Livestream — David Brooks Talk on Character

Wanna do lunch tomorrow?

New York Times columnist and bestselling author David Brooks will be speaking at a town hall forum on “The Role of Character In Creating an Excellent Life.” The talk is largely based on his new book, The Road to Character. (Read the Times review here.)

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If you live in the Minneapolis, you can attend the event for free, but you can livestream Brooks’ talk tomorrow (May 14th) at 12:00 PM (noon) CST here. (Just click the “On Air” box on the top right.)

I’ll add a link of Brooks’ talk when it’s available.

Bonhoeffer Executed 70 Years Ago Today

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.

“Christian” Music Doesn’t Have to Suck. Here’s Proof.

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.

An excerpt:

…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.

It concludes:

…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.

New Gideons Bible Translation? The ESV (With Additives)

[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:
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Playmobil’s Fastest Selling Toy Ever Is…Martin Luther?

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.

"You'd be smiling too if you've been dead for nearly 500 years and was made into a record selling toy figure." (Photo by Playmobil)

“Umm, about those royalties…” (Photo by Playmobil)

My disbelief turned to giddy excitement when I later learned or remembered:

  1. That demand is high enough for Playmobil to make a Luther figurine;
  2. That I am mostly of German descent;
  3. That I was raised Lutheran;
  4. That I’m still unashamedly and happily Protestant;
  5. That I’m a happy Protestant;
  6. That a friend knew I cared enough about Luther for him to inform me of this phenomenon;
  7. That Playmobil is making a second batch of Luther figurines due in April;
  8. That my doll will soon have a suitable companion.

Read about Playmobil’s Martin Luther Reformation ripple-effect here.

Disordered Loves, Reordered Lives: A Famous Theologian and the Modern Self

8019267629_7307636cfc_z-600x400-4 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”).

Sin: An Essential 15 Minute Primer

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.

J.I. Packer Isn’t a Christian Hedonist. Here’s Why.

Why isn’t J.I. Packer a Christian hedonist?

Packer explains:

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. PackerGod’s Plans for You, pp. 76-77. Reformatted for readability.

Help for a Grieving Spouse

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.

9781581344400Here’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.