Archives For Books

On January 5, 2016

May I Recommend 2015

imagesimages-1One of the things that I love about my job is how the Church gives me time to study and prepare. It’s a real blessing, I get paid to go off every year to pray and study, and it’s not just to write sermons, it’s to equip the priesthood of all believers for ministry. So when people ask me if there are any books I recommend I’d like to be as helpful as possible.

So here it is, my annual list of book suggestions. There are lots of good books that I read this year, but If they’ve made this list it’s because I’ve found myself recommending them to friends over lunches or coffee on multiple occasions

So for any of us who are looking for some new reads in 2016, here they are, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite books from this year :

Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. Accessible, hopeful and a book that every church leader (and member) ought to read. If you want to regain an appreciation for what the local church can do and should be doing in a deeply divided world, get this book and read it.

Glittering Vices by Rebecca De Young

I know it’s a great book, if I read it more than once. I’ve read this book 3 different times. I took several of our ministers at Highland through this book. I found it incredibly helpful into understanding myself and the nature of how sin works in my life to keep me from being the person God made me to be. There’s not been a book that has impacted my life as much as this one this year.

Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James

One of the most surprising books I read in 2015. James follow up book to “Half the Church” is about why the way we talk about gender roles in church is not helpful to both women and the men of our churches…and how it’s also not faithful to how the Scriptures talk about men and women. This book is amazing, filled with Biblical insights that I had never seen before, and frankly changed my mind a few times. I recommend it highly.41Y-ZjIgs0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

How Not To Kill A Muslim By Josh Graves

Full Disclaimer, Josh is a good friend and I wrote an endorsement for this book years ago. But with all the global events going on in the world and the anti-Muslim rhetoric floating around, I think this book is a must read for 2016.

Preaching by Tim Keller

So this one is probably not for everyone. But if you are a preacher or if you ever preach, this is a great book for you. I wrote a few blogs reviewing this book earlier this year, but in a nutshell Keller’s genius is that he thinks like a missionary, reads culture well, and knows how to communicate effectively to it.

Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls

images-2This book was a breath of fresh air. Scott Sauls takes on the most polarizing topics today from politics to abortion and does so in a way that helps build bridges and understanding between Jesus people without sacrificing convictions. After I read this book, I started recommending it often. I didn’t realize how much the church needed a book like this until I’d read it.

Mission Drift by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

This book is different than others on here. It’s not for everyone, and I never would have thought I’d be recommending a book like this at the end of the year. I’ve just found myself recommending it so much throughout the year, and I think it might be helpful for some people now. It’s a book about the powerful pull that secularization has on every institution, and why Christian organizations need to consider fighting to be distinctively different and Christian.

A Glorious Dark by A.J. Swaboda

This is one of my top 5 books of the year. Swaboda is a great writer and this book is incredible. Swaboda’s big idea is that the Christian experience mirrors the final three days of Jesus’ life. Every disciple’s life is filled with places of death, waiting and resurrection. God is found in all three days, and each are important.

All the Places To Go by John Ortberg

Ortberg is one of my favorite preachers and writers, and this book is his best since Who is this Man. If you’ve got a transition in life coming up, or just wondering what comes next for you, this is a great little book to read.

Paul Among the People by Sarah Ruden51RugsIINDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

If you heard any of the series I preached at Highland this past fall, than chances are you heard me talk about this book. Ruden is a classical literature scholar as well as a Christian. And in this book she turned her attention and expertise toward challenging some of the misconceptions the Western world has about the Apostle Paul. This book is brilliant, and worth the price for her chapter on Paul and women alone.

The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck

I’m biased here because I go to church with Richard and love the Becks. But this is an excellent book. Beck is a psychology professor at ACU, and he’s also a good thinker and a great church person. This book is in his wheelhouse of connecting psychology (fear and denial of death) with the Christian faith. I loved it.

Simply Good News by N.T. Wright

The good Bishop does it again! I actually got to meet Bro. Tom this year to talk to him about this book #humblebrag and I told him that I’ve begun praying for his health. Everytime he writes a new book, I get a new sermon idea.

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

I’m not a contemplative, but I really want to be. And I know for many of you, I’m very late to the party with this book, but for others of you who have never heard of Merton, or never picked up any of his stuff, this is a great place to start…especially if you’re interested in prayer. Merton’s writing is poetic and his content is inspiring. I described this book to a friend as one of the most peace-filled books I had read in a long time. This is a great book from one of the best Christian authors ever.

Come Be My Light The Private Writings of Mother Teresa

This one is a bit different than the others. Like the title says it’s a book made from private letters from Mother Teresa. This was an incredibly inspiring and insightful read. It humanizes Mother Teresa and helps you appreciate her ministry even more. On a year where she is about to become beautified and recognized as a Saint, this book would be a great place to start to help understand what a difficult, wonderful life she lead.

More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

This book is both wonderful and convicting. Filled with stories of generous people doing incredible things in the world, Shinabarger does the hard work of getting us to consider the question that just about all of us never ask ourselves: Do we really need more, or is it possible that life could be better with less?

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith

This is a harder, more philosophical read than others on here, but it’s worth it. Smith is a great thinker and writer, and this book is a few years old, but incredible relevant to today. I wish every church leader would read this book and ask the question about how do our church assemblies and church life together help us desire the Kingdom of God more?

So that’s my list for 2015. One of my favorite parts of blogging is finding out and reading what other people suggest, so what did I miss? What needs to be on my list for 2016?

On May 5, 2015

Bringing Heaven to Earth

So I wrote a new book! Actually we wrote a new book. I co-wrote it with my good friend and preaching buddy Josh Ross, and it comes out today! As in you can buy it on Kindle or iPad and read it right now. And if our mothers haven’t already bought all the copies, you can actually go into your local Barnes and Noble and buy it today.

I always thought that if I was going to have a book in a Barnes & Noble it would be because I walked in there and left it. But it’s there, hiding between Joel Olsteen and The Shack is a little book that came out of how the Gospel changed and is changing both of our lives. The book is called “Bringing Heaven to Earth”

Let me tell you about it.

Heaven & Earth

This is not another book that offers Proof That Ninety Seconds in Heaven Is for Real. Enough trees have been killed to make the point that sometimes people have near-death experiences. And sometimes they see things that would confuse even the writer of Revelation.

This isn’t one of those books.

14213-Bringing Heaven to EarthRather than try to describe heaven in detail, this book looks closely at what heaven has to do with earth. The world we live in matters. And what we think about tomorrow impacts how we live today.

About 10 years ago, I was starting to become disenchanted with what it meant to be a Jesus-follower and what it meant to belong to a Church. I had too small of a view of the Gospel and what a Church could do in this world. And then, partly because I read Surprised by Hope and partly because of a series Rick Atchley did at the Hills Church, I found myself calling all my old friends and telling them something like, “The Gospel is bigger and better than we thought it was”

This book is what those phone calls were trying to say. Josh Ross and I are very excited about this. This is more than a book for both of us, it’s written from a local church and to local churches.And our hope is that local churches will engage with this and put skin on it in their own local communities.

I have a hunch that there are lots of people where I was 10 years ago and we want you to know that the Gospel is bigger and better than most of us think. We wrote this book because we think God made this good world and hasn’t given up on it and neither should God’s people.

Good News for a Change

We wrote Bringing Heaven to Earth because we are Christians who are concerned about the church’s witness. Many Christians care a lot about saving people’s souls. We care about that too. But we’ve noticed that often people who want to introduce more people to Jesus find themselves at a loss when it comes to living a robust life of discipleship.

We don’t believe the primary purpose of following Jesus is to enjoy the gift of heaven. Rather, it is to be united with Christ in His love and mission. The call to conversion in the New Testament isn’t a decision for salvation, but a decision for Jesus. It is more than a change in status; it is a shift in allegiance, passion, and calling.

Some Christians care a lot about justice and mercy ministries. They want to change the world by serving the “least of these” but often find themselves angry at those who don’t see things the way they do. There are a lot of people who set out to save the world—for a few months or even years—but oftentimes they eventually grow bitter and weary. We think they need a bigger, and far better, story to enter into.

We wrote this book because we are convinced that it’s time for some good news for a change. And we believe that the real good news leads to all kinds of change in this world.

Here’s what some people (who aren’t related to us) are saying about this book:

“Oh, the difficulty of balance in this walk of faith. We tend to lose it. At least I do. I find myself on the side of the path, entangled in small issues and controversies. This book calls us to keep our eyes up. To keep the big things the big things. The authors offer a much needed and much welcomed reminder.”

— MAX LUCADO, pastor and author

“For many Christians, heaven is just some place we fly away to. But Ross and Storment clear the clouds to reveal the ways in which heaven matters in the here and now. Earth is full of heaven, they say, but you have to know where to look and how to participate in it. Finally, a concept of heaven worth believing in!”

— JONATHAN MERRITT, author and senior columnist for Religion News Service

“It’s about time someone dismantled the view that Christianity and the church exist to be God’s waiting room until we make it to heaven. Jonathan and Josh dismantle the fairy tale of heaven being a place of naked, winged babies playing harps on clouds. They replace that with the vision that Jesus and the New Testament both expect heaven to burst forth out of the church.”

— TIM HARLOW, senior pastor of Parkview Christian Church, Chicago

“We live in a world that faces innumerable challenges, and the authors remind us that faith in Jesus gives us the power to be his holistic witnesses to the restoration and reconciliation work found only in Christ. You will be inspired and equipped by reading this book.”

— DANIEL HILL, author and senior pastor of River City Community Church, Chicago

“Christians need to get past all views of the future that do not impact the pres- ent. That is how Jonathan and Josh help us; they call us to a view of ‘then’ that matters ‘now.’ Bringing Heaven to Earth is a timely challenge to a church in need of a new way of telling time.”

—Rick Atchley, Senior Minister at The Hills Church of Christ, Fort Worth, Texas

“In Bringing Heaven to Earth, Storment and Ross show us that how we think of heaven truly matters only when we are able to see how it impacts the way we live, day in and day out. This book doesn’t disappoint.”

—Colt McCoy, NFL quarterback and coauthor of The Real Win and Growing Up Colt

“For believers and nonbelievers alike, the idea of heaven often seems sentimen- tal, escapist, and irrelevant. But in this powerful and inspiring book, Jonathan Storment and Josh Ross make heaven and earth collide. The good news is that heaven is a party already in full swing. So pull up a chair to the banquet table and be sure to bring a friend.”

—Richard Beck, blogger, author, and professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University

If you’d like purchase a copy, you can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and wherever books are sold. If you’d like to download the first chapter for free, you can click on this link: Bringing-Heaven-to-EarthSneakpeek And if you’d like to disagree with anything you read in it, please feel free to talk to Josh.

Thanks for reading and to God the Glory!

On January 6, 2015

May I Recommend From 2014

Unknown4151TNPFEMLOne of the things that I love about my job is how the Church gives me time to study and prepare. It’s a real blessing, I get paid to go off every year to pray and study, and it’s not just to write sermons, it’s to equip the priesthood of all believers for ministry. So when people ask me if there are any books I recommend I’d like to be as helpful as possible.

For the past several years I’ve tried to avoid what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery” with his prescription for reading an old book for every three new ones I read. I’ve done this for a while now, but I’ve never recommended any of the older ones at the end of the year. It feels pretentious in a “Well, look who can read the King’s English” kind of way.

But this year I’ve read several that I just couldn’t shake. If they’ve made this list it’s because I’ve found myself recommending them to friends over lunches or coffee on multiple occasions.

So for those of us who are looking for new(ish) reads in 2014, here are some of my favorite resources from this year :

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight

I can’t tell you how much I loved and appreciated this book. There’s something about doing full time local church ministry that can wear you thin over time, and it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees. This was one of the highlights of my year. It’s inspiring and in places breathtaking vision for why a group of people getting together in Jesus’ name is how to save the world.

Seeing Through Cynicism by Dick Keyes

Earlier in this year I blogged a few times about this book. But I haven’t stopped talking about it. I’ve felt somewhat lighter ever since reading this. If you struggle with cynicism, or if you think that’s just a fancy word that preachers came up with to take away your money, please do yourself a favor and read this book.

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

This book is a hundred years old, and I wish every college freshman had to read this. Heck, I wish every professor and preacher would! So much of our modern notions of progress and common sense come tumbling down with a closer look through Chesterton’s eyes. This is the book that first made C.S. Lewis re-examine his abandonment of God and Christianity, and even if you aren’t a Christian it will change how you see the world, and probably how you see Christianity.

Skeletons in God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler61q3xi7LblL

It’s a book about the Hope of Holy War, the Good News of Hell and the Surprise of God’s judgment. That’s seriously the subtitle that they snuck past the marketing team, and it’s one of the most surprising, mind-changing books I read this year.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankyl

This is another classic, and probably old-hat for many of you. But I had never read it, and now I feel like I should read it every year. Frankyl was a Jewish Holocaust camp survivor who really did learn the secret to life, and wrote about it well.

FutureVille by Skye Jethani

I like Skye Jethani, All three of his books have been packed with cultural insight, and prophetic critique of contemporary Christianity. FutureVille is about lack of Christian Hope in the world today (at least in the West) and why “The future isn’t what it used to be” and why that matters.

Uncommon Decency by Richard Mouw

Earlier this year, I did a blog series on Civil Religion inspired by this book. I had no idea it would be as insightful and convicting as it was. Tired of angry people everywhere? Tired of the shrill nature of the public sphere? Read this book.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

This is a bit of a left turn from my normal recommendations, but if I had to make a single recommendation to the parents out there…read this to your kids. It is not an overstatement to say that reading this to my 6 year old every night this year changed my life, and I hope hers. I saw different angles through her eyes, and loved it so much I went back and read lots about C.S. Lewis, including everything else he wrote during this time of his life.

Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard

This book isn’t here for it’s artistic merit, or because I agree with Justin on everything about what it means to be a man in a marriage. It’s here because I’m a better husband because I read it (I took Leslie to dancing classes because of this book) and because I know a lot of guys out there want to love their wives better in 2015 and just don’t know what that should look like. This book is a good place to start.

God Behaving Badly by David Lamb

I’d like to take this guy to lunch. Lamb is an Old Testament Professor who wrote a book that quotes Montgomery Burns, Beyoncé and Leviticus. I’d love to recommend this to any casual reader who wants to dismiss the Old Testament based on the caricatures of God that they’ve heard.

Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken

This books been out a few years, but really, really good. McCracken simply asks the question, “Why are Christians so embarrassed of being different?” And then gives some really insightful answers, and a few hnull.jpg_9673opeful alternatives.

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

I pray that Yancey lives to be 100. Everytime he comes out with a book I have dozens of new sermon illustrations and insights. If you go to Highland don’t read this book, it will come to you.

Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd

Ever since reading Unapologetic (a beautiful Christian book) last year, I’ve struggled to explain to my older brothers and sisters how talking about faith in Jesus to my generation (or at least people like me) has to be different than the analytical, Spock like approach we’ve used for hundreds of years. This book is written by a local church pastor and does it for me.

Patrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Weber grew up in Churches of Christ and is in fact speaking at the Pepperdine Bible Lectureships this year. What I love about Nadia is that she’s a local church person through and through, she’s a great story-teller and she’s got some great stories, but she gets the Gospel and all of it’s implications. By the way, this book is PG-13.

Speaking of PG-13

2017697992Religion for Atheists by Alain De Bottom

This book is written by someone who is religious but not spiritual. This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time h/t to Jen Rogers for the recommendation. De Bottom (French for “Of the Bottom”) grew up with atheist parents and is an atheist himself. But I’ve never read an atheist like him. He’s not against institutional religion, he just doesn’t believe in the God they organize around. When so many Christians are asking why should we belong to a church, there’s a whole group of atheist who are starting ones. De Bottom leads the way, and this book explains why.


So those are my top reads from 2013, What did I miss? Any suggestions for 2014?

On December 30, 2013

May I Recommend from 2013

Playing God pictureBook pictureAs 2013 comes to an end and I think back over the past twelve months, I wanted to share with you some of the best books I read from this past year.

One of the things that I love about my job is how the Church gives me time to study and prepare. It’s a real blessing, I get paid to go off every year to pray and study (or maybe they just want me to get out of their hair) But I know it’s not just to write sermons, it’s to equip the priesthood of all believers for ministry, and  when people ask me if there are any books I recommend I want to be as helpful as possible.

So for those of us who are looking for new reads in 2014, here are some of my favorite resources from this year (in no particular order):

Playing God by Andy Crouch. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. The Christian relationship to power is always strained, but we use power all the time, and we’re not always conscious about how the Jesus story should inform what we do in leadership, serving and how we think about institustions. Crouch is one of my favorite writers, and this book is one of my favorites of the year.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes I think this book is one of the most helpful ones I read this year for Bible readers, teachers or preachers. The authors grew up in the Bible Belt, and then served as missionaries on the other side of the world. This book does the one thing that most of us who have grown up in Church and with reading the Bible need, it makes the familiar strange again.

Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland This book is painful in many parts as a reminder that our Churches, by and large are the most segregated places in the country. And not just in regard to race or socio-economics either. We carve the world up into such narrow categories, that we actually never have to worship with and serve along side people with disagree with. Cleveland’s question is, “Can we really call that church?”  It’s written with a hopeful and helpful tone. It’s a great resource to remember what it really means to be the church, and why every church should care about it.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. I’m not a Calvinist and I don’t like Systematic Theologies, but I really appreciated this book. Keller is one of my favorite writers and preachers because he is so good at reading his context, and here he’s on point. The first part of his book, he reframes the whole question about the secular approach to suffering, and I think it’s brilliant. Then the last third of the book is very helpful on a pastoral level. So much of ministering to people feels like trying to disarm a bomb. You are always wondering about which wire to cut, Keller acknowledges this and points out why some people find the Calvinist views of God comforting in their suffering, and others don’t, and gives some practical advice on how to walk with people in their suffering.

The God of Old by James Kugel. If you want to believe in Jesus you should read your Bible, if you want to believe like Jesus did this is a good book. It’s a window into how people in ancient times thought of God and the stories they told about Him.

Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. I want to carefully recommend this book, because it is not for everybody. I want to call Spufford irreverent, but that’s not right, he’s obscenely reverent. An atheist turned Christian, Spufford is writing to post-Christian England, and he speaks their language. If you are easily offended, skip on down to the next one. If you wrestle with faith, or are wanting to have better conversations with your friends who don’t believe in God, check this book out. Spufford is a word-surgeon and his description of the human condition is profound. unapologetic

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley If you are an opinion leader/teacher/minister/preacher of a local church read this book. Written in an incredibly honest and vulnerable way. If you care about Churches being hospitable, welcoming places, this book helps you ask better questions about why we sometimes aren’t, and what we can do about it.

Loves God, Likes Girls by Sally Gary. Sally is a friend of mine, but I think this was one of the better memoirs I’ve read. She’s a member of the Churches of Christ who deals with same-sex attraction. She leads a ministry called CenterPeace that helps Churches create safe places for people who are wrestling with their sexuality (which really should mean all of us) In a world where we like to talk past each other throw truth bombs at one another, Sally story and ministry helps build bridges and create kinder and more loving Churches.  Earlier this year, I reviewed this book, but still want to recommend it now.

When Donkey’s Talk by Tyler Blanski. This guy has got a Masters in Medieval Church History and paints houses for a living. He writes about wizards and saints and witches and why the medieval world might make more sense than today. I love the way he writes and the tone of this book, Blanksi gave me language about how God’s world is enchanted.  This book wasn’t as good as his first one, Mud and Poetry, but still a great read.

The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse by Michael Gungor. Fans of the band Gungor may have already read this, but it’s one of the surprise books of the year for me. If you are an artist, musician or creative of any type get this book. His story about a one man band named Emo-tron is worth the price of the book.

Prototype by Jonathan Martin. Martin is the son of a Pentecostal preacher,  who became a Pentecostal Pastor himself, and then went to the Duke School of Divinity. He’s a Pentecostal mystic who loves Thomas Merton. He also planted a church called Renovatus: a Church for liars, dreamers and misfits. If he can name a church, just imagine what he can do with a book. It’s a memoir/testimony/theology book of sorts. But it’s really all about Jesus and ways Martin has seen God moving in the world.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs has always fascinated me, and this book was a great portrait of one of the most enigmatic and influential and bizarre people the world has seen. If you read this one, be sure to go back and read Playing God…they go well together.  As does this next one…

The World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg Stevenson. Only a guy with a dream as big as “Getting rid of Nuclear weapons” could write a book quite like this. For all the non-profit leaders, ministry deacons and people who want make the world a better place, this is a good book to help temper our Messiah complex, and keep us serving for the right reasons. Plus there’s an awesome story about how Patch Adams starting a parade of naked people through San Francisco.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. If you’ve read Gladwell’s earlier stuff, you won’t be surprised…or let down. Writing this book actually led Gladwell back to being a person of faith. It’s impressive, and if you teach or preach, it’s fill with great stories that are immediately applicapble.

What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell. I think this is one of Bell’s better books, especially for the conversations I’m hearing these days. For all the grief Bell gets and gives, he is answering the questions that I think people who won’t go to Church are actually asking. I recommend this book often for parents who have kids who have started to question their faith. It won’t stop our questions, but it will get us to ask better ones, and be skeptical of our skepticism.

So those are my top reads from 2013, What did I miss? Any suggestions for 2014?


“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” -C.S. Lewis

Maybe you’ve noticed that over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk around charismatic vs. not charismatic protestant Christians. Some people held a conference, and John MacArthur wrote a book about it. Mark Driscoll even showed up at the conference and started giving away his newest book and just confused everyone.

But what caught my eye is what these non-Charismatics called the conference.

They called it, “Strange Fire”

Which may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Because growing up in the Restoration Movement, that is a reference to an obscure little story in Leviticus that no other branch in Christian tradition really paid attention to.

It’s the story of Nadab and Abihu, some of the first priests in the Torah. It’s 10 little verses that end with God smiting Nadab and Abihu because they offered “Strange” or “Unauthorized Fire.”

When I heard the name of the conference it felt…reassuring. I thought, “Hey, we’re not the only ones who misread the Bible after all!”

And let’s call that’s what it is.

To name this conference that, is a way of misreading the Bible. I don’t care where you go from there, but if you start with that story as your metaphor, you will have a  bad view of God when you’re reading the Bible.[1]

Trust me on this.

But when I saw in Christianity Today, that Mark Noll actually compares this new anti-charismatic movement to Restorationist I had two thoughts, “Christianity Today knows about us?” and then as I read the comparison I realized “Yes, they know us well.”

Here’s what they said:

“Perhaps the major flaw of the book is more attitudinal than methodological. In claiming to see things so clearly–so black and white–MacArthur falls into a restorationist mindset, identified by historian Mark Noll as “intellectual overconfidence, sectarian delusion, and a stunningly naive confidence in the power of humans to extract themselves from the influences of history…”

Apparently Mark grew up in my church.

Now I love Churches of Christ, and the Restoration Movement, I’m not just saying that. I  really do. And I’m glad to be a part of Protestant Christianity…except for this one tiny slice of it. We protest…a lot…and often.

We love to argue and parse words and ideas, and I love the idea about Sola-Scriptura, but like Mark Noll hinted at, Sola Scriptura is naïve if you don’t acknowledge that you are a person culturally conditioned to read the Bible in certain ways and ask certain questions (one that the Bible might not be trying to address) and not ask the questions the Bible is trying to answer.

I get the Cessasionist argument, and I really respect John McArthur, his writings and ministry have blessed me. I love Joni Erickson Tada (who spoke at the conference) and I very much understand why someone who has endured the suffering of both physical limitations, and the suffering of spiritual bullies who might say, “If you just had enough faith…”

But I believe I’ve heard the voice of God, and I’ve prayed for people who I believe have been healed, and several who haven’t.  But I didn’t always think this way.

The problem for me started about 9 years ago, when I went to Sri Lanka to do Tsunami relief. We were with a small gathering of Christians there, and a blind woman came up to get prayed for, and God opened her eyes.

I’ve got a bachelors and a graduate degree in Bible, and I immediately said to myself, “I know seven reasons why that cant happen.”

But as I started to think about it, I realized that the reasons I knew that this couldn’t happen had nothing to do with the Bible. It had everything to do with the philosophy and ideology I was reading the Bible through.

The problem was I had been using the Bible, to be right, to make a living. I was standing on it, but the Bible is telling about a world that we are supposed to inhabit.

And in that world anything can happen.

Because God is in it.

As an aside, there is a reason that Charismatic Chrsitianity is spreading all through the third world. Last week, a few Christians and I were having a bible study with a Muslim man from Sierre Leon when we got to one of the excoricisms in the Gospel of Mark. I told him, that none of us at the table had ever seen anything like a demon possession, and maybe he could speak more to the issue.

So he started talking about the Witch doctor in his village. How he could point at a goat and kill it with his voodoo, and about how he put spells on people making them go crazy.

When my friend read the Gospel of Mark, he was glad to see that demons obeyed Jesus. Because he knew what a demon was in a way that we don’t.

My friend sure hopes God hasn’t ceased working in the world, because he knows first hand that evil hasn’t.

Anytime we start having a conversation about God that only works in certain parts of the world (the wealthiest, most educated and the most access to medicinal resources) we are going to miss large parts of the Gospel.

Love and Elitism

The real problem that I believe MacArthur is trying to address is the division that has happened around the way we talk about the Holy Spirit and God’s activity in the world. I spend a lot of time with some Charismatic brothers and sisters, and I understand the critique.

It’s very possible to think that you’ve arrived at a place superior than others because of your spiritual experience, or what you’ve sensed God work through you to heal or prophesy. It’s very easy to fall in love with the gifts more than the Giver.

I’ve also been around Cessationalists enough to know that this isn’t just a “Charismatic problem” Knowledge, after all, does puff up.

And it is ironic, that the main verse in the Bible that Cessationalist and Charismatics argue about is in Paul’s magnificent chapter of what Christian love looks like.

And that context matters just as much as anything else in this conversation. Christian love defers to one other, it esteems one another, it doesn’t accumulate priviledge and status when God gives you gifts like healing or preaching or the gift of knowledge.

Christian love shouldn’t crash someone’s conference or take away someone’s books and then tweet about it.

In fact, I believe that for these two groups to be able to reconcile and apologize and humble themselves before the other, that would be a miracle. Perhaps the best kind of miracle.

I Can’t Only Imagine

It seems to me that the way most Christians talk about God in the world today is either that God is something like magic (good for the occasional miracle, if you just pray the right prayers, believe the right way etc.) or we are Deist’s (the idea that God created the Universe, wound it up like a top, and stepped away.) The universe is either empty of God, or God is someone we can control.

This is a problem.

I was talking to an Anglican priest friend last week about this, and his answer was so good I think it might be helpful here.

He said something like, the main problem really isn’t what we think it is. The real problem is that we’ve lost our imagination.

There is a fundamental difference between a Catholic Christian’s imagination and a Protestant Christian’s imagination.  In Catholicism, the whole world in enchanted, God is closer than we are to ourselves, and the entire Creation is dripping with the Glory of God.

So back to us Protestants, both the Charismatics and the Cessationists are basically talking with the same limited imagination. We believe that either God punches a whole in the roof of the world and tinkers in from time to time in order to heal our Aunt’s cancer or give me a better parking space…or we believe that He doesn’t do that.

But both are operating from a posture that fundamentally believes God is somewhere else.aslan3

This is why we use language like, “And then God showed up.” As if there are places in the world where God wasn’t!

And don’t think for a second I’m trying to ignore the Bible. I’m just trying to start reading it better. Think about how the Psalms talk about Creation, the mountains clap for joy, and the rivers sing!

According to the Bible the whole earth is enchanted!

And the danger of having conversations like this, is that we strip God out of the world He made and we do it, not by using the Bible, but coming from an “Enlightenment Worldview” that has very little to do with imagination, and very much to do with scientific reductionism of the Good world that God created and still inhabits.

Think about the words we use in this argument. It’s words like Natural vs. Supernatural. Where did we get those words from? It’s not Scripture, so if we are going to have this conversation then lets at least admit that it’s not Sola Scriptura we are arguing with.

We are humans, located in certain places and ideologies.

And God help us if we make boxes so tight that God can’t help us.

The Catholic (think Pre-Enlightenment) imagination is rich and filled with different ways of talking about reality. It is what Tolkien and Lewis drew from to tell about the Enchanted world of God.

I’ve spoken in tongues, because all Art is speaking in tongues, I’ve seen God heal people, and I see God sustain the Billion miracles everyday that hold our intricate hearts beating just because of His creative word. I’ve seen babies born and people sacrifice their lives, I’ve seen people healed in “normal” ways like through doctors at hospitals and people healed in unusual ones.

Am I a Charismatic or a Cessasionist? Neither. Because I think both of those stories are two small to contain God.

I believe Aslan is on the move.

The Fire of God is real, the world is ablaze with it.

And when Christians are unable to see that, I think that’s strange.

[1] Rabbinical tradition teaches that this story in Leviticus isn’t about them disobeying or misunderstanding God, it’s about them not revering Him. The very next verse after this story is a prohibition against drinking while performing priestly duties, so the Rabbi’s have said that was Nadab and Abihu’s sin.

On January 2, 2012

May I Recommend from 2011

One of the best benefits of being home schooled was that my mother let me read all the time growing up. My curriculum for a year or two consisted of my parents dropping me off at the Benton Library and leaving me there all day. It was kind of a dream education. It almost outweighed the whole being terrified of girls and social situations.
All that to say I like reading a lot. And I thought I’d share with you some of the best books I read from 2011:

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God has given us much to celebrate. And yes there is time to dance and a time to mourn, but each season has it’s rightful place, but what we’ve seem to have done is a lukewarm mixture of both. The spirit of Despair is so easy to give into. Cynicism is the currency that we deal in, and Christians are no different. So I would like to suggest that churches pay attention to this more as a spiritual discipline. Because the Kingdom of God has come and is coming.

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On September 6, 2011

Separation for Church and State

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but lately it seems like the amount of scandals among politicians and public leaders have gone up exponentially. We tweet dirty pictures, or have sex with pages, or leave our wives for women in Southern America, or yell “You lie” at the President. It’s getting ugly out there.
We don’t just need a particular kind of ideology in politics. We need a particular kind of person.

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Rowling’s books have outsold anything in printed history that wasn’t written by God. And it’s just getting bigger and bigger. Because people in their bones are hungry for a good story. In the words of Stephen King, “Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

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On May 17, 2011

Mere Mortals

In a world of self-esteem and health and wealth gospels, it’s good to remember what makes us important is the One who made us. In the words of the Psalmist, we are Mere Mortals.

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