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Reviews

Review: The End of White Christian America

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones is a difficult book to summarize briefly. It’s essentially a history book and it has a ton of research data.

I’m not much for formal reviews anymore. I did that during seminary, and I’m glad those days are over. But here are a few thoughts.

This book is from 2016, and it was released before President Trump was elected. It’s a book about, well, white Christians in America. What is “White Christian America”? The author uses the term to describe the domain (think realm or even kingdom) of white Protestants in America, anchored by mainline Protestants in the Northeast, and evangelical Protestants (particularly Southern Baptists as the book unfolds) in the Midwest and South. The author argues that WCA is dying—it doesn’t quite have the cultural or political clout it used to.

It seems that the the author equates white Christians with extreme right-wing Republican politics. (I realize that for statistical and historical analysis, a book about moderate Christians who aren’t quotable and stay out of partisan politics is pretty boring.) I could sum up the book by saying it’s about the death of that group of people who believe their “Christian” faith and (ultra-conservative) politics are so closely bound together that you nearly can’t tell a difference between them.

The book points out that WCA is out of touch with the changing cultural landscape (hence why it is dying). It shows the disheartening reality that Christians, particularly evangelicals, have hurt race relations in our country more than helped. It shows that Christians have often been tone deaf, and even more worried about being right and having power, than being servants. For these and other reasons, WCA is dying. (Keep in mind, of course, that Trump was elected shortly after this book was released, which seems to contradict the entire premise of the book.)

Now, to be honest, there were times when reading, that I said to myself, “I really don’t want to be associated with ‘evangelicals’” (as far as that word is understood in this country). There were moments I cringed reading about what’s been said or done by “evangelical Christians.” And it made me want to be anything but evangelical. (Full disclosure: I don’t use that label for myself because of the political connotations).

On the other hand, the author seems to assume that to move forward positively in this country, Christians (particularly white ones and particularly Southern Baptists) must embrace political views that Christians across time and culture have never embraced. I’m being intentionally vague on the details, but I’m sure you could take a good guess at some of the things the author refers to.

At the end of the day, reading this kind of book makes me long for a new generation of disciples of Jesus—the whole Jesus. It makes me long for Jesus-people who are neither Red nor Blue; do not cave into cultural values, norms, or fads; have a robust understanding of the gospel; are passionate about true justice for the non/underprivileged; have a vision and simple, reproducible methods for disciple-making; and walk by the Spirit of Jesus so that their light so shines before others that people ask them, “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

Master Jesus, you can do it. Please, do it.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).

Categories
Theology

Jesus Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the work of interpreting what a text says. A biblical text is a communication of God that has three main components: the communicator (speaker), what is communicated (message), and who it is communicated to (hearer).

In order to interpret Scripture properly, it must be interpreted through the gospel, namely, the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Graeme Goldsworthy writes why this is true in his book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (p.69):

  • Jesus Christ, the God/Man, is the eternally communicating God, the creator of all speech and understanding.
  • He is God, the author of special revelation (i.e. the Bible).
  • As the incarnate Word of God, he is the ultimate divine message and sums up the meaning of all revelation both natural and special.
  • As a perfect human being, he is the compliant listener who receives the address of God to man with perfect interpretation, understanding, and acceptance.
  • Jesus’ relationship to the Father includes his making the only sinless human response to the word of God to man.

Ultimately, Jesus is the divine speaker, the message communicated, and the only one who was faithful to hear and be obedient.

Categories
Life Theology

Lunchtime Thoughts on Sunday

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” (Al Gore)

  • I love this note from Desiring God about not making Piper a substitute for your own church: “While we encourage you to join us for the sermon, we encourage you even more to give primary attention to the preaching in your local church. In other words, we do not intend for John Piper’s sermon to replace the preaching of the Word from your pastor in your local church.”
  • I listened to the Rob Bell sermon I mentioned a couple days ago entitled “Love Wins.”  It has nothing to do with universalism or hell. Honestly, it’s a poor sermon on the effects and implications of the cross.
  • Greg Boyd blogs on Bell’s book Love Wins and says it’s not a defense of Universalism.  I don’t trust Boyd with a lot of theology (he’s an open theist), but that’s besides the point. In this post, he writes, “Rob is first and foremost a poet/artist/dramatist who has a fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought. Rob is far more comfortable (and far better at) questioning established beliefs and creatively hinting atpossible answers than he is at constructing a logically rigorous case defending a definitive conclusion.” I have one thing to say to that: if this is the case, he shouldn’t be shepherding any kind of congregation that represents the name of Jesus Christ.
  • It’s good to hear that Boyd says the book doesn’t espouse Universalism.  But the problem guys like Taylor, Piper, and DeYoung (and I) have is not what Bell’s book is going to say, it’s what is promo material has already said.  I will read Bell’s book, but consider again this quip from the publisher:  “Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now.” Whatever Bell says cannot undo this statement.
  • College basketball’s conference tournaments start on Thursday, concluding with the Big Dance selection show on Sunday. If I were a betting man, my four #1 seeds would be: Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, and Pittsburgh.  Kansas will be #1 overall. My Huskers will probably go one-and-done in Kansas City. How do I know? There is nothing new under the sun.
  • Charlie Sheen has been on Twitter for about a week.  He has almost two million followers. I am not one of them. Each day, Sheen is quickly becoming more like his character Ricky Vaughn in Major League.
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Reviews

The Book of Eli

This weekend Carly and I went to see The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington. Eli is filled with bloody fight scenes, engaging cinematography, and intense mystery.  I won’t tell you too much; I don’t want to be a spoiler.  But here’s a quick premise.

In post-apocalyptic, wasteland America,  Washington plays Eli, a sunglass-wearing, nomadic warrior who has a good heart but isn’t afraid to finish a fight. He’s been walking across the country for the past 30 years, since the ‘last war.’  The war caused a rip in the ozone layer, bringing about a bright flash from the sun which incinerated most of the world. There are no more amenities or grocery stores or booming metropolises. Clean water is hard to find and bartering everyday items is the new currency.

Eli travels with nothing more than a backpack, a water canteen, a machete, a sawed-off shot gun, and a thick leather-bound Bible.  Gary Oldman co-stars as Carnegie, a power hungry man who covets Eli’s book, the only one that survived the “flash”.  Washington is on a mission to find the place where it will be read, respected, and treasured.

What I want to comment on is the role the Bible plays in this film.  I don’t know what the directors mean to do, but the Bible is the central focus — more so than Washington’s character, in my opinion.  How gutsy of the directors to make a movie where the Bible is the only book wanted and needed in America!  This movie made me want to read my Bible more and know it better.  It won’t take long the viewer long to find out that most of the people Eli’s age died in the war or passed soon thereafter.  Since the Bible he owns is the only one left, most of these young people have never heard of God or learned how to pray.  Imagine a world where no one knows John 3:16.  Imagine a world where no one takes the Lord’s name in vain because they haven’t even heard his name.  This is Eli’s world.  Everyone is in survival mode, and murdering for a cup of water or a battery is all in a day’s business.  Society has fallen apart.  Chaos has taken over, and there will be no restoration until God’s word has been spread.  What a concept.

Carnegie wants Eli’s Book, not for spiritual growth, but to control the people of the towns he is rebuilding across the country.  His plan is to use it for selfish gain and prosperity.  Viewing the movie through theological lenses, Carnegie plays the role of a greedy prosperity pastor.  Just like Carnegie, pastors who espouse the prosperity gospel peddle God’s word for selfish gain.  They don’t want the Bible to be read, respected, and treasured in order to taste and see the glory of Jesus Christ.  They want to use and manipulate the Bible for their sinful desires.

Whether it’s money or power or possessions or fame, the desire for anything other than Jesus will only lead to destructionThe Book of Eli beautifully paints this reality.  Whether the directors meant to or not.

Categories
Life Theology

Guest Post – Jordan: “The Prodigal God”

Hi, my name is Jordan and I’m a guest blogger while James is gone.  I’m on facebook and am always up for having more friends, so if you want to have private conversations with me then facebook would be the best medium for me.

I’m going to try and post more and to write a better, but to start I thought I’d just share a book that a group of friends and I read through and discussed.

The book is The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.  It’s a good read and great for conversations in a small group.  I’ll just give the basic jist to see if anyone can relate. 

Jesus tells a parable to a mixed group of people of ‘sinners’, tax collectors, Pharisees, and Scribes.  We find this parable recorded in the book of Luke, chapter 15, verses 11-32.  Keller renames this parable as “The Parable of the Two Lost Sons” because that’s how Jesus starts the story out, “there was a man who had two sons”.  So here we are looking at this story with the well known sinner brother who basically robs his father and could have been put to death for what he did, he goes off and spends it all on parties and prostitutes.  But the elder brother stays to work hard like he always has.  Little bro comes back and big bro is angry that his father is throwing him a party… So we’ve got two basic kinds of people listening: Those who are Licentious and those who are Moralists.  We’ve got two brothers: the licentious  one and the moralist.  Both brother need the Savior and one is repenting.  The book serves a few different purposes, one to teach what Jesus was saying, one to figure out which brother you are more like, and one to challenge you to be like Jesus.   Are you an elder brother or a younger brother?

Jordan