70 years ago today, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for conspiring to kill Hitler. Surprisingly, my local newspaper published an opinion piece remembering him.
Here’s an excerpt:
…it is a paradox that this devoutly Christian man, who so often spoke and wrote about the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, could partake in an assassination conspiracy. He wrote nothing (understandably) that contains an explicit explanation. But we know from his writings that for him, Christian belief must be joined by “responsible action” in the real world in which we each live. In the concreteness of his times, to Bonhoeffer that meant taking guilt upon himself and acting as necessary to relieve millions of the suffering inflicted by Hitler.
Read the article here.
Most modern “Christian” music sucks.
Save Sufjan Stevens.
Sufjan Stevens in mid-flight.
A recent article in The Atlantic discusses singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens as an anomaly and rare exception. The article also considers the gloried past, painful present, and hopeful future of Christians making music.
…today’s disdain [of Christian art] is a fairly recent phenomenon—an anomaly, even. For centuries, Christians dominated the arts and shaped culture, from Michelangelo and Van Gogh to Bach and Beethoven to Tolkien and Eliot. It wasn’t until the 20th century that a shift took place, specifically in the area of music.
…the historical presence and significance of Christians making music doesn’t have to decline in perpetuity. It’s not so much that faith is missing from culture as much as it is living and breathing within it—and the success of artists like Stevens demonstrates how music that incorporates religious themes can thrive, while inspiring even the most secular of audiences.
Read The Atlantic’s “How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music” here.
Listen to Sufjan’s new album Carrie and Lowell here.
[Note to reader: I’m experiencing some mild formatting issues, which I hope to resolve soon.]
Frequent hotel traveller? Rejoice.
I recently perused through a Gideons Bible and happily learned that Gideons recently switched English translations from the NKJV to the ESV.
But then I had a Brian Regan moment:
So what’s changed with the Gideons ESV? A lot, specifically in the New Testament. In the copyright granted to the Gideons, it states, “…Crossway is pleased to license the ESV text to the Gideons, and to grant permission to the Gideons to include certain alternate readings based on the Textus Receptus….” The result? Compared to the regular ESV (which mainly uses the UBS/Nestle-Aland 27th edition) the new Gideons ESV has over 50 alternate readings.
Gideons announced the reason for the move from the NKJV to the ESV here
I’m grateful for Crossway
and Gideons’ partnership to make the Christian Scriptures available for free. However, I’m more than a bit surprised that Crossway would grant permission for Gideons to alter the ESV. For future printings of the Gideons ESV, perhaps they should call it the EESV: Essentially
the ESV. (And although the ESV is my preferred Bible translation, I often fondly refer to the ESV as Essentially the Same Version [i.e. as the RSV]. But I digress.)
Here’s a picture of the copyright page for one of their pocket New Testaments:
This is simply too good to be true.
A good friend informed me last night that German toymaker Playmobil sold out of the first run of the Martin Luther figure in record time.
“Umm, about those royalties…” (Photo by Playmobil)
My disbelief turned to giddy excitement when I later learned or remembered:
- That demand is high enough for Playmobil to make a Luther figurine;
- That I am mostly of German descent;
- That I was raised Lutheran;
- That I’m still unashamedly and happily Protestant;
- That I’m a happy Protestant;
- That a friend knew I cared enough about Luther for him to inform me of this phenomenon;
- That Playmobil is making a second batch of Luther figurines due in April;
- That my doll will soon have a suitable companion.
Read about Playmobil’s Martin Luther Reformation ripple-effect here.
Yesterday the website launched for the church I’m planting in Minneapolis. Take a look around. If you’re willing and able please give me some feedback, especially on the church’s tagline.
It’s time for “Name That Messed Up Theologian!” (cue cheesy music).
Which famous theologian:
- had a dysfunctional family;
- had an unhappy childhood;
- was a thief;
- was dishonest;
- despised formal education;
- was addicted to sex and food;
- enjoyed the life of theatre and cabaret;
- studied diverse philosophies and religions;
- was (for a time) a single parent.
Which theologian’s life was “unquestionably disordered, and like many of our contemporaries…found himself on a relentless course in search of healing and happiness”?
None other than St. Augustine, with whom we share his “disordered loves” (albeit not necessarily his specific sins) more than we realize or admit.
For more on Augustine’s take on disordered loves, read David Naugle’s paper “St. Augustine’s Concept of Disordered Loves and its Contemporary Application” which I was delighted to find referenced in Tim Keller’s recent book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God (in chapter 12, “Awe: Praising His Glory”).
What is sin?
Why is it such a big deal?
Who’s to blame?
What can be done about it?
Neal Plantinga answers these questions about sin in this brief video, which warrants repeat viewings:
Read Plantinga’s excellent essay about sin here.
Also read Plantinga’s devastatingly sublime book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.
Why isn’t J.I. Packer a Christian hedonist?
Recently the phrase ‘Christian hedonism’ has gained prominence as a tag for the truth that the God who promises his people joy and delight in their relationship with him, both here and hereafter, does in fact fulfill his promise here and now. [Here Packer footnotes John Piper’s watershed book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist]
…’Christian hedonism’ is not a good phrase for its purpose; for it seems to say that rating pleasure as life’s supreme value is something that Christianity itself teaches us to do, and that is not so. Biblical Christianity does not teach that any pleasure or good feelings, or any form of present ease and contentment, should be sought as life’s highest good.
What it teaches, rather, is that glorifying God by our worship and service is the true human goal, that rejoicing and delighting in God is central to worship, and that the firstfruits of our heritage of pleasures forevermore will be given us as we set ourselves to do this. But should we start to seek pleasure rather than God, we would be in danger in losing both.
It is apparent that this is what the exponents of Christian hedonism do themselves think; so my difficulty is limited to their choice of words.
—J.I. Packer, God’s Plans for You, pp. 76-77. Reformatted for readability.
Recently, a friend of mine who’s a pastor in New England lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. Now a widower with two small children under age seven, I wanted to give him something to help him process his grief. I sent him A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope by J.I. Packer.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
Their love story is not one of fairy tales. It is one of faithfulness from the beginning through to its tragic ending.
Richard and Margaret Baxter had been married only nineteen years before she died at age forty-five. A prominent pastor and prolific author, Baxter sought consolation and relief the only true way he knew- in Scripture with his discipline of writing. Within days he produced a lover’s tribute to his mate and a pastor’s celebration of God’s grace. It is spiritual storytelling at its best, made all the more poignant by the author’s unveiling of his grief.
J. I. Packer has added his own astute reflections along with his edited version of this exquisite memoir that considers six of life’s realities-love, faith, death, grief, hope, and patience. He guides you in comparing and contrasting the world’s and the Bible’s ideals on coping with these tides of life. The powerful combination of Packer’s insights and Baxter’s grief gives you a beacon if you are searching for God, a pathfinder for your relationships, and a lifeline if you are grieving.
Whatever the circumstances of the reader, the book is a beautiful love story.
Learn more about Packer’s A Grief Sanctified here.
Critiquing your (or your pastor’s) preaching could take a bad turn in a hurry. But does this possibility mean sermon evaluation shouldn’t happen?
Here are some questions, followed by a simple tool, to point you in the right direction.
If you’re a pastor:
- Do you know how to evaluate if you preached a good sermon?
- Does anyone regularly critique your preaching?
- Does the thought of someone critiquing your preaching seem wrong or make you uncomfortable?
If you’re not a pastor:
- How do you know if your pastor preached a good sermon?
- What makes a sermon good or bad?
- Is God speaking through your pastor’s preaching, or do your pastor’s personality, communication skills and other giftings make it hard to tell the difference?
For answers to these questions, and how to be a better preacher, read Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. It includes a helpful appendix containing a simple yet effective sermon evaluation form in PDF format.
So how might you best use the sermon evaluation form?
- Elders/Leaders—Regularly give the evaluation form to the elders and other leaders in your church. Hopefully they already know how to evaluate sermons, but if not this form will help them know what to look for.
- Leaders-in-waiting—Give the evaluation form to people in your congregation who aren’t in leadership, but may have leadership potential.
- Ordinary People—Give the form to average, ordinary people in your church (i.e. most people!). You’ll benefit from their perspective more than you know.
- Wife—If you’re married, please, please, please don’t give it to your wife. She doesn’t need it, and you don’t need to arm her with more artillery! Seriously, she’s not the one you should be looking to to evaluate your sermons on a regular basis. She’s your wife, not your sermon critic. Leave that job to someone else. Trust me, your marriage will be happier. (And yes, I’m well aware that Tim Keller regularly leans on his wife Kathy for sermon evaluation. But a. you’re not Tim Keller, and b. your wife isn’t Kathy. And if you’re a pastor whose wife is a great help in your sermon evaluation, I’d love to hear from you.)
If you’re not a pastor:
- Don’t!—Don’t surprise your pastor on Sunday or Monday morning with an unsolicited sermon evaluation! Although your motives may be well and good, you’ll likely come across as judgmental and overbearing. Subsequently, don’t be surprised if your pastor seems more than a bit stand-offish. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
- Do!—If you want to really help your pastor become a better preacher, pray for him regularly, both before, during and after the sermon. If, after spending some time praying for him and his preaching ministry, you still think you might have some valuable feedback on his preaching, first find out if there’s already an evaluation process in place. If so, offer to be a part of that process. If there isn’t an evaluation process, consider forwarding this sermon evaluation form to your elders and let them take the lead. Whatever you do, don’t go rogue on them and become The Master Sermon Evaluator™. (Again, don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Download the sermon evaluation form here.
For more tools on how to become a better preacher, visit savingeutychus.com.