Sep 21, 2011

Why God Won't Go Away - Book Review

The "New Atheism" characterized by the writings of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens has put the debate about God in a new arena during the last decade.  Men such as Dawkins have taken the dialogue to a much more aggressive level by comparing Christianity with radical Islam.  Into this mix, theologian and preacher Alister McGrath launches the book, "Why God Won't Go Away".  McGrath is a former athiest who now holds the chair of theology at King's College in London.  He occasionally holds debates with Hitchens, Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett about atheism and the existence of God.  If you have ever had the privilege of hearing McGrath speak, you are struck by both his incredible intellect as well as his ability to make complicated truths more easily understandable.

Overall, I was impressed with McGrath's book.  I have not read much of Dawkins or Hitchens.  In my current ministry context, I am not actively dialoging with people who have been influenced by the new athiests.  However, I have been watching these issues gaining more attention in the media.  Dawkins and Hitchens books have been phenominal best-sellers.  They take the attack on belief in God to a whole new level.  They are extremely intellectual and their ideas are progressing rapidly in the academic world.  McGrath's background and careful analysis of the issues make him a great ally for the Christian side of the debate.  This book is a great introduction to the personalities, history, and overview of some of the issues that the New Atheism brings to the table.  McGrath does and excellent job of pointing out some of the flaws in the arguements of the New Atheists without being offensive or demeaning.  He also does an excellent job showing that a belief in faith and deity does not mean that someone has to commit intellectual suicide with regard to reason and science.  This book packs a lot into a smaller, easy-to-read format.  Do not pick up this book thinking that it will provide a comprehensive answer that will equip you to win a debate with an atheist.  However, for the pastor and normal church member who wants to see what New Atheism is and how to deal with it, this book is a great start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sep 17, 2011

Left Everything

I was enjoying some time in God's word this morning with a cup of coffee on my front porch.  Reading through my Bible plan, I journeyed through Luke 5 this morning.  This is Luke's account of Jesus' early ministry.  It includes the calling of his first disciples.  It was a powerful reminder of Jesus' authority and his transformative power.  In both the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John in verse 11 and the calling of Levi in verse 28 the common denominator is that they "left everything and followed him."  That's just amazing!  These men saw something in Jesus so awesome that they turned their backs on what they had devoted their whole life to and walked with him into an uncertain future.  Peter and the boys had just experienced a haul of fish like no other.  They had been doing this for years, and had never had a day like this.  It was so miraculous that Peter trembled in fear before the Lord and asked him to leave because he was scared of his own sinfulness before the Messiah.  At the moment of their greatest prosperity, they left it all and walked away.  They left the secure and familiar for the unknown.  They decided that they would rather be with Jesus than have a secure future.  Jesus would make it very clear soon that there would be no personal gain.  When Jesus would turn away the Rich Young Ruler because of his unwillingness to do the same, Peter would remind Jesus that "we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?"

How different is this call from Jesus for immediate and costly obedience than the attitude of most in the church today that want Jesus AND everything else?  How different is this from the promise that you can have "your best life now"?  How do we reconcile this call with the fact that the average church goer gives less than 3% of his income to kingdom related causes?  How do we reconcile this call for costly abandonment with church-goers who are over-mortgaged and parking $40,000 vehicles in church parking lot?  I am not advocating that having resources is an evil or sinful thing.  I know that God does allow for financial prosperity in some of his children.  However, he does this so that after we have abandoned their hold on us we can use them to multiply his kingdom.  This fact that the majority of disciples will not leave everything to only have Jesus is shown in my own denomination where we are bringing missionaries home and cannot send people ready to go because churches and members are not giving enough to meet budgetary needs.  However, just last week, I took myself and my oldest three boys to a college football game.  I was in a stadium with 87,000 people where the average ticket was at least $70 face value and the average person probably spent close to $40 or more on concessions.  All this for a three-hour game.  Is it a sin to enjoy football and go experience it? No.  I had a great time!  It was a much needed break for me and a memory for my children.  However, I also know that I need to do a much better job of modeling for them the "abandonment attitude" of the gospel.  My heart and theirs are battling the idol of materialism way too much.

I wonder if Jesus walked into our worship service tomorrow and said to the assembled worshipers, "Follow Me" if we would have the same response Peter, James, Andrew, John, and Levi did?  Or, would we go consult our financial advisor to make sure we had enough already stored in our 401k first?  Would we model "immediate abandonment" or would we be like the man in Luke 9 who said "First, let me go and bury my father."  What do you think?

Sep 14, 2011


I will admit that most of the time "Christian" movies are known for cheesy acting and predictable story lines.  However, the guys at Sherwood Church know how to do it.  They did a really good job showing the difficulties of marriage in Fireproof.  Now, they are releasing "Courageous" in a couple of weeks.  This trailer is awesome!  I believe this movie will have a huge impact on men and families.  Much needed in this culture.  Guys, get some male friends together and get them to this movie!

Sep 13, 2011

Are "Near-Death" and "Post-Death" Experiences Really Necessary?

Time to get something that's bothering me a little bit off my chest.  I was at home today for lunch and my wife was watching Pat Robertson's 700 Club.  I am not really a big fan of Robertson or his ministry. I think he sticks his foot in his mouth way too much, but I have had that said about me more than once.  700 Club does have some very inspiring stories, they pray for people, and overall I think his ministry is much more harmless than Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, and many others.  Anyway, towards the end of the program they did their usual appeal to "become a member of the 700 Club" for a monthly donation.  As a "thank-you gift" they would send to me "this powerful video full of stories of people who have experienced near-death experiences - some to heaven and some to hell."  This really is beginning to bother me some.

This video is the latest in the line of many resources that are now beginning to proliferate the church market about people who claim to have died and what they saw and experienced right after.  The market is currently flooded with these types of books and videos - (Heaven is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 23 Minutes in Hell, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, My Time in Heaven, and several more).  These type resources are creating a frenzy among people who want to hear these "amazing stories" of what life is like "on the other side."  I think this is mostly due to our innate fear of dying and many people's uncertainty of whether there is something else or what it's like.  I think it's also because in our media-driven age we are drawn into fascinating stories.  I personally met and heard Don Piper share his experience of Heaven and listened with rapt attention.  I believe Piper to be a very humble, sincere, and fascinating brother-in-Christ.  As far as I can discern, his story seems very real and his accounts of Heaven didn't appear to contradict what I have studied personally from God's word. 

I will admit that I have personally never read any of these books and really don't feel the need to.  I do not know any of the other people, other than Don Piper, that have written these books or told their stories.  I am not so cynical as to think that these people had to have made these stories up and are doing so for personal gain.  I don't think they are greedy.  I also admit that in most of the cases that I have heard of there is medical evidence that these people died and later came back to life.  I don't even question that.  I am not questioning whether these "experiences" are real.  I cannot know, prove, or disprove that at all.  My question is "Are these stories and experiences necessary?"  I am not questioning the validity of these stories, just their necessity.  Are we now to assume that we are living in an age where God, because of the technology and interconnectedness of the world, has now chosen to reveal truths about heaven, hell, and the afterlife through new stories?  Are we to assume just because some of these people claim personal faith in Jesus Christ that these are experiences sent by God to tell us something?  There are other questions I think these books raise as well:
  1. If God really is behind these experiences and revelations, why is he choosing to do this now and seemingly so often?  These are not the first people to have near-death experiences and talk about them.  However, is it just because we have more media that we are aware of them or is God up to something.
  2. If God is not really behind these experiences, then where are they generating from and could some of them possibly have a demonic origin designed to confuse and distract Christ-followers?  Scripture says that Satan masquerades himself as an angel of light.  I am not suggesting these this is the case, just asking the question.
  3. Does the Bible not provide enough sufficient explanation about Heaven and Hell?  I think one of the tragedies of these resources is that we are relying on these accounts to "understand what Heaven and Hell are like" instead of the sufficiency of what God has already said about them in the Bible.  The result of this is people propagating ideas about heaven that have no scriptural basis.  I know several good books about Heaven that have been written that are completely based on Scriptural revelation and not second-hand sources.  (Heaven by Randy Alcorn, The Glory of Heaven by John MacArthur, One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer)  I would recommend reading these as a substitute or at worse as a supplement for these other books.
  4. If there are things in these books that contradict or confuse what is revealed in Scripture, how do we handle that?  The problem for most people who buy these books is that they haven't carefully evaluated everything that is revealed in God's word about these subjects, so they don't know error when they read it.  
  5. Can these type resources eventually become a substitute for Scripture?  I have seen people who will voraciously read these books but if you ask them about their personal time in God's word they will say that they find it hard to "make time for the Bible".  What does that say about us?
  6. How do we discern "legitimate" experiences from "illegitimate" ones?  By what standard do we have to decide which stories are real and which are not?  Are we to assume all of them are real?  Are we to assume all of them are false?
  7. ?  The rich man in hell pleaded with Abraham to let him or someone else go back and warn his family.   And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"  Did Jesus change his mind now from that story and now think that people rising from the dead is a legitimate way to evangelize?
I don't want in any way to stir up emotions and controversy with these thoughts and questions.  Again, in this post, I don't question whether any of these were valid experiences or not.  I don't know if I have researched the subject or these books enough to make a declaration of their validity or not.  I just question whether they are necessary for us at this time to advance the truth of the gospel or not.  Or, are they just some kind of TMZ for Christians?  

If you want to read one of these books and find them to be inspirational and informative, I am glad.  I hope they can be a true blessing and hope they verify what is revealed in Scripture.  Maybe after reading them you can help me answer the question of this post more clearly.  I would like to know if these are necessary and why.  I would simply request that you at least take time beforehand to research carefully all the richness that Scripture already reveals about this subject so that you can be better armed to see truth from error.  If you can, pick up one of the other books on the subject I recommended earlier to help.  Not everyone will agree with my thoughts and I do not mean to offend.  I am just questioning and am concerned how many more of these we will have to see before we drive ourselves back to the already sufficient revelation of God given to us in the word.

Sep 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Like many of you, I spent a lot of time this weekend watching 9/11 memorials and tributes.  Auburn University and the band did a fantastic job yesterday morning honoring the victims of 9/11 in it's pregame program. It has been difficult to see the images and hear some of the stories.  It's also been refreshing to hear some of the stories of heroism at Ground Zero and the Pentagon again that remind us that as Americans we have a kindred spirit to help our neighbors.  That's one of the beautiful thing about being an American.  Most of us are very patriotic and when you hurt one of us, all are affected.

9/11 will probably go down as the major defining moment of my generation.  My grandfather's generation had Pearl Harbor that ushered in a patriotic fervor and involved them in a global war against tyranny.  This will be our "Pearl Harbor" with a few major exceptions.  For one, the technology and media coverage that ensued immediately following the first attack will preserve forever the images of people jumping to their death, of the gaping holes in the tower, and of the horrors of watching them fall floor by floor in front of our eyes.  Just like Pearl Harbor in my grandparent's generation, everyone in this generation will remember vividly where they were and how they felt on September 11th.  My family and I were in Hilton Head, South Carolina on a beach vacation.  Our oldest son was just shy of 2 years old and our second son was seven months old.  My wife and Nathan were in the pool for an early morning swim and I was surfing the Internet for information about MSU football when someone posted on a message board that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.  I turned on the TV and became entranced by the moment.

9/11 is a moment that still invokes fear.  It is a moment that brings us face-to-face with our own frailty.  It is a reminder that as much as we like to believe we have sovereignty of our lives, we are ultimately in the hands of someone else.  Here are some other lessons I have learned in the wake of 9/11.

1.  This world and the United States of America is not my "home" - Don't mistake this for anti-patriotism.  I am as proud to be an American as Lee Greenwood.  I cry every time I hear that song played at the laser show at Stone Mountain.  However, earth and the US are just a temporary residence for me while inhabiting an earthly body.  Scripture says that the believer is an "alien and stranger" here on earth.  While I love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Ford (ok, I know it's supposed to be Chevrolet, but I'm a Ford man), I also hold loosely to my allegiance to any earthly kingdom.  For me, there is one "king" and he is "King of Kings".  I enjoy the earthly benefits of a democracy while I live in the reality of a theocracy.  One day I will enjoy for eternity the benefits of my heavenly citizenship.  In the meantime, I had the privilege of living in a great country and enjoying the benefits of religious freedom.

2. Our fears and vulnerabilities are not enough to motivate us towards true repentance - Think about the weeks after September 11.  Every church was filled with people looking for answers.  I don't think most churches were ready to deal from a biblical standpoint with what was happening.  Most churches I know of were still very much entrenched in the "felt-needs" and "seeker-sensitive" models that tried to comfort fears, but didn't hold out the hope of the gospel and how 9/11 should drive us to our need and dependency on the gospel.  Most of us saw the numerical influx as great for business, but it didn't last.  Why?  Because fear is a bad motivator for true repentance.  This is why I don't believe the Judgment House mentality works all that well.  I understand and embrace showing people the realities of sin and judgment, but scare tactics into heaven, in my experience, don't last.  True repentance has to start with the gospel by showing that our sin is a violation of God's character and not just a ticket into hell.  When people are afraid, that is a great time to take them not to the realities of hell, but to the sufficiency of God our refuge. 

3.  Despite our attempts in America at pluralism, 9/11 is a sure indicator that all religious faiths are not equally valid - I have no beef with Muslims except that I think their faith claim is false.  It breaks my heart that millions of people around the world believe a religious ideology that claims an exclusive path into Paradise apart from Jesus Christ.  I certainly don't think all or most Muslims are terrorist extremists who want to kill Americans.  I think the terrorists that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks were motivated more by political ideology than true religious ideology.  I also don't even come close to thinking that America is a "Christian nation" and that makes us a target for religious extremists.  However, at it's core, the September 11 attacks come from centuries of conflict that date back to a very unwise move by Abraham thousands of years ago.  The disaster of 9/11 should show us that while we may try to build a more loving, unified world, opposing truth claims will eventually come into conflict, sometimes with violent ends.

In closing, as an American, my heart breaks and righteous indignation wells up inside me every time I see the images of 9/11.  I am proud and grateful for the thousands of men and women who have fought for our independence and freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last ten years.  I know many who have paid a heavy price to ensure that we are a free nation, that freedom is extended to others, and that crimes like those of 9/11 will be justly punished.  I am so grateful for the men who risked their lives to take down Osama Bin Laden and am glad that his regime is over.  I am thankful that the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has ended.  However, I know that my ultimate aim is not to see America as the worldwide great hope, but to see Jesus Christ rightly enthroned on this earth as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  When he returns, all justice will be meted out and the righteous will finally proper.