Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

The premise of Our Secular Age doesn’t have strong curb appeal: evangelical Christians grappling with the contribution of a contemporary philosopher’s nearly 900 page tome. Despite the fact that one of my favorite authors, James KA Smith has been significantly influenced by Charles Taylor, I still have yet to pick up Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Despite the less-than-enticing premise, Our Secular Age is a book that should be broadly read by Christian leaders. Even for the reader (like myself) who has no first-hand experience with Taylor, his theses are laid out clearly and the wide-ranging impact of his thought is explored and at times critiqued.

Taylor’s central thesis is that the secular world is a world that has turned its focus on the self and lost its sense of the transcendent. Collin Hansen says that Taylor traces the beginnings of this age to Martin Luther: “Taylor faults the Protestant Reformation and modern evangelical Christianity for disenchanting the world and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through shared religious rituals.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      New Study Reveals That Millennials Prioritize Owning a Home over Marriage: In fact, it's worse than that. For Millennials, owning a home and travel both are more important priorities than getting married or having children. 

2.      Ancient People Lived Longer Than You Might Think: This is an interesting article that concludes that, for those who made it to adulthood, the average lifespan was about what it is today. Pretty surprising read.

3.      The Chocolate-ness of Chocolate and the Coffee-ness of Coffee: Jared Wilson reflects on the power of the gospel to enjoy things in the fullness of what they are, and not ask them to be something else, " If I don’t believe the gospel, I will miss out on the joy of the it-ness of things. I will be looking to these things as drugs, as appetite-fillers, as fulfillers, as powers, as gods, as worshipers of the god of myself."

4.      3 People Harmed by Misplaced Compassion: Eric Geiger reminds us that, " Under the banner of “kindness” or “patience,” leaders can fail to care for the overall health of their ministries or organizations."

5.      National Geographic Photography Contest: Scroll through all of the categories. You won't be disappointed.

Heading to India

Heading to India

This Friday we depart Tucson at 12:35pm and will arrive in Trivandrum, India late on Saturday after over 21 hours in the air. This will be my first time to India and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us as learners and teachers.

India is one of the most populated countries in the world (its population is a third of the land mass of the United States and yet has more than four times the US population!) and is a predominantly Hindu nation (80%) with another 13% of its population Muslim.[i] The country has been highly resistant to the gospel with a mere 2% of the population claiming to be Christian.[ii] 80% of India’s population lives in rural villages. It has been estimated there are 700,000 villages in India and that there is no church in 600,000 of those villages.

New Life forged a relationship with Pastor Vijayan (an Indian pastor) about six years ago. At that time Pastor Vijayan had been instrumental in discipling and organizing support for 78 Indian pastors in the state of Tamil Nadu, located in southern India. Most of those pastors are converts out of Hinduism with little formal training who now are leading house churches. Theirs is an uphill struggle against persistent poverty and persecution.

Six years later, by the grace of God, Pastor Vijayan’s work has exploded. He now supports a network of 1,000 pastors throughout southern India. It’s mind-boggling how God has used Pastor Vijayan and humbling that he reached out to us asking if we would be able to help with their biggest need: providing these pastors and their wives biblical training.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       What an Average Home Looks Like in Every State: Wow. This is amazing, both in terms of the disparity of cost for the average home across states as well as the type of home you can get for that cost.

2.       God is not Silent in Your DepressionEd Welch is a wonderful counselor and offers a wealth of wisdom. He begins by describing depression, "Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path. Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it."

3.       How to Raise Spiritually and Emotionally Healthy KidsAaron Earls on some really important research about the long-term impact of parenting practices: "Those who attended religious services with parents or prayed or meditated on their own had healthier lives and improved mental health. Those who attended church at least once a week as children or teens were 18 percent more likely to report being happy as 20-something adults than those who never attended services."

4.       Three Privileges of Intimacy with the FatherTim Chester begins, "Step back and think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize what an amazing miracle it is that any of us should call God ‘Father’. But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son."

5.       Wrestling with the Violence of GodJeff Elkins concludes his examination of a difficult passage with this reflection: "My problem is, I want more. I want to know why God would do such a thing, but the scripture does not give it to me. In the absence of that information, I am forced to ask myself what I know about God."

What I Read In 2018; What I’m Hoping to Read in 2019

What I Read In 2018; What I’m Hoping to Read in 2019

I read 54 books in 2018: about one a week. I love learning and books are one of my favorite forms of learning. I tend to read five types of books: Christian Living, Theology, Leadership, General Non-Fiction, and Fiction. If you’re interested in tracking my reading, getting fuller reviews, and sharing with me your favorites, I use Goodreads and would be happy to have you friend me there. Here were some highlights for me in 2018:

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Good Grace from God with Us: Gretchen Ronnevik on parenting, true and cheap grace: “I don’t need cheap, well-intentioned grace. I need the resurrection-power grace. I need the grace that never asks me to pretend I’m fine when I’m not. I need the grace that’s there when I have nothing left to give.”

2.      Top 10 Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2018: Gordon Govier reports on some fascinating discoveries including the possible signature of Isaiah the prophet and the seal ring of Pontius Pilate.

3.      Christianity Today's 2018 Books of the Year: Solid list. A number on here I want to read including Russell Moore's A Storm Tossed Family, Rosaria Butterfield's The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and, two from friends of mine: Amy Julia Becker, and Matthew Kaemingk.

4.      2018: A Christian Music Review: I appreciate Jeremy Howard’s year-end reviews. I actually disagree quite a bit with Howard, but he always introduces me to new music and has a high regard for strong theology in Christian music, which I appreciate.

5.      The Dark Before the DawnI love Andrew Peterson's music that is so rich lyrically. If you haven't listened to him before, this is a great place to start. 

In Praise of To-Do Lists

In Praise of To-Do Lists

Happy New Year! I pray your 2018 was a good year: rich and full of God’s grace and mercy. And I pray that 2019 is better yet!

We cannot know what 2019 has in store for us, but I want to be prepared for what God has for me, and I’m sure you want to be ready for what he has for you. To that end, let me start the year by commending to you the humble to-do list. May we thoughtfully prepare ourselves for the good works God has for us, strategically readying ourselves for the tasks we are called to step into.

Without a doubt, people trump tasks. To paraphrase Paul[i], if I accomplish all the tasks in the world but have not love, I gain nothing.

And yet, organization can be a wonderful tool for a life organized around God’s good purposes for us.

One of the most important verses about our purpose is found in Ephesians 2. There, Paul says that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[ii] What are the good works that God has prepared beforehand for you? Do you know? Do you have an inkling of what they are?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       The Unattainable Perfectionism of Millennials: Gene Veith reflects on a new study, "The young adults of the Millennial generation are showing a higher rate of mental problems than previous generations.  A study says that the problem is perfectionism and their inability to attain it. As Rachel Genevieve Chia reports, 'A study on the topic shows this phenomenon is unique to millennials, who are under immense pressure from always being ‘sifted, sorted and ranked’– in exams, job performance assessments, or on social media, where they feel compelled to curate a perfect life.' As a result, they are subject to depression, anxiety, anorexia, and suicide."

2.       The Joys and Limitations of Male-Female FriendshipsTim Challies with a helpful reflection on the beauty of the brotherly and sisterly relationships we have in Christ and the limitation of that analogy.

3.       5 Ways to Be a Godly GrandparentNice little post by Avery Foley here. I especially like #3: "Tell stories. Many grandchildren, and even children, know surprisingly little about the lives their grandparents or parents lived. You may not want to talk about yourself, or you may be much more interested in what’s going on with the grand kids, but tell them stories. Share about the good times, the funny times, and the hard times. Tell how God’s mercy and grace got you through hardships. Be open about struggles you’ve had and how God’s Word gave you the wisdom and answers you needed. Your wisdom can help your grandchildren know what you did right so they can emulate it. And it can highlight what you did wrong so they know what not to do!"

4.       Should We Expect Miracles Today? Stephen Kneale with a helpful clarification regarding the question of the miraculous, "Now, I want to be clear that I do believe that the Lord may work miracles as he chooses today. But I do not believe that the Lord will work miracles throughany given individual today. That is, I don’t expect people to be able to wave their hand and the lame jump up and walk."

5.       Why Authenticity Matters: Eugene Cho with a brief, but thoughtful reflection. "You cannot be in relationship without authenticity."

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

Merry Christmas!

One of the most cringe-worthy prayers ever prayed on the big screen is prayed by Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in Talladega Nights. In his prayer, the immature Ricky Bobby keeps referring to Jesus as “baby Jesus.” At one point his wife interrupts him, “You know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.” Ricky Bobby responds, “Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best.”

The final villain this Christmas, baby Jesus, might be as alarming to you as Ricky Bobby’s prayer. Before the mob forms, allow me to explain what I mean by saying that the baby Jesus can be a villain of Christmas.

How many of us also “like the Christmas Jesus best”? We might not say it out loud, we might not pray to “baby Jesus,” but in reality, we keep the Jesus of our faith small and contained. How many of us happily maintain a childish, trivial faith? How many of us effectively keep Jesus in the manger?

Christmas Eve Recommendations

Christmas Eve Recommendations

Merry Christmas,

As you celebrate your Christmas, here are some bonus recommendations for you.

May the joy and hope of Immanuel reign in your home and in your hearts,

John

1.       Did the Gospels Borrow From Pagan Myths? Timothy Paul Jones examines this claim: “In the simplest possible terms, here’s what these critics contend: The most marvelous claims in the Gospels—a miraculous birth, for example, as well as the idea of a deity who dies and rises again—are paralleled in pagan religions that predate Christianity; therefore, early Christians must have fabricated these miracles based on their knowledge of pre-Christian religions.

2.       The Lord Gave Us A Casket for Christmas: Erik Naykalyk shares his heartbreaking story, “Exactly three weeks to Christmas Day, God decreed to take my home ad flip it upside-down. Twelve days before Christmas, we lowered my son’s casket into the cold, hard, December ground. And I’ve never been looking forward to Christmas more in my entire life. No, seriously. Never.”

3.       A Letter to the Depressed Christian at Christmas: David Murray reflects, “Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when it’s especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?”

4.       200 Years of Silent Night: Keith and Kristyn Getty consider the power and beauty of one of the best and longest sung Christmas carols: “God’s heavenly peace is still so evident in these enduring lyrics and chords, its soothing effect one of the marvels of our modern holiday traditions—like a distant whisper somehow soft enough, yet also loud enough, to reach us in the deafening noise.”