Category Archives: Books & Media

Book Review — Living Life in the Zone


Living Life in the Zone: A 40 Day Spiritual Game Plan for Men

Kyle Rote Jr and Joe Pettigrew

Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009 (329 pp–$14.99)

Former soccer legend, Kyle Rote Jr, and “America’s Leadership Doctor,” Joe Pettigrew, have teamed up to map out a 40-day experience–supposedly themed after the Experiencing God 40-day journey. The days are broken down into 6 groupings:

1. A broad vision for biblical manhood

2. Husbanding

3. Fathering

4. Male friendship

5. Vocation

6. Future planning

Why 40 days? The authors answer: “Throughout the Bible, God uses forty days as a significant period of time in which to accomplish His purposes” (xix). They then cite several biblical examples to make their case: the flood, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Wilderness Wanderings, Elijah on Mt. Horeb, Jesus’ fast and subsequent temptation.

Each day follows the same format (which is helpful; you know what you’re going to get each day–a help for early morning devotions until the morning fog dissipates). The devotion begins with the purpose of the day (called the “Thought of the Day”). This is followed by “The Coach’s Corner,” which gives a 1-2 page overview of why the issue for the day is important to your life as a man. “The Game Plan” gives biblical passages that illuminate the issue (the verses are quoted at length rather than merely cited). The “Playmakers” section gives an example from sports to make the day’s point. The “Time Out” asks three practical questions that help pinpoint how the issue applies to the man’s life. “Today’s Assignment” gives an action point that the reader is supposed to accomplish for the day–i.e. “Ask your wife, or your children’s mother, what she is most concerned about in regard to the current needs for protection for the family. Consider calling and talking with your children today and making sure that each one knows how much you love them” (116).

I found the practical bent to the book immensely helpful. From a man’s perspective, religion can seem very ephemeral and not practical. This book helps put flesh on the various characteristics to being a godly man. One of the pressing problems in the church today is getting men involved. With the feminization of our culture and the attacks on what it means to be a man–the majority of men do not want to dress in pastels and skinny jeans. This book is a good attempt to bridge that gap.

It is the kind of book that you would want to give to a man who wants to be faithful in his Christian devotion but does not know where to begin. It is written with the peripheral attender of church in mind–not something you want to give someone who is already leading in the church. HOWEVER, it could prove to be an invaluable resource for these men to lead a men’s group. Six weeks of meeting with men and working through the devotions together and hitting high points could help to bring men into the fold. With the audience in mind, this book would need to be given with the assumption he will be reading it with other men. Reason being that most men on the periphery will not finish a 40-day game plan. They need accountability and peer example to want to continue.

The bridge could have better been constructed with a shorter volume–329 pages is imposing on someone who prefers SportsCenter and highlight reels. If the book is meant for a man to read on his own, I would recommend shortening the book to 20 days. This is more easily managed and attainable.

Further, the sports examples make the book appetizing to the spiritual couch potato. Men like Staubach, Hershiser, Bird, Belichick, and Wooden all translate the purpose for the day. I would recommend putting these examples at the beginning of each day to give a big vision of what is to be accomplished–the “Coach’s Corner” could be done away with (thus shortening the book).

While this book is commendable, I think what is needed is a robust understanding of how the Bible fits together. This devotion is a great starting place for getting men involved in spiritual matters. But entertainment cannot be the fiber of healthy Christian diet. As a follow-up to this devotion there needs to be a laying out of the biblical narrative so that men can get a better understanding of the Bible. I believe part of the anemia found in the church lies in the perceived ineptitude of many men when it comes to what the Bible teaches.

I recommend this book for men who love sports and do not read their Bibles. But please have them read it in a small group; followed by a biblically rich devotion or book.

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Abortion Has Got to Stop!

!!WARNING!! This video is explicit.

http://herestheblood.com/player-viral.swf

Does your stomach churn? Does your heart ache? Do something about it. Go to http://liveaction.org and http://abort73.com and get informed. I use to believe choice was more important than life. After seeing what that choice entailed, I began to realize that life is more important than convenience.

Do you want to help your friends see that life trumps choice? Bring the facts to the light. If they watch this video and go to the website, then they’ll be confronted with reality and scientific hypothesizing as to when a child *becomes* a human. A child always is a human.

Read this post which concludes:

In 2008, the latest year for which data are available, there were 89,469 abortions in New York City, while there were 127,680 live births. This means that 41 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion in New York, far beyond the national rate of about 23 percent. In the Bronx, a full 48 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. With rates as high as these, any medical risks associated with abortion could amount to a public-health crisis, as the disturbing rise in the rate of pre-term birth may already indicate. Policymakers should be discussing what can possibly be done to lower the rate of abortion in New York. . . .

When the head of the city’s legislative body and local subsidiaries of some of the most powerful organizations in the country attack fewer than 20 shoestring operations in New York City that offer free abortion alternatives, while nearly 90,000 women procure an abortion every year in the city, it is clear that it’s not about choice. It’s about abortion.

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The Art of Marriage

I am so excited about this project Family Life has been laboring toward for a couple years now. This is something that will bless the church tremendously and deepen couples’ walks with Christ in ways we can only dream of!

A wonderful snip on anger in marriage below:

http://mediasuite.multicastmedia.com/player.php?v=f33lpem8

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The Prodigal: An Animation

Another great animation by actionJones

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Gifts that Matter

For those of you who have not heard of Blood: Water Mission, this is a worthy ministry that seeks to provide clean blood and clean water to AIDS affected and impoverished areas in Africa.

You can support this ministry by purchasing t-shirts and water filters. Neat idea. Worthy cause.

Blood: Water Mission Store

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Lashed to the Mast

A friend of mine posted a lengthy quotation from Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. The following two paragraphs are a good reminder that we are weak and can, like Odysseus, be lured away by the sirens of people pleasing. We need God’s grace in seeing that we, yes even you, can fall as fast and hard as the latest tabloid headline. You are one stupid second away from utter ruin. We also need to resolve of brothers and sisters to hold us to the commitment we made when we first set out on the stormy sea. When your men are about to mutiny and the waves are about to consume you, will you be fixed on your Star of direction?

We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick with to it.  This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.  We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are.  We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours.  That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you.  We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you.  And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it.  It doesn’t matter.  Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.

“There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now.  Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you.  You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better.  With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.

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Where Are All the Good Man-sites?

I was talking with my wife yesterday about biblical manhood and woman. There are so many good sites for women to visit to learn about biblical womanhood (list below), but when it comes to living biblically as a man, you will have a hard time.

Theology sites abound. And, sure, there are posts sprinkled about that have topics on leading your family and such. But where can a man go that wants to learn about what it means to be a man? I found one site – and it was pretty pathetic and full of sarcasm. Sure, there are numerous books about how to be a warrior, a poet, a lumberjack, an Eastwood-wanna-be – but few books give me Bible and put me under its teaching. Fail.

I decided I want to begin writing a little more on this topic as a help to those men who want to consider and learn what it means to be a Christian man.

This is a need that needs to be filled. Why don’t we open up this new avenue for OffTheWire by having you put some sites you have found helpful for being a man, biblically. Maybe we can help get some resources together.

Biblical Womanhood Blogs (this is an open list, so if you have others to add, please put in Comments):

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The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism : A Book Summary

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The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority by G. K. Beale. Crossway: Wheaton, 2008. 300pp. $20.00.

Beale’s monograph is in fact a conglomerate of articles (with minor revisions) that had been previously published in response to Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.. Beale wrote the articles to respond to the moving tide of evangelical OT scholarship away from the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy toward a limited authoritative model (as displayed in Barth).

The strength of Beale’s book resides in his ability to distil Enns’ thesis and main presuppositions that lead him down the road he has taken. Particualrly, Enns’ takes the Incarnation of Christ as the main analogy for Scripture (27). It is, however, this very model that is not supported with tangible examples that makes Enns’ thesis remain ungrounded. As Beale says, “Enns never spells out in any detail the model of Jesus’ incarnation with which he is drawing analogies for his view of Scripture” (54). It is telling that within the biblical narrative, prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah were esteemed as communicating God’s very words with his covenant community – as distinct from words they inevitably spoke that were not enscripturated.

Unfortunately, the dialogue between Enns and Beale becomes divergent when it comes to the audience of Enns’ book. It appears that instead of interacting with Beale’s criticisms, Enns has opted to take offense that his book is written for a popular audience rather than a scholarly audience. This appears to be an effort to excuse his uncareful language – as charged with Beale’s arguments (64-65).

Beale helpfully has his assistant Mitch Kim summarize Enns’ arguments (so as to help ensure more balance than one who is involved in the debate). This evinces humility and gains the reader’s confidence that Beale is not picking fights about semantics.

The strength of Beale’s book lays in his positive apology for the Bible’s inerrancy as historically understood from Isaiah’s authorship (ch. 5) to ANE cosmology (chs. 6 and 7). At the end of the day, Beale makes it clear what is at stake: “If [the biblical authors] imbibed the pagan mythological assumptions about the cosmos, then their unique theology would have been mixed with mythological notions” (217). In this way, the exclusive, unique religion of YHWH would be nothing more than a revision of Ba’alism.

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The Drama of Doctrine: A Book Summary

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2005. 493pp. $39.95.

According to the author, “The present book sets forth a postconservative, canonical-linguistic theology and a directive theory of doctrine that roots theology more firmly in Scripture while preserving Lindbeck’s emphasis on practice”  (xiii).  On the whole, this work is a fascinating piece that helps theologian and layperson grasp the energetic nature of Scripture. Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic approach de-emphasized the autonomy of the exegete while heightening that of his enveloping culture – “the experience and the reasoning of the individual human subject is always already shaped by a tradition of language use” (10). By replacing “cultural” with “canonical,” Vanhoozer is able to say the same of Scripture – namely, it is the shaping subject for humanity. In this way, Vanhoozer reorients theology from theory to wisdom (13).

The author aptly shows how drama is a correcting foil for the theological endeavor. God is both the script(ure) writer and player in the drama. Humans are actors following a script. Theologians are the dramaturge for humanity.  Regarding the script, Vanhoozer makes it clear that this is a not a wooden mimic of the script. Rather, it is likened to a dinner theater, where the audience plays a part in the action and shaping as well. The actors are given roles, and they are so intended to enter into the ethic of the role that their actions and words will reflect the kind of person the playwright intended. Further, the Church acts out her parts in front of the surrounding culture and draws them into the drama that God intended them to live. Poignantly put, “Neither the pastor nor the magisterium should be allowed to become the sole voice or actor in the church. On the contrary, the whole people of God is responsible for participating in and continuing the action. Only an active rather than passive audience can turn deadly theater into ‘ a rehearsal of revolution.’ At its best, the church, as the theater of the gospel, is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (404; original emphasis).

Vanhoozer’s work should be read by all those who seek to bring doctrine and practice together. While this is not the only model by which we can organize Scripture’s teaching, the author has powerfully argued for it as a major contender. Unlike Michael Horton’s work regarding Divine Drama, Vanhoozer helpfully incorporates the surrounding culture in his model of theology. That is, rather than just saying that he will organize his theology around an analogy that follows the Bible’s own intrasystematic categories (when drama itself is not a category given in Scripture), Vanhoozer helps further theology’s enterprise of incorporating culture and Scripture together.

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Help My Denial!

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IN the latest Towers paper for Southern Seminary, Jeff Robinson asks Tripp about his anthropological view.

He asks: Why do Christians so often get the doctrine of man wrong? Don’t you think we often overestimate our own holiness and in so doing, we underestimate our need for God’s grace?

Tripp’s response: It is very hard for me to embrace that what I see in the mirror of the Word of God is actually me. I think that much of evangelicalism is people looking into the mirror and denying what they actually see. I think that’s a huge struggle.

I lived for years in my marriage as an angry man and I was deeply persuaded that the problem in my marriage was a wife who was discontent. The reality was that the Bible elaborately described what I was struggling with, but I couldn’t believe that it was me. I was so convinced that I was better than I actually was. . . . There is something dramatically wrong with me (emphasis added).

How true is it that when we are confronted by sin from our spouse, our first reaction is disbelief or blame shifting? We do not assume FIRST that we are in the wrong. If we had a healthy view of ourselves, we would start there and then look for external issues that would contribute to our attitudes and words.

This is what Augustine was primarily concerned with in his Confessions. He writes regarding his former life with the Manichees:

In Rome I did not part company with those would-be saints, who were such frauds both to themselves and to others. . . . I still thought that it was not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me.The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner. It was abominable wickedness to prefer to defeat your ends and lose my soul rather than submit to you and gain salvation.  [Confessions 5.10]

And so may we not be accused of committing abominable sins, but may we be quick to confess our sin and save our soul.

{Entire Tripp Interview in .pdf}

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Reclaiming the Center: A Book Summary

Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times

Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds.

In an effort to respond to post-conservative evangelicals that have challenged the presuppositions and foundations of popular evangelicalism, the conglomerate of authors have written to correct Grenz, et al. As Taylor writes in his introductory essay, the editors of the post-conservative movement are Roger Olson and Robert Webber, the pastor is Brian MacLaren, and the professor is Stanley Grenz. These men have emphasized narrative theology, while poo-pooing propositional doctrine. MacLaren describes what he seeks to do as the pastor as an emerging postmodernism that seeks middle-ground between Derridian Deconstructionism and Cartesian certainty.

What is telling in the essays is the desire to draw clear boundaries in methodology and application of doctrine so that there are contours of evangelical theology. In his review of Grenz’s Renewing the Center, Carson summarizes the movement’s greatest weakness that he is “utterly unable to detect any weakness in postmodern epistemology, and therefore all of his prescriptions for the future assume the essential rightness of postmodernism” (45). Carson highlights a strong disparity within the post-conservative vision by pointing out that if our problem in speaking of universals is due to our finitude, there is no hope for a universal redemption of body and mind since we will continue to be finite.

The post-conservative problems persist in their inability to articulate/define truth. As Wellum says, “their project leaves Christian theology apologetically defenseless, a self-contained linguistic system that is not able to demonstrate before a watching world why it is indeed true” (188). Brand’s essay helpfully moves in the direction of defining what the sometimes nebulous term “evangelical” means. It is particularly helpful to see that evangelicalism grew out of the revivalist tradition. Thus attributing to the diverse theological persuasions – Pentecostal, Methodist, etc. However, it would have been helpful to see how more Reformed strands began to be seen as evangelical if this is one of the criteria. Lastly, Millard Erickson’s essay on post-postmodernism has a helpful summary on what the post-conservative movement seeks to accomplish. He says, “Civility and irenicism are not identified with a particular position; they involve acting with respect and using language that is not perjorative or inflammatory” (348). Much of the rhetoric used by post-conservatives seems to draw a false dichotomy between foundationalism’s certainty (and arrogance) and post-conservative’s humility. Humility should be a characteristic of anyone who is called “Christian.”

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Beyond Foundationalism: A Book Summary

I was recently encouraged to post some book summaries I am writing for my Theological Methods seminar this semester. These are not summaries that would be up to the stellar quality found in a published magazine, but, I hope, are helpful nonetheless. Here is the first installment.

Beyond Foundationalism – Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke

It is evident from the title of the first chapter that the author’s want to take the Scripture and apply it to our contemporary context (“Beyond Fragmentation: Theology and the Contemporary Setting”) in a way that explains the diversity found in the varied schools of thought. The other danger they seek to avoid is foundationalism that was berthed from modernity. It is clear (and true) that there are many shades of postmodernism (eight according to Vanhoozer as cited on p.22) so that aspects of it can be affirmed by Christians, while several presuppositions must be denied. However, Grenz and Franke believe that the movement should be embraced more than modern evangelicalism want to.

Particularly, what the authors want to espouse is that all language and talk about God is conditioned and bound by culture. So that they say, “A nonfoundationalist theological method leads to the conclusion that ultimately all theology – as the ‘postmodern codition’ suggests – ‘local’ or ‘specific’” (25). The question is raised, then, do even orthodox beliefs (as enumerated in the Nicene Creed) become bound so that they cannot communicate true things about God? In other words, do statements that affirm the Trinity or Jesus’ divinity or the Spirit’s personhood have no reference in trans-cultural situations.

It is questionable what Grenz and Franke actually believe to be foundationalism – in the pejorative sense. Modern (not “modernist”) theologians are hardly classic foundationalists. If they were, it would appear that much of the authors’ criticisms would be well-founded. However, they indict Grudem for having a foundationalist definition of systematic theology when he says that it is “the attempt to determine what the whole Bible teaches about any given topic” (37). How can this be foundationalism in the technical sense (cf. 51)? Of all the talk regarding language games and enculturation, what kind of definition of systematic theology might the authors put forth? They, unfortunately, opt for a coherentist approach to theology, which leaves the very problem unanswered that systematic theology seeks to answer – the relevance for the surrounding culture!

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Increase Your Reading by 300%

I just set aside about 15 minutes and worked through this article. By base words per minutes was 315. When I finished 15 minutes later it is now at 795 wpm. If you have a ton of reading you have to do, I suggest investing the time and going after this.

Of particular note is what Ferriss says at the end:

If used for study, it is recommended that you not read 3 assignments in the time it would take you to read one, but rather, read the assignment 3 times for exposure and recall improvement, depending on relevancy to testing.

Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster

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Engaging Contemporary Culture

Series of four lectures by Jerram Barrs:

1)Friday Night Session I: Cooperating with God’s Testimony in the Lives of Unbelievers

2) Echoes of Eden in Literature, Legend and Myth

3) The Evangelism of Jesus: Parables for a Mixed Gathering

4) Acts 17: Paul and the Athenians

[HT: Living in Skin]

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Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

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