Cotton Candy or Wine? A Review of Water to Wine

By on Jan 28, 2016

Every year the same book comes out. It tells us to be radical, to get serious about Christianity, to be followers and not fans. It is usually written by a famous evangelical pastor. It usually sells well.   There was a time when I devoured these books. I couldn’t get enough of them. I still think there is some kernel of truth in these books, but I’ve come to realize that I could not get enough of them because they were cotton-candy. They hit the tongue and make grand promises but evaporate before you even have time to chew. So you take bite after bite, book after book, hoping the next bite will finally satisfy, will finally change things. But it won’t. Long term, it produces indigestion.   So if you’re tired of cotton-candy indigestion, tired of sporadic spasms of passion that perpetually and predictably flame out, heed the invitation:   “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come...

Is Faith Bad for Art? A U2 Case Study

By on Jan 5, 2016

Last year, The New Yorker featured an interesting piece on U2 called “The Church of U2.” It came on the heels of their new album (Songs of Innocence) and is a must read for any fan. It examines U2’s deep but conflicted relationship with Christian faith, suggesting it’s the prime source of their artistic genius.   The article gets particularly interesting toward the end as the writer begins to not so subtly make the case that the quality of U2’s music began to dip when the band matured in their faith:   “U2’s best songs were written during these years—roughly from 1986, when they began recording “The Joshua Tree,” to 1997, the year “Pop” (which is actually very good) was released. But there was a problem: the songs depended for their power on the dramatization of Bono’s ambivalence about God…   U2 have continued to write songs of doubt (“Wake Up Dead Man,” off...

Romans 13, N.T. Wright, and a Christian Response to Paris

By on Nov 23, 2015

  A clip is circulating of Robert Jeffress, pastor of FBC Dallas, using Romans 13 to argue that the Christian response to the Paris attacks is “borders and bombs” (see it here). I had a few people ask me about it and it got me curious about Romans 13, so I went back to my trusty New Interpreter’s Bible to see what the trusty N.T. Wright has to say about it. Below is a summary of Wright’s commentary, with a few reflections on them and Jeffress’ comments in light of them.   Wright argues that, despite some understandable arguments to the contrary, Romans 13 is in fact a general statement about ruling authorities. In essence, in this time between the times where God’s new world is on its way but not quite here, government is something God has put in place to preserve some measure of justice and order and to prevent the world from falling into complete anarchy and...

Monergism: Maybe True, Definitely Unnecessary

By on Oct 3, 2015

Monergism (“one work”) is the belief that God works alone in salvation. It’s usually set against synergism, which is the belief that while God alone does everything in working for our salvation, humans must cooperate with grace in some form or fashion (the cooperation itself, of course, possible only because of grace).   Monergism is an integral part of Reformed soteriology, because without it Reformed folks feel humans could boast in their salvation and steal God’s glory—two unpardonable sins. As James Montgomery Boice has said it, those who reject monergism cannot give God alone the glory: “They cannot say ‘to God alone be the glory,’ because they insist on mixing human power or ability with the response to gospel grace.”[1] One gets the sense that for many, monergism is not only true but also necessarily true.   I’ve discussed monergism in other places (in my book in...

Skeptics Welcome 2: Job Saved My Life

By on Aug 10, 2015

The book of Job saved my life. I’m only half-joking.   As I mentioned previously, I was in college and the bigness of the world came crashing in on me, and through a series of events I still can’t completely explain, my faith just got up and slowly walked out on me. It was as if a fog of doubt and confusion came creeping over me, suffocating my faith little by little. And I went months without going to church, months without uttering a single prayer, months without reading a single word from the Bible…except for Job.   We meet Job in chapter 1 and basically learn that he’s a great guy who’s doing everything right and everything is wonderful in his world. But that all changes when Satan burns Job’s world to the ground. This is Job 1-2. Satan destroys everything Job holds dear—his family, his health, his wealth—and Job response is remarkable and yet, curious. You’ve heard...

Skeptics Welcome 1: The Times They are a Changin’

By on Aug 3, 2015

For thousands of years we assumed that Earth was the center of the universe. That the sun and moon and stars and whatever else there was out there revolved around the Earth. And that the earth itself was stable and unmoving—completely at rest. After all, it certainly seems that way when you step outside and stare out into the universe.   But now we know that none of this is true. Now we know that well, we’re tiny little ants, who live in a tiny little corner of this huge planet…which is spinning around its axis at a thousand mph…while orbiting the sun at the center of our solar system at 66,000 mph…a solar system which is itself flying around our galaxy at 450,000 mph…which is itself hurling through the universe at a couple million mph! Do you ever trip and fall and don’t know why?   That’s why.   We thought we were the kings of the cosmos, but we’ve discovered we’re...

In Defense of Worship as a Concert

By on Jul 2, 2015

“Worship should not be a concert.” It’s a common sentiment in many of the circles I run in, and in many ways I couldn’t agree more. The loud music, the blinding lights, the seamless transitions, and, God help us, the smoke machines. It can be a bit ridiculous, and not just as a matter of good taste, but as a matter of good theology. It feeds the ideology of the market and the religion of the consumer. It can condition people to be observers of a show instead of participants in worship of the triune God. None of this is good. Many churches that were once on the cutting edge of modern church worship have realized this and are moving back toward more measured and intentionally liturgical expressions of worship. And to all of this I say, Amen! However…I would like to speak a few words in defense of worship as a concert. A few days ago I went to see U2 in...

Nepal and the Eyes of Easter

By on May 6, 2015

A month ago I was in Nepal. Here is something I wrote the day of the earthquake. ————————————————————————————————— “Another earthquake will probably happen soon.”   I didn’t think too much about it when he said it to me. I was exhausted after a hike to Shivapuri—a beautiful peak in the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley—and could barely keep my eyes open on the bumpy journey back into town.   I was fond of our guide. He was quiet but friendly and we chatted for a good portion of our 15-mile hike. It started when I asked if he’d ever seen a tiger in the wild. He had. I barraged him with questions about Nepali wildlife and the Himalayas for the next few hours.   Kathmandu is...