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of “Progressive Creationism” (Billions of Years), as Popularized by Astronomer Hugh Ross (hereafter RC), is the closest book I’ve yet discovered that seeks to wrestle against the Scriptural and scientific tenets of old earth creationism (OEC).  Sarfati, who is a young earth creationist (YEC), proves to be an intelligent, capable, and scientifically qualified opponent to OEC. Continue reading

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Justice and Judgment

The book of Job is deep, profound, and therefore notoriously difficult to nail down all the questions it raises. But it’s not hard to follow the basic flow. Essentially this very ancient book explores the mystery of why the righteous suffer. Job was such a man. He was the paragon of virtue in his time and place, and his life was a picture of blessing…until it all fell apart in one day when he lost his children, his home, his wealth, and even his health. When Job’s friends show up to comfort him, it’s not long before they are hurling accusations of secret sin because NO ONE can crash that badly unless he somehow deserves it. As moralists, at least that’s the way they see the world: in black and white. Garbage in, garbage out. Throughout the book Job maintains his innocence, and in Job 29 he mounts his final defense. Here we learn for the first time that Job is not only passively innocent of the charges, but he is actively righteous and just. That’s important, because the Bible teaches very clearly that righteousness is not merely a matter of passively avoiding sin (keeping your nose clean, staying out of trouble), but it also entails actively practicing righteousness: what we might call “justice” (Isa 1:16-17). You may not often long for justice and judgment, but Job certainly did. His longing is meant to awaken yours, because if you’re a Christian the seeds of that longing are in your heart.

We all long for justice and righteousness to flourish in our hearts, our homes, our communities, and even throughout the world. But we fail to rule our hearts, our society, or our world in justice. We long for justice and judgment, but we suppress the longing because we know deep down that we would never survive righteous judgment turned on us. And so we ignore the longing and withdraw from getting too vocal, too involved, and too entangled in the work of helping the helpless because we fear being exposed as a hypocrite. We’re left feeling insignificant, powerless, and defeated in the face of injustice because “who am I to say or do anything?” So how can the Bible, particularly the message of Job 29:1-25 speak to our longing for justice? Here is the central lesson we find. When a person renders justice for the helpless, many will celebrate and honor him, but if later God allows unexplained suffering in his life, some will accuse him of hidden sins. Despite our works of justice, all must confess some complicity in injustice. So trust in Christ the Judge who alone is just and justifier. Continue reading

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