Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Shack

When we lived in South Australia, well-heeled folk used to talk about their holiday house as The Shack. I am guessing that these places were considerably more luxurious than anything we have ever lived in. It took a while before we realised that these shacks were nothing like Old Jack's shack that really was a shack. [Old Jack was a man who hobbled up and down Floraville Road, Belmont with a wheelbarrow. He was sort of the Lake Macquarie version of Old Steptoe, though he was a lot quieter.]

But I'm talking about that notorious novel that seems to have Christians divided about whether it is worth reading. I should point out that I have not yet read The Shack. I'm not even sure if I will. But I certainly find the reviews interesting!

Katherine Jeffrey's article, I am not who you think I am, queries Eugene Peterson's enthusiastic comparison of it with Pilgrim's Progress. And Tim Keller's blog tells us that
the book is a noble effort -- to help modern people understand why God allows suffering.

However, [says Keller] sprinkled throughout the book, Young's story undermines a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Many have gotten involved in debates about Young's theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.

In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God's statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn't give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship.

The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus' closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John 'fell at his feet as dead.' (Rev.1:17.) The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.

Wouldn't it be great if people would read the Word of God as eagerly as they have lapped up Young's story?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An IDEA whose time has come

From Kevin DeYoung:
When you come to a passage there are four things you can do: illustrate, defend, explain, apply. I rearranged the order from seminary class so the four points make a convenient acronym: IDEA. Most young preachers, and probably most preachers in general, gravitate toward "explain." We do best at studying the text and communicating what we learned to others. If the passage is especially obscure or controversial, it makes sense to land heavy on the E. But sometimes the passage is relatively simple. In this case, don't spin your wheels on endless word studies that basically repeat with synonyms what everyone can see immediately in the text.

"Illustrate" and "apply" are the hardest to do well. It requires a different part of your brain. You need to think creatively. You need to imagine what your people are or might be going through. You need to avoid the temptation to offer quick sermony points of application like "Don't let money be your idol" or "Some of you need to trust God with your time." Probe deeper. Use one good, personal illustration or one concrete point of application rather than firing application-buckshot with little imagination.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tribute to Herb Alpert

This is an interesting article about Herb Alpert, though his name is messpelled as AlBert several times in the course of the article.

We had a Tijuana Brass LP back in about 1974 and loved it. Our baby boy used to love singing along to it.

Here a few snippets:
It’s tough to imagine a bigger name in the music world than trumpet player Herb Alpert. He’s won eight Grammys. He’s cut 14 albums that went platinum, 15 that went gold.

He’s the “A” in A&M Records. He discovered the Carpenters. He’s made millions of dollars as an entertainer and artist and given millions of dollars away to support the arts.

Albert grew up in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, a Jewish neighborhood; his father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia and his mother a Californian.

His father played mandolin by ear, and young Herb picked up music quite naturally. He went to the University of Southern California, where he was in the Trojan marching band, and did a stint in the Army before returning to Los Angeles to work in the music industry.

Early on, he was fascinated by recording technology. His first audio recorder was a WebCor wire recorder. (For the uninitiated, wire recorders used a hair-thin strand of wire running rapidly between reels to record magnetic pulses.)

“That really dates me,” Alpert laughed. “Don’t put that in there!”

He soon moved onto magnetic tape. “And then when I heard Les Paul overdubbing his guitar several times. I tried that on the horn, just out of curiosity and came up with this sound I thought was interesting.”

That was the sound of the Tijuana Brass.

A little known fact: The Tijuana Brass never existed as a band until after its album “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” came out in 1965. The early TJB was all Herb Alpert and his tape recorder.

But after “Whipped Cream” skyrocketed on the charts, people wanted to book the band for concerts. Alpert started hiring musicians to play the music he already had laid down on tape.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I'm trying to become a better listener. And, if the quotes Tim Challies has given are correct, I will have a lot of explaining to do, one day about all the times I didn't listen to my minister well.

Do Christians have to give account of every idle word, every sin as well as non-Christians? How does this relate to having no fear on judgment day, because Jesus has taken our punishment?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Jeremiah is the second longest book in the Bible and one of the hardest to read. [It is longer than Isaiah, though it does not contain as many chapters.]

It is probably the second last book of the Old Testament that I read all the way through, but I am now on my 9th journey, having read it through first in the New Living Translation and then seven more times in a complete read-through of the Bible.

It contains a lot of messages of God's judgment and at first, this put me off. But when you read the whole thing, you realise that this makes the many promises it also contains all the more special!

I am loving my 8th journey through the whole Bible, led by the team of terrific teachers who wrote the introductions, articles and study notes in the ESV Study Bible. One of the treasures of this Bible is Jack Collins' helpful articles and his terrific introduction and study notes to Psalms.

But Paul House's introduction to Jeremiah is also very special. Here are a couple of highlights:
Did you know that Jeremiah laboured faithfully for 40 years, largely to people who wouldn't listen to what he had to say?
Kings would ask for his advice and then steadfastly ignore it!
There are only two recorded converts: Baruch, who acted as Jeremiah's secretary, writing down the messages, and Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch. Imagine if he was a contemporary evangelist - he would get the sack for lack of results. God couldn't have called you, says his campaign manager, or you would be getting better results!
Jeremiah called people to repent over a hundred times, but almost nobody did!

Because of his capacity to keep on keeping on [as the Berger Paints advertisement runs, as frequently cited by my father], House suggests he should be called The Persevering Prophet.

I've only read the introduction and chapter one so far, but I'm looking forward to the journey.


If you look at my shared items, you'll see two links to articles about legalism which I've found helpful.

I like the point about three kinds of legalism, from R C Sproul, Jnr, as reported by Stacy McDonald.
Legalism is a loaded word; but, as far as I can tell, there are three ways it is used, two are legitimate usages and one is just handy for shutting someone down. All Fred has to do when losing a debate on a biblical topic is accuse you of legalism and the conversation is closed. With fear and trembling, many back off—and Fred is the winner. Or is he?

Still, true legalism is a thing to detest. The two following definitions are what I would call the real McCoy:

Grace Plus Nothing
The first form of legalism is the ugliest because it attempts to usurp the very Grace of God. Most of us will agree on this one. Anything that adds works to our salvation is legalism. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Without Christ we are totally depraved, totally helpless, and totally in need of a Savior. Our “good works” are as filthy rags and we can’t do anything to earn our salvation—He did it all. I didn’t find Jesus; He found me, kicking and screaming.

Holier Than Jesus
The second form of legalism has to do with adding rules to God’s laws (Col. 2:20-22). I have found this to be what most people are referring to when they talk about legalism. Sometimes this type of legalism is simply a matter of misinterpreting the Scriptures. Other times it is an issue of pride. Usually, it’s a poor attempt at holiness—trying to do things in our own strength and in our own wisdom, rather than in God’s.

There are indeed precious souls who are bound up in false teachings that keep them from living the full life that God intended. But will we ever all agree on what is legalism and what is part of living a godly life? I doubt it.

John doesn’t believe in celebrating Christmas, but he enjoys a glass of wine with dinner. His friend, Carl, believes alcohol consumption, even in moderation is wrong, but he has the most beautiful Christmas tree you’ve ever seen.

Jennifer believes in adhering to Old Testament dietary restrictions, but feels the freedom to wear modest pants. Her sister-in-law would never put on a pair or pants, but she thinks Jennifer is being legalistic about not eating pork.

Depending upon who you talk to, any of these things (and plenty more) may be labeled as legalistic.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

It’s that “putting others first” thing again. Discussing, studying, and sharing our various ideas and views is healthy and good. Iron sharpens iron as we are all learning and growing, but we must be so careful of the way we treat one another—being forbearing with one another’s weaknesses and faults.

The False “Legalist” Label
The third form of legalism is imaginary. If you believe in living according to God’s Word, you better be prepared for false accusations of legalism from someone, somewhere, at some time. Growing Antinomianism (anti-law) in our culture has escalated such accusations.

"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)

Even when you seek to obey God in faith because you love Him (not because you’re attempting to earn his favor) those looking in from the outside may make assumptions about you—especially if they are convicted by your lifestyle and unwilling to evaluate their own lives.

Calling others legalistic based on outward appearance is itself legalistic and hypocritical. Some of those who say that they have left legalism have really just exchanged one form for another and are still judging the spirituality of others based on how they are perceived by the ex-legalist.

Our works don’t save us – our faith in Jesus does. But if we are in Christ, we must walk in those good works (prepared ahead of time by Him) for the glory of God. It's what we were created for.

Interesting comment on progress in Bible translation

I like this comment from the Better Bibles Blog:
In the (paraphrased) words of Robert Alter, the problem with the KJV is its shaky sense of Hebrew; the problem with more recent versions is their shaky sense of English.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beyond the Bible?

Last year I read and was disturbed by I Howard Marshall's Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology. In this short book, Professor Marshall attempts to offer guidance for the task of applying scriptural insight to contemporary issues.

What I found disturbing, though, was that the book seems to give us a hermeneutic which allows us to reinterpret the teaching of Scripture so that at times it says something far different from what it originally said and meant.

The reinterpretation seems to allow us to say what Jesus or Paul would have said, or should have said, had they lived today. What a shame that they were not free to say what God had intended!

Some time before I had read William Webb's Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis,which also seems to allow us a way of avoiding some of what the Bible teaches by envisioning where it was leading.

So I was interested to read Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, which interacts with Marshall's book and includes chapters by William Webb, Walter Kaiser, Daniel Doriani and Kevin Vanhoozer. I haven't finished this book yet, but again find Webb's contributions unsatisfying. Kaiser's principlizing model does seem also give modern readers an out whereby we can find the principle behind what Scripture says, but deny the apparent original force of its teaching.

Kaiser may use this method to rewrite what the Bible appears to teach on the roles of men and women and women's ministry, but others could easily take it further to white out other teachings which are found objectionable by Twenty-first Century folk.

Daniel Doriani's chapter is refreshing and encouraging and shows how we can "go beyond the Bible" without departing from its teachings: we can find principles for living today which were not originally addressed in the Bible, but which do not contradict the old book, but can be shown to be in harmony with it.

Dr Doriani points out that we can learn from narrative in the Bible, as well as from commands, promises and warnings. It has often been said that we shouldn't make doctrine out of narrative. Yet, the Bible is a narrative.

He says that the characters in the Bible and the stories are intended teach us what to do and what not to do. Sometimes the narrator tells us whether the character or story is intended as a good or bad example.

Where the narrator does not tell us, we can compare the passage with the rest of what the writer presents as positive or negative, or go further by reading what the rest of Holy Scripture has to say.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

One point stuck in my mind

Jean Williams' blog is always encouraging and always worth reading.
One point stuck in my mind in her article about learning to love your marriage partner. It was all good, as the young people say, but this is the bit that got me thinking tonight:
Find friends who support your marriage.

What a sensible suggestion.

A few years ago a young married woman commented to me that in her place of work the other women spent all day tearing strips off their husbands and continually berating them. How important it is to have friends who will remind us of the good qualities of our and their marriage partners.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Testament yes, Old Testament no, no, no!

Tackling the New Testament is much easier than successfully getting through the Old.
It's more familiar
It's shorter [NT: 260 chapters versus OT: 969!]
But, as Bible translator, Doming Lucasi observed,
Having the New Testament without the Old Testament is like having a sword without a handle.
If you want to come to grips with that handle, here are some tips that helped me.
1. Nobody said you had to read the Old Testament through from beginning to end.
2. Nobody ever said you had to read the Old Testament before the New Testament.
3. Nobody ever said that every part of the Bible is equally important: it is not wrong to spend more time reading the stories than all those genealogies
Ever noticed that although every sin, any sin will keep you out of God's coming kingdom, not all sins are equal?
Similarly, each part of the Bible is important and has something to teach you, but it is more important to know that you are a sinner who needs Jesus to save you, than it is to know all of the 613 laws in the Old Testament!

Suggestions for making the task easier:
1. Read part of the Old Testament and part of the New Testament each time you work on your project of reading through the whole Old Testament.
2. For a balanced read-through, try reading 4 chapters of the Old Testament for every one chapter you read of the New. One way of doing this is to read 3 chapters of the part of the Old you are currently tackling, one psalm and one chapter of the New Testament.
3. Read a short book or two between tackling the longer ones, to break it up and to give you a sense of achievement. It's fun to be able to say
I've read five books of the Old Testament
even if these include
Genesis - 50 chapters
Ruth - 4 chapters
Obadiah -1 chapter
Haggai - 2 chapters
Lamentations - 5 chapters.
4. Don't spend a long time over the long genealogical lists. You can always go back to these on a later read-through. But the goal now is to read it through once.
5. In a rapid read-through, don't stop to ponder the many curious and strange things you encounter, because this will prevent you from completing your task.
It is important to think through the many problems you encounter, but you don't have to do it all at once, and often, keeping going will explain a problem you met earlier. Scripture explains Scripture.

For more help, please read my earlier post It's that time of year again.

Friday, January 01, 2010

It's that time of year

At this time of year, many Christians' thoughts turn again to reading through the Bible. Most of us have read some of it over and over, but many of us have never succeeded in reading the whole shebang.

Do you remember Rocky and Bullwinkle? Rocky comments: That trick never works and Bullwinkle retorts This time for sure. I think that is how many of us feel in trying to read through the Bible. Even though we believe that it is inspired by God and is good for us, all too often it can feel like eating broccoli, which, we are also told, mostly by our mothers, is good for us.

[Don't tell anyone I said this, but do you know the difference between snot and broccoli?
Kids won't eat broccoli!]

What can we do to succeed this time? Here are a few myths to be knocked out of the way:
1. Nobody said that you have to start on 1st January!
2. Nobody said that you have to do it every day, and that if you miss a day, you've failed.
3. Nobody said that you should start at the beginning, keep going till you get to the end, then stop. That wasn't God, that was the Queen of Hearts in Through the Looking Glass!
4. Nobody said that you should complete the project in a year, or this year.
Here are a few suggestions that may work:
1. Read the Bible like you eat an elephant.
How do you eat a whole elephant?
One bite at a time.
2. Set smaller goals. Don't plan to read all 1189 chapters if you haven't yet read through any of the longer books, such as Isaiah, which has 66 chapters, Jeremiah, which has 52 chapters [and is even longer than Isaiah, because there are several really long chapters] or the book of Psalms, which has 150 individual psalms, one of which has 176 verses, divided into 22 sections.
3. Start with something more manageable, such as reading through some of the little books. If you were to read through all 26 little books, although you would only have read about 10% of the whole, you would have quite a good overview of what the Bible is saying.[Wasn't that thoughtful of our heavenly Father!]
4. Use charts which you can tick off as you go. I like doing this! It gives me a sense of having accomplished something.
5. After reading through all the little books, have a crack at tackling a gospel - Mark is the shortest.
6. Read the Bible itself, at first, without looking up commentaries or study notes. These can be very helpful, but they aren't the Word of God, but merely aids to help you read God's Word.
If you are a Christian [which means you have given up trying to be good enough for God, and are trusting in Jesus alone to save you], God has promised to help you to read and understand his Word - and to do what it says!
When we begin living for Christ, instead of for ourselves, God's Holy Spirit comes to live in us, and guides us. The same Spirit who inspired the writers is with us today to help us to understand what He [and they] wrote.

Nearly forgot.
It is much easier to read a version that is written in the language people speak today, rather than one that is very formal.
The Good News Bible or The New Living Translation are much easier to read than some other popular versions, which may be more useful for later, in depth study.