What I’m reading…

A couple of years ago, I was encouraged by a friend’s reading list to keep track of my year’s reading.  I’ve made it a quasi-goal to read 30 books a year.  Here’s my list from 2013.  What are you reading? (Sorry for the formatting – I don’t want to take the time to re-format the list.)

DeYoung, Kevin The Hole in our Holiness
Cary, Phillip The Good News for Anxious Christians
Keller, Tim Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything
Bruins, Elton and Robert Swierenga Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century
Sider, Ron Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
Sider, Ron Just Politics
Witherington, Ben A Week in the Life of Corinth
Mouw, Richard He Shines in all that’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace
Wood, Gordon S. Revolutionary Characters: What Make the Founders Different
Longenecker, Bruce W. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World
Dykstra, Craig Growing in the Life of Faith
Laistner, M.L.W Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit (3x)
Carpenter, Humphrey Tolkien: A Biography
Noll, Mark One Nation Under God? Christian Faith and Political Action in America
Muller, Treion Dad Rules: A Simple Manual for a Complex Job
Barnes, Craig Sacred Thirst: Meeting God in the Desert of Our Longings
Maxwell, John C. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch,and the Wardrobe
Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew
Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian
Badley, K. and Van Brummelen,H. Metaphors we teach by: How metaphors shape what we do in classrooms
Clines, David J.A. The Bible and the Modern World
Leder, Arie Waiting for the Land: The Story Line of the Pentateuch
Pearce, Joseph Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of the Hobbit
Olsen, Corey Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
DeJong, Alexander and Martin Root Dying for a Drink: A Pastor and a Physician Talk about Alcoholism
Hendrix, Harville Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
King, Stephen On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

When Kids Hurt

I recently talked with a 40-something year old man who was considering going into high school teaching.  The one thing, however, that was holding him back was fear.  He said a room full of teenagers was a scary thing.  That sentiment is shared by a lot of adults; they view teenagers as a different breed, part of an entirely different culture and world.  That’s why Chap Clark’s book When Kids Hurt is so important.  This book is a follow-up on his more in depth book Hurt and more recently Hurt 2.0.

Beneath this entire book is the concept that today’s adolescents live in a different world and experience adolescence differently than previous generations ever have.  Added to that, Clark argues (based on his extended research) that the biggest problem facing today’s adolescence is “abandonment” by adults.  “To become adults,” writes Clark, “adolescents need adults, but when adults are not present and involved in their lives, they are forced to figure out how to survive life on their own” (34).

Over and over again, Clark states that adolescents need adults to invest in their lives – to show up, to be present.  It doesn’t mean that adults need to be BFFs, but it does mean that adults need to communicate to teens, with words and actions, that “they matter.”

You can find more information at

The Next Christians … are “old” Christians

This summer I read (actually listened to) Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians.  The book is a follow-up to his book, unChristian.  It serves as a helpful survey of the various movements within American Christianity today. Essentially he states that there are three major “camps” of American Christianity: the Isolators, the Assimilators, and the Restorers.

According to Lyons, the Isolators have tried to isolate themselves from “secular” culture by creating a Christian sub-culture which is often a weak imitation of the surrounding culture.  They produce Christian movies and music; they attend Christian “Halloween” parties; they attend Christian schools in hopes of keeping safe from the surrounding culture.

The Assimilators take a very different approach.  They don’t want to remove themselves from culture; instead, they want to fit into the surrounding culture.  They want to go unnoticed.  They are generally embarrassed by their Isolator counterparts.

In contrast to both the Isolators and the Assimilators are (according to Lyons) the Restorers.  Unlike the Isolators, they want to be engaged in culture; unlike the Assimilators, they recognize that Christ called them to be counter-cultural.  Therefore, “Restorative” Christians seek to live counter-culturally within the culture in order to restore culture to its God-ordained purposes. These are what Lyons calls the “Next” Christians: Christians committed – because of their faith – to work towards the common good of their city and community.

Listening to this book and the hopeful movements of these “Next” Christians reminded me that the Next Christians are (thankfully) quite “old” Christians.  The idea of Christians being committed to the common good of society is actually an ancient ideal.  The idea runs through the Scriptures, through Augustine, through Calvin, and through Abraham Kuyper.

These Christians – and so many more! – recognized that God’s first “mandate” or “blessing” upon humanity was to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  These Christians understood and took seriously that ALL the nations would be blessed through Abraham and his descendants.  These Christians understood that the Israelites, while they were in exile, were called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.”  These Christians understood that when Jesus told the disciples that they were to be the salt and the light of the world, this meant that they were to be a flavor-adding and illuminating blessing to the world.  These Christians understood that God’s story of redemption, which they were called to join in as ambassadors, began in a garden and will end in a city.

Lyons’ book is a hopeful book about the future of Christianity because it suggests America’s “Next” Christians are returning to the “old” Christian wisdom that as heavenly citizens we ought to seek to live faithfully as earthly citizens.


Pedagogical Posture

How’s your posture?  This seems to be one of those perennial points of contention between parent and child.  Parents, it seems, love to pester their children with having correct posture: Sit up. Stand up straight.  Don’t scuff your feet.  Look me in the eye. Etc…

One’s posture, it is assumed, communicates a great deal about who one is and the attitude towards life that one has.  As a teacher who regularly stands in front of a classroom of “postured” students, I’m pretty sure this is true.  A student’s posture communicates a lot: Why on earth am I here?  Why on earth are you still droning on about this?  I really hope that girl sees me right now?  Why is she not looking at me?  I hope the teacher calls me!  I hope the teacher never calls on me in my life!  Check out this link from the NY Times on the “Hidden Meaning of Hand-Raising” to prove my point.

But if students’ posture speaks volumes, what about the teacher’s?  What does it communicate to the students when a teacher lectures with his arms crossed?  How about when a teacher sits?  What does it communicate when the teacher remains behind a lectern for the duration of the class?  What would it communicate if the teacher taught from behind the class?

I’m reflecting upon this because I recently went to hear James K.A. Smith and David Smith talk about their new book, Teaching and Christian Practices.  They talked about the need to have an embodied pedagogy.  Too often we envision education as simply an information dump: the teacher (the one with knowledge) opens the tabula rasa of the child’s mind and dumps in the data.  Instead, they suggest – rightly – that teaching should pay attention to our whole selves – minds as well as bodies.  Part of that embodied teaching is the teacher’s physical posture.

Just as the students’ posture communicates a great deal to the teacher, so the teacher’s physical posture communicates a great deal to the student.  What is my posture communicating?


Hygiene and teaching

Let’s talk about hygiene.  Not the awkward middle school conversation about the importance of showering, brushing teeth, and wearing deodorant – although that is a really important conversation, too!

No.  Let’s talk about hygienic teaching – the type of teaching that Paul encourages his student Timothy to pursue in 1 Timothy.  Paul instructs Timothy:

Teach and urge these duties. 3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.   1 Ti 6:2–4 (NRSV).

Paul tells Timothy to teach “sound words.”  The Greek for “sound” here is the same word from which we get hygiene.  Timothy, teach “healthy” words.  At first glance, it might seem like an odd thing to say – how can words be healthy or unhealthy?  Yet clearly in Paul’s mind, words or teachings can be healthy or ill.  Unhealthy words give birth to division; healthy words give birth to godliness.

Eugene Peterson reflects on these words from Paul in a chapter called “Timothy: Taking Over in Ephesus” in a book co-written with Marva Dawn: The Unnecessary Pastor.  This is what he says about healthy words:

…Timothy is given a mandate to teach in a way that brings health to people.  Words in Ephesus have gotten sick; the ‘godless chatter’ in Ephesus is infecting  the souls of people with disease.  It is important not to see Timothy as a defender of orthodoxy, as someone who argues for the truth of the gospel.  He is a teacher responsible for speaking in such a way that people get healthy again.

And later he writes,

Words are important.  Words and living are the heads and tails of the same coin.  When words are wrong – diseased – they cause illness; they infect the soul.  Sound, healthy words equal godly living.

As a teacher, these are important words to hear.  Matter of fact, they are important words for anyone who instructs, guides, preaches, or parents.  Or anyone else who might use words from time to time.

Are my words healthy?  Do they lead to wellness?  Do they lead to godliness?  Or do they lead to division, envy, malicious talk, strife, and constant friction?

Hopefully my teaching and my words in general will be healthy words so that you won’t have to pull me aside and have that awkward pre-teen conversation about good hygiene.

Hopeful conversations about the future of the church

Good conversations that stir the heart and tease the imagination.  That’s what Rachael and I got to have tonight along with a group of other students from Calvin Theological Seminary.  Thanks to Ryan and Rebekah Wallace and the newly formed Church Planting Club, a group of about 30 students and spouses gathered to hear from newly appointed seminary president Jul Medenblik as we shared food and drink together.  He told stories from his own ministry; stories of the gospel’s transforming and often surprising power in people’s lives.

The Christian Reformed Church has not always been known for its innovative missional church planting, but perhaps the fresh breeze of the Spirit is beginning to move.  If so, it is pretty exciting to be a part of the conversations.

Thoughts on the incarnation

Who says that Calvin couldn’t be poetic?

… it was also imperative that he who was to become our Redeemer be true God and true man.  It was his task to swallow up death.  Who but the Life could do this?  It was his task to conquer sin.  Who but very Righteousness could do this?  It was his task to rout the powers of world and air.  Who but a power higher than world and air could do this?  Now where does life or righteousness, or lordship and authority of heaven lie but with God alone?  Therefore our most merciful God, when he willed that we be redeemed, made himself our Redeemer in the person of his only-begotten Son.  (John Calvin, Institutes, 2.12.2)

Sphere Sovereignty…it’s not (just) about geometry

I never really liked math, but of all the subject areas of mathematics I guess I disliked geometry the least.  If nothing else, geometry gave me permission to doodle in class and call it “note-taking.” Needless to say, I am no expert on geometry or on another aspect of mathematics.

Thankfully, then, “sphere sovereignty” has (virtually) nothing to do with the sphere’s dominance over other geometric shapes such as hexagons or equilateral triangles.

Richard Mouw, in his recent book Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction, reflects on some of Abraham Kuyper’s key contributions to Christian theology and cultural engagement.  One of the most helpful concepts in terms of understanding Christianity’s interaction with culture is what Kuyper called “sphere sovereignty.”

The basic questions that Kuyper was seeking to answer is: “Who is in control over [insert any area (sphere) of life: family, church, politics, art, entertainment, education, etc.] and how does that person or thing exercise that control?

Mouw, in summarizing Kuyper’s thinking, identifies two traditional ways of answering that question.  The first is what Mouw calls a “church-controlled” answer.  The second is a “secularist” answer.  The church-controlled option says that God is in control of all areas (spheres) of life, but he exercises that control through the power of the church.  Thus all areas of life are governed or directed by the church.

The secularist objects, however.  The secularists asserts that God – if there is a God – may have his control over the church, but the other spheres of life (arts, politics, entertainment) are free from his control – and the churches!

In typical Mouwian style, he notes that both the church-controlled and the secularist answers got something right and got something wrong.  Mouw writes:

For Kuyper, each of these two models embodied both a positive insight and a fundamental error.  The medieval perspective [the church-controlled view] rightly saw that God’s rule must be acknowledged over all spheres of human activity.  Its mistake was investing the church with the power to mediate that rule. … The secularist perspective rightly wants to liberate these spheres from the church’s control.  Where it goes wrong is in its insistence that to do so is also to take them out from under the rule of God. (40-41)

The church-controlled approach is right in insisting that God is in control over all of life; the secularist is right in insisting that the church is not the right overseer of that control. A better way, suggests Kuyper, is that God directly exercise his authority over each sphere. “Every square inch” of the world – politics and sports, art and science, church and yes, even geometry – lives “coram deo, before the face of God.”

Using an illustration (as close to geometry as I get these days!), sphere sovereignty looks something like this:

Christ is Lord over all of creation and yet there is a “separation of powers.”  The church is to submit herself to the Lordship of Christ in a way appropriate to its sphere.  Likewise, an economist is to submit herself to the Lordship of Christ and do economics coram deo – before the face of God.  Yes, even a protester among the throngs of the Occupy Wall Street movement is to protest coram deo.

Kuyper’s doctrine of “sphere sovereignty” is a true gift to the church.  However, as Mouw notes, there are still some unanswered questions.  What happens when families fall apart?  Is it appropriate for another “sphere” to step in?  If so, which one?  What role, if any, does the church have of being a prophetic voice to those in politics to enact just laws or to economists to seek fairness and equity?  These are tough questions, but Kuyper gives us a helpful starting point to keep thinking about these issues.