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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

I’m not sure how many people judge a book by the blurbs found on it, but I pray that number dwindles greatly.  Because frequently, perhaps more often than not, they are misleading, particularly if they are written by a well-known scholar, author, pastor, etc.

Case in point: a while back Justin Taylor, one of the most popular bloggers in evangelicalism, highlighted a new book put out of IVP, The Roots of the Reformation.  The author, G R Evans, is apparently a well respected Cambridge medievalist.  Taylor includes in his post 4 endorsements of the book, two of which were particularly glowing:

“G. R. Evans is one of our finest scholars, and she has written a superb book placing the story of the Reformation in the wider context of Christian history. Comprehensive, well researched and readable.”

—Timothy George, general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“Briskly and breezily, but very efficiently, medievalist Gillian Evans here surveys Western Europe’s changing and clashing views of Christianity from the fourteenth century through the seventeenth century. This large-scale introduction is certainly the best of its kind currently available.”

—J. I. Packer, Regent College

But, a month later and Taylor (admirably) issued a ‘mea culpa‘ for implicitly endorsing this highly-praised book.  Why?  What changed his mind?

Because an expert on the subject matter of the book in question actually read the book carefully.

Carl Trueman wrote an absolutely devastating review of the book, pointing out numerous (and I mean numerous) embarrassing errors that undermine the credibility of the book, and thus, the author and those who praise it so unreservedly.  How devastating is this review?  IVP has opted to pull the book off the shelves, revise it (in time for the fall semester, although I wonder if any professor will opt to use it now) and give free ones to those who purchased the 1st edition.  You can read their letter here.

Now, I don’t want to overstate the damage done here.  No one’s salvation is at stake.  There won’t be a generation of scholars who will screw up basic facts about Calvin, Luther and the rest of the reformers.  The 2nd edition will fix the errors and the world will move on.

But I have to wonder about the endorsers, particularly the two I quoted.  Was Packer right when he said the book is “the best of its kind currently available?”  Are the other options so awful that Evans’ book is, in fact, better?  I highly doubt it.  The better question is: did Packer read the book?  Or, perhaps, is Packer qualified to write an endorsement for a book on the Reformation?

Same goes for Timothy George.  He said this book is ‘well researched.’  Did George read the book?  Is he qualified to make such a claim about the book?

I’m being a bit sarcastic.  Both Packer and George are highly qualified scholars.  Their credentials speak for themselves.  They ought to be able to read a book on the reformation and determine its value for classroom use.  But the only real explanation for their high praise is probably the simplest: they didn’t read the book carefully.  Trueman can’t be that much better of a scholar to be able to see frequent errors while they are not.  If so, they aren’t the scholars we all think they are.

So what’s the point in trusting blurbs for a book?  If you can’t trust J I Packer and Timothy George, then who can you trust?  I’ve read too many books that received high praise, only to read the book and wonder if the endorsers actually read it.  But often times it’s a matter of opinion to a certain degree.   In this case, it’s plain and simple.  The book had so many errors it has to be pulled off the shelf.  This isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of getting basic facts correct.  IVP shouldn’t be the only ones apologizing here.

I’m not the first to note the uselessness (or at least, the limited usefulness) of book blurbs.  Nick Norelli makes the same point here.  Esteban Vazquez (the only blogger to blog less than me) nail it pretty well here.  Or even better, read this.

Anyway, to bring my rant to a close, it’s disappointing to have your suspicions confirmed: sometimes (oftentimes?) endorsers don’t read carefully the book they are endorsing.  The quicker we all realize this, the better off we’ll be.  But we’ll be even better off if endorsers stop doing it altogether.

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I’ve been around the internet for long enough, well before the days when “state-of-the-art” looked like this (flashing N, we hardly knew ye), so I’m not exactly surprised when I come across articles like Jennifer Wrist Knust’s latest opinion article, which dropped my jaw to levels previously reserved only for Dan Brown.  Says Knust about Biblical sexuality, “In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.”  Where to begin?

While I thoroughly disagree with Knust’s methods, evidence and conclusions in myriad ways, I don’t want to just flippantly dismiss her.  The reason is because she attempts to thoughtfully engage with an issue (viz. homosexuality):  she actually employs (fallacious) methods, offers (shoddy) evidence, and draws (misguided) conclusions.  Discussion can thence proceed.

Not so with many of the “comments” posted after her article, and frankly just about any other comment on a widely read post that deals with the Bible, or Christianity.  I’ll paraphrase a few that typify the genre:

“The Bible is a bunch of bunk anyway, with not a shred of evidence to prove it.”

“Christianity: One small voice away from murdering your entire family.”

“When will Christians get over the fact that Jesus is a myth?  Get out of the dark ages.”

“Why do I care about what a book written 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world says about anything?”

These “comments” ought to irk and embarrass everyone, no matter their world view.  It seems that no world view is free of people who give their world view a bad name.  Christians certainly have their fair share.  Their contributions are noise at best, and the internet, for good or ill, is an amplifier with a very low signal to noise ratio.

It’s easy to recognize the internet as an amplifier of previously existing conditions. For example, there has been bullying in school since school existed.  The internet did not give rise to bullying, it has amplified it, indeed creating the whole new category of “cyber-bullying.”  There was pornography addiction in the days when the words “personal computer” would have been an oxymoron.  The internet didn’t create lust, it has amplified it.  So, it should not surprise me (though it still does) to see naked assertions with inflammatory intent following an article.  Incendiaries are no new phenomenon.

There is no desire for interaction or real discussion among those who comment.  Exchanges between two or more of these people are most often sets of monologues, with no appreciable purpose other than to deride others, and promote oneself; to be heard, regardless of whether there is anything worth listening to.

For some, it seems that their online personality, thanks in large part to the internet’s precious anonymity, is their id: that unrestricted, raw feeling that they might think, but never say to anyone face to face.  This just intensifies issues that are already controversial, and highly flammable.  The result is greater polarization on issues and less tolerance for opposing viewpoints.

As a Christian, it is disheartening for me to read much of the religious discourse on the internet, especially in the blog-scape.  I come away with a (sinful?) feeling of hopelessness: Where to begin?  How in the world could I hope to reach people with Christ if this is indicative of their posture towards Him?  Despite God’s Word, which reminds me how capable He is of reaching the hardest of hearts (e.g., Paul), I can also take solace in the fact that if I were to turn off the amplifier in between the brazen comment and the commenter, more often than not I’d find a person just as broken and needy as anyone else in the world, one whose company I would probably enjoy, and certainly one who needs redemption just as much as I do.

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There’s a new surge to put “Christ back in Christmas” going around these days, headed up by James Dobson and Focus on the Family.  You can check them out at Stand for Christmas.  On this website you’ll see reviews and ratings of various retailers to help determine whether they are “Christmas Friendly,” “Christmas Negligent” or “Christmas Offensive.”  Have you ever walked into a store and hear “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and bristled with righteous indignation?  Now’s your chance to let them hear it… by posting a comment on a website no one outside of a relatively small number of evangelical/fundamentalists will take seriously.  Yeah, that’ll show ’em.

I’m not even sure where to begin with this one.  Maybe the site’s subtitle: “Now Customers Have a Voice.”  Hmm, I thought customer’s always had a voice: their wallet.  You know, if you don’t want to shop at a store, you don’t have to.  Wow, that capitalism sure is crazy.

Or maybe we should talk about how this group has fallen into, what I deem to be, a problem of our culture at large.  That is, everyone is just so easily offended.  Really, you are offended because the 18-year-old working at American Eagle for the discount said “Happy Holidays” to you as you checked out?  Yeah, I really hate that jerk, too.

Being offended is a proud heritage in our culture.  In fact, it’s even #101 on the list of Stuff White People Like.  Maybe my skin is too thick, but I just can’t get offended that easily.  Christians, though, and evangelicals in particular, have a bit of a persecution complex.  In some cases, it’s legit.  But I’m not sure how someone not using the term “Christmas” is truly an offensive thing to me.  I’d be much more offended if the kid at American Eagle said, “hey, you might want to but those pants one size bigger… I mean, you’re not getting any younger and studies show that you’re much more likely to expand than shrink at your age, especially with the holiday (oops, I mean “Christmas”) season coming up.”

After all, why should I expect a non-Christian business (we’ll set aside the issue, for the moment, of whether or not a business can be “Christian” anyway) to celebrate the birth of the Savior they don’t believe in?  Tell me, does it honor God for someone who doesn’t even acknowledge him in thought or deed to say the word “Christmas?”  We’re talking about the same God who rejected the sacrifices (which were commanded by him, unlike this holiday) of his people because they didn’t honor him with their lives.

Now, I think it’s ridiculous that retailers can be skittish about saying “Merry Christmas,” too, but for the same reason I think it’s ridiculous that the Stand for Christmas website even exists: it succumbs to the easily offended culture.  Retailers are afraid that someone will be offended if they say “Merry Christmas” when they actually celebrate Hanukkah.  In my experience, most people are not offended by such a thing.  Before I was married, I used to frequent Quiznos.  There was a girl working there who I talked to every now and then when I was eating there.  One winter I wished her a Merry Christmas, only to have her tell me she celebrated Hanukkah.  So, I wished her a Happy Hanukkah.  Simple as that.  No offense given, none taken.

Forgive me if I’m upset that there are a group of Christians out there who have decided to fight fire with fire, or “being offended” with “being offended.”  If the non-Christian world thinks they can be offended, well we can be too!  I can’t believe this masquerades as a strategy to battle “censorship.”

There has to be a better way to stand for Christmas.  How about this: when you walk into a retailer, strike up a conversation with the workers there.  Ask them about their holiday plans.  See what holiday they celebrate and ask them why.  Tell them why Christmas is special to you.  Tell them about how God became man in order that we might know God.  Tell them about why the manger scene is so important- that God wasn’t born in a beautiful palace to a king with a royal court celebrating, but in a manger with farm animals present.  Talk to them about the angels’ appearance to the shepherds.  Tell them about those who waited in eager expectation for the Messiah to be born.   It seems to be that this is a much better way to put Christ back in Christmas.

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It’s always interesting to see the reaction I get when I tell someone that I am a charismatic.  I’ve been getting weird looks since my undergrad days at a Baptist university.  Back then, it wasn’t so much that I was a charismatic, but that I, Danny Pierce, was a charismatic.  After all, I was a good exegete (or at least I had that reputation) and knew the Bible reasonably well (only to find out as the years have gone on that I didn’t know it very well at all).  I wasn’t overly exuberant; I never wore a “John Wimber is my Homeboy” t-shirt;  nor did I raise my hand in class to ask a question only to slip into an uninterpreted tongue.

I still get weird looks.  Even some people from my own church are confused by my labeling our church ‘charismatic’ (which, I should note, is not an official label given by our elders, but my reckoning of things).  I’ve had numerous people say to me, “wait, we’re charismatic?!?!?!”

There is a lot of confusion over this term.  Most of the people I talk to about the term ‘charismatic’ have all sorts of images pop into their brain.  Some see prominent televangelists bilking old ladies out of money and throwing Holy Ghost Hand Grenades into the first few rows of a healing crusade.  Others picture a rock concert trying to pass itself off as a worship service, complete with shouting, jumping and the ominous potential of a moshpit.  Still others see a group of people driven by emotional ecstasy and chasing after spiritual highs (or spiritual drunkenness, as some might say) without any care for the baggage that comes with those experiences.  And then there are those who see all of these things colliding for the perfect storm of charismania.

What drives me nuts is that this distracts from the biblical presentation of spiritual gifts, or the charismata (you know… the word we get ‘charismatic’ from).  The charismata exist to build the church.  They are gifts from God to be exercised in the life of the Christian and the church, primarily for the purpose of edifying and strengthening the body of Christ.  Most of the pictures that creep into our minds at the sound of that word are not what we ought to be focusing on.

So let’s clear the air:

  • The exercise of spiritual gifts does not have to be accompanied by showmanship, an event or even a prominently gifted person orchestrating a given meeting.  Spiritual gifts can be, and should be, exercised by any believer in any context.
  • The exercise of spiritual gifts is not tied to a particular worship style.  There is no reason to think that a church with electric guitars and a drummer who breaks 2 sticks in one set (coughbriancough) is any more ‘Spirit-filled’ than a church who sings hymns accompanied by a pipe organ (wait, the instruments can accompany the singing and not the other way around? Oops, sorry, tangent for another post).
  • Being charismatic does not require one to participate in any of the following activities: keeping Hillsong or Vineyard cued up on your iPod, being slain in the spirit (or badly wounded, for that matter), laughing uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably or just losing control in general.
  • Having a cool experience does not necessarily make one charismatic in the biblical sense.  It’s too easy to be deceived into thinking every good feeling is of God.
  • Being charismatic simply means that we seek and exercise the spiritual gifts (charismata).  No more, no less.  Everything else (for instance, upbeat worship) is gravy, and depending on how you like gravy it can be either good or bad.

So who’s to blame?  I’ll go ahead and place it squarely on us, the charismatics.  We have made secondary (if they’re ranked even that high) issues the most important ones.  We have convinced ourselves that the Holy Spirit moves in certain ways and amongst certain people.  We decried the box other traditions have placed God in, all the while keeping him nice and wrapped in a box of our own.  We have turned our preference for the way we like things to be into a law and called it the move of the Spirit.

Part of the danger, of course, is that by saddling all our junk on top of the term “charismatic,” as well as the eager pursuit of spiritual gifts, we have effectively ruined that pursuit for many others in the church.  True, each person is responsible for their own decisions, and I truly believe that everyone should pursue spiritual gifts regardless of what they think about us charismatics (see my post here).  But we, the charismatic portion of the church, are responsible for ourselves, too.  And if we see our role as building up the whole church, and not just the like-minded people sitting next to us on Sunday mornings, then we ought not to add more to the term than Paul himself does in 1 Corinthians.

‘Charismatic’ has, regretably, come to denote a style, not a theological understanding of how God continues to build the church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And as long as we think style is what defines us, we’ll fail to fulfill the goal of building the body of Christ.

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Facebook: You’re Dead to Me Now

Facebook has been on borrowed time since I subscribed.  Today, I deactivated my account, despite Facebook’s own “Are you sure?” page.  Said page displays pictures of a few friends with a caption under each that reads, “[name] will miss you.”  Indeed they might, but I have my doubts.  Why?

Here is my Facebook experience, sans exaggeration:

  1. I receive a friend request e-mail from Facebook.  The “friend” can range anywhere from a true friend with whom I have current, human-style contact, or an acquaintance whose name rings a dusty bell from the “early 90’s” section of my brain.
  2. If indeed I know (or have known) this person, I accept their request.
  3. If I haven’t been in touch with said person for a year or more, I view their profile, thus satisfying my curiosity as to “what they’re up to now.”  Here is Facebook’s big payoff: You get to go to your high school reunion without actually going to your high school reunion.
  4. Ten percent of the time, the reinstated friendship results in one or two quick, superficial exchanges of “how are you’s” or “remember when’s.”  After some brief well-wishing, a complete lack of contact follows which is rivaled only by the complete lack of contact that preceded our reunion.
  5. (Optional) A Facebook friend invites me to:  (a) join in a “cause” (usually of the “save the whales” variety).  Joining the cause consists of all of the sacrifice, accountability and personal reward one might experience when forwarding a chain e-mail (i.e., none),  (b) consider a discussion of life insurance or investment options with him/her (no kidding),  (c) become a “fan” of something (e.g., a band, brewery, or celebrity),  (d) play some type of cyber-game, such as entering into an e-snowball fight (whatever that is), or taking a personality test.
  6. Go to step 1.

I confess that the above is a little biting, and it would be wrong for me to assume that everybody has a similar experience.  There have been a few exceptions to the pattern above, but they are just that: few.  As such, I hope I don’t offend friends who truly value Facebook, or could recount stories of happy reunions that had staying power. I certainly wish no ill upon the individuals of my Facebook friend list, nor do I have any rebuke for them (aside from a “Dude…seriously?” for the insurance sales people). In my experience Facebook has been just another flavor of cyber-candy, and in the end I decided that I had enough non-nutrative sweets in my life already. While one prefers Facebook and video games, I’ll choose “The Simpsons” and Homestar Runner.

My own experience aside, the real point of this post is simply to introduce a provocative article I recently read about Facebook. Like most articles we recommend here at BBG, I wouldn’t say I agree with all of the author’s conclusions, but it’s a worthwhile read none the less.

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