Christianity · College · Culture · Derek Webb · Faith · Jars of Clay · Man of Steel · Matt Chandler · Movies · Music · Superheroes · Superman · The Village Church · Wonder Woman

Owl Post 9-5-13

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The Cul-de-sac of Stupidity:

cul-de-sacColossians 1:19-21

In the passage above, Paul speaks of our alienation from God resulting from the work of our hostile minds, an alienation ended at the crucifixion of Christ. Until we understand the reconciling work of the cross, we will remain stuck in our patterns of alienation—from God and others.

How Logic Can Help Save a College Student’s Faith:

Human-Logic-Brain“I’m a liberal, pacifist, atheist, and if you don’t like it, you can leave,” the professor said as he began the first day of Renaissance history at the University of Colorado. Joni Raille, who grew up in a conservative Christian home, was taken aback and wondered what her professor’s bluntness had to do with Renaissance history. I asked her if she ever considered dropping the course. “No,” she replied, “I can learn from anybody, even if he is an atheist.”

New Music: Jars of Clay’s Inland:

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgI am that rare Jars of Clay fan who does not hold their debut album in highest esteem. It is not a bad album by any means–”Worlds Apart” is a classic–but it never reached me the way If I Left the Zoo (my first Jars album), Who We Are Instead and Good Monsters did. Those three are the albums by which I judge their output. In certain circles, that statement would have me discredited. So I may not be the best person to write this review. Of course, that has never stopped me before.

The Psychology of the Man of Steel: Should Today’s Superman Be More Morally Realistic?

jacobin-man-of-steelSuperman has changed, and there’s no denying this. Although he wears the same iconic “S” on his chest, the Superman we see in the film Man of Steel embodies a very different psychological makeup than in past versions of this DC Comics hero. He questions whether humanity is worth saving. He is driven by emotions like anger and desperation. He seems reckless, destructive, and impulsively violent. This article, which includes some spoilers, examines why this new Superman represents a more psychologically realistic version of the iconic character, and asks us to question whether a more morally fallible Superman makes more sense in a post-9/11 society.

Derek Webb Was Wrong, He’s Sorry, and He Loves You:

d6c009d654bfc269e774924d8837bddcDerek Webb first appeared in the Christian music scene with the Texan folk-rock band Caedmon’s Call. On their 1996 self-titled record, Caedmon’s Call (their first national release), he was the angst-ridden voice, expressing doubts and agony that weren’t common threads in CCM. Some instantly identified—people who’d always felt a bit out of place in the church, for whom doubts and struggles were constant. For other listeners, Webb was like the outspoken skeptic in your small group, the one who seemed suspicious of sentiment that were a little too warm and smiles that were a little too plastic. In nearly 20 years since, he’s maintained that posture, agitating and provoking the very world his music inhabits.

Wonder Woman Can’t Have it All:

Blue-Eyes-wonder-woman-3338872-1024-768Following any Wonder Woman project isn’t unlike reading some gossip rag about producers and directors dealing with a talented, but demanding actress. “Challenging” is the reason filmmakers give when Wonder Woman projects fail. “We are still trying right now, but she’s tricky,” is a DC Comics executive Diane Nelson’s explanation of why the company hasn’t moved forward with a film. In a self-perpetuating cycle, studios constantly wonder if enough people will buy tickets to a Wonder Woman movie, or if she has enough star power to anchor a film on her own. Inevitably, the first question journalists usually ask hopeful producers is why they’d ever take on such a “hefty” project.

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Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · ebooks · Harry Potter · Man of Steel · Marilynne Robinson · Matt Chandler · Superman · Tolkien · Uncategorized

Best Books I Read in 2012

The other day I gave my top ten films of 2012 and so I decided that I should do much the same for books. I love to read and this year read over 70 books. This list will not just be new books even though there are quite a few, some of them are also books that I have just finally gotten around to reading. I am going to rank them, but they should not be considered less if they are lower on the list. Each of these books is the top 9 out of over 70, not bad.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars9. The Fault in Our Starts

John Green knows how to write. This book is not just for teens, it is for anyone that likes a good story that is not afraid to ask big questions. Hazel and Augustus struggles with mortality and the ultimate questions will leave you teary all while pondering the final questions yourself. Good books should always leave you thinking about something important and Green is not afraid to have his readers do just that.

 

0615_superman-book8. Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel

Ever since I was a child, Superman has captured my attention in a way no other superhero has. A man that is all powerful and yet, in the end, is forced to hide himself, his true self from everyone was actually very relatable to me (not the all-powerful part). Larry Tye has written the best book on the history of Superman, from conception of an idea to the new 52. Tye delves into the background of his creators as well as the ways in which Superman has reflected the generations to which he has been written; each generation getting the Superman that they need. For all those who have never liked Superman or if you have always been a fan, this is the book for you. Everyone who reads this will walk away with a deeper appreciation for the Man of Steel and all that he has stood for. Tye sums up the longevity of Superman well when he writes, “Our longest-lasting hero will endure as long as we need a champion, which should be until the end of time.”  My full review is here.

20110511_Jacobspleasurescover7. The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction

This is the first book that I have read about reading and it was well worth it. In a short 162 pages, Jacobs helps us understand the plight of reading in the 21st century. With the proliferation of technology in our lives and the distractions that it brings, reading is something that has fallen by the wayside. Instead of telling readers what they should be reading, Jacobs says read for whimsy. Read what you like. This is a long quote from an interview that Jacobs did, but is helps explain what he means,

Where this really got started was with the many, many students who have come to me over the years after graduating from Wheaton. And they think, Oh, there are so many important books I haven’t read. They come to many teachers, but I get my fair share of them. They come to me and say, “Give me 10 books that I should read over the next year.” Or: “Give me 10 books that you think everyone should read.” I always find myself thinking, Read what you want to read. Since you were 6 years old you’ve been reading things that people told you to read. Now you don’t have to do that anymore, unless you’re going to graduate school. Go out and read what strikes you as being fun.

I don’t think these students trust themselves to be readers on their own. They want to continue the sort of reading under direction that they have experienced ever since they started school. Over the years I’ve gotten absolutely stiff-necked about it. I refuse to give any recommendations. I say, “Go and read for fun,” because that sense of reading as a duty is not going to carry you through. It’s not going to sustain you as a vibrant reader, as you will be if you read what gives you delight. You may have actually lost some of that sense of delight over the years reading primarily for school. So go out there and have fun with it.

What will happen when people do that? Will they read frivolous things? Yes—at least I certainly hope so. I quote W. H. Auden, who says that the great masterpieces should be reserved for the “high holidays of the spirit.” You’re not designed for a steady diet of literary masterpieces any more than you would eat a seven-course French meal every day. At one point, Auden says it’s not only permissible but admirable not always to be in the mood for Dante. And I think that’s right. Sometimes you just want a lighter fare.

Auden himself liked detective stories and doggerel poetry and other things that many of his peers would have looked down their noses at. I want people to recover that sense of pleasure. Of course you’re going to want the heavier stuff. You’re going to want the stuff that’s possibly life-changing. But for heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into a matter of eating your literary vegetables. I don’t think that’s healthy in the long run.

What I also really appreciated about his book is that he praises what Kindles, Nooks and iPads are doing for reading. Each of these devices are making it easier for people to read more often and for longer periods of time. Instead of carrying around bulky copies Anna Karenina or The Iliad, now they are stored in light-weight devices that also have built in dictionaries, enabling longer reading sessions in more places.

So pick up this short little book and be inspired to read all the more in 2013!

the-great-divorce6. The Great Divorce

Every year I try to read at least one C.S. Lewis book that I have not read before. The Great Divorce is a short book about people from hell visiting the outer regions of heaven. Each person that visits has a different reaction to this new place. Lewis’ keen insight into the human condition is on full display here. This is a challenge to read, there are many points you may find yourself in one or more of the characters and their excuses, but this makes it an important read. Start the new year off right and see what path you are on. For more on The Great Divorce go here.

when-i-was-a-child-i-read-books5. When I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson is one of my best-loved authors, her books Gilead and Home are on the top of my list of all-time favorites. Her newest collection of essays is well worth the read. She talks about America, religion, science, literature and more, weaving together a diverse set of thinkers and philosophers with ease. This is a short book and yet dense enough that it needs to be digested slowly and with a pen for notes and underlines. Accept this challenge in 2013, it is worth the effort. For good taste of her writing go here.

the narnian4. The Narnian

I own my voracious reading appetite to C.S. Lewis and his Narnia books. As a young boy I really did not enjoy reading and when I did I read non-fiction. After reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that all changed. Alan Jacobs has written a masterful book on the life of Lewis. This is not an exhaustive biography but a focused look at his life and how he came to write the beloved children’s series. Jacobs shows how Lewis’ experiences as a boy telling stories with his brother to his deep, life-changing friendship with Tolkien, each gave him a pieces to the puzzle that would become Narnia. This needs to be on your reading list fo 2013! My full review is here.

134978183. The Casual Vacancy

No writer has had more to live up to than J.K. Rowling with the release of her first novel post Harry Potter and no book could have been more different. Rowling weaves a tale of a small British town with the intricacy of Austen and the modern sensibility of McEwan all while challenging our notions of social justice. This is an important book on the level of novels like To Kill a Mockingbird; so if you missed it last year, read it in 2013. My full review is here.

12ExplicitGospel_L_8590274382. The Explicit Gospel   

2012 has seen a flood of gospel oriented books and I read quite a few of them, but Chandler’s book was at the top of the list. God has used the preaching of Matt Chandler and now his book to open up the truth of the gospel in new and life-changing ways for me. Understanding and thinking about the ultimate questions of the universe is the most important thing a person can do, so spend some time on that this year. I cannot recommend a book more to you for 2013! My full review is here.

riseofteddyroosevelt21. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

This is the first book in Edmund Morris’ trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt and it is fantastic. There is never a dull moment in this book so do not let the length dishearten you. Spending time getting to know one of the most interesting and influential men in American history was one of the highlights of my year. Roosevelt was forged in the fire of suffering and the American ideal. He will leave you captivated and inspired even when you might not always agree with his sensibilities. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in 2013.

What did you enjoy reading in 2012? Let me know, leave me a comment so I can add it to my list!

Christianity · Faith · Jesus · Matt Chandler · The Gospel

Preeminent Importance

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Let us not shift our gaze and attention away from the gospel of Christ which is the hope of our salvation and the only rock with which to build our lives upon.

“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.” Matt Chandler – The Explicit Gospel

So let us make Christ preeminent in our lives, he already is preeminent in the universe. We love him because he first loved us. Thank you God for the kindness and mercy you have shown in making your Son the firstborn of all creation and sending him to give us new life through his death on the cross. Let us give our hearts to you fully, not for the stuff of this world, but for relationship with you. You are the only good and wise God. Amen

C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Faith · Jesus · Matt Chandler · spiritual warfare

Everyday Armor

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)

There is a daily battle going on, it is waging on outside and inside of us. This battle looks to win our hearts and minds. It looks to tear us down and defeat us; dragging us back to the life that we have died to in Christ. So much has been written on this passage and I do not think that I have much to add, other than highlighting it for us. You see Charles Baudelaire is right when he says,

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

We get so busy in our daily lives, running to meetings and after kids, keeping up with the Joneses that we forget the battle that is raging for our souls. So as you go out today, “Suit up”! Do not forget that the devil is real and actively looking to trip you up, make you weary and get you to go back to the life of death you have been called out of. So soak yourself in the truth, know the Gospel and it’s power to effect righteousness in your life, use faith as the shield against the lies of the enemy and speak the Word of the Spirit, the very Word of God in prayer to destroy what is evil. Constant vigilance and preparedness are the key. The only way to be this vigilant is to be rooted and grafted into Christ, to abide in him daily.


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11 ESV)

Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · J.D. Greear · Jesus+Nothing=Everything · Marilynne Robinson · Matt Chandler · Star Wars · Stories · The Gospel · Timothy Keller · Tullian Tchividjian

Story Through Stories

To tell a story many times we reference other stories so that the common and well-known story will help others relate to what we are saying. Stories have a way of telling us something about ourselves and teaching us truths in a way that pure factual dictation never could. So, as I thought about telling my story I found that it was inextricably linked to stories that have meant a lot to me. From a very early age I was captured by the power of story and its ability to affect me deeply and as I look over my life I can see how God has been using these stories to teach me something about myself that I could not seem to learn any other way. He allowed them to come into my life and build a foundation that would make his gospel make more sense to me.

You might laugh, but the overarching story that resonates in my life is Titanic. I am not talking about Kate and Leo on the front of a ship shouting at the wind, I am talking about the tragedy of an ocean liner that was supposed to be unsinkable and yet sunk anyway. My life is a lot like this, I had everything going for me, I was raised in a Christian home, became a believer at the age of 5, I was sheltered from the world through home-schooling (insert any jokes here about awkwardness you want) and I never struggled with drugs or alcohol. Yet in all of this seeming goodness, I was lost; I did not know how to grow in my faith (I believe that God saved me at this age, the gift to believe was given to me by the Holy Spirit and even though there were times as I grew up, where I wanted to leave the faith, I never could. In the end nothing else could explain or makes sense of the world for me, I believe that this was the Holy Spirit’s protecting me), I never was tutored or mentored in the gospel. For me, being a Christian amounted to moralistic Deism; God was there and he saved me, but after that I needed to perform to keep and earn his love. This is what Sunday-school learning and church teaching seemed to be telling me.

On my 8th birthday, a life-changing event occurred; my friends and I watched all three Original Trilogy Star Wars movies in one night. Yes the geek in me was born very early. What is interesting is that to this point I was in love with non-fiction stories, Titanic, The Alamo, WWII and many others were my main source of enjoyment, but Star Wars changed all of that. With its epic, galactic story about good and evil, I was hooked. The spiritual elements of the story influenced me as well. Now, I am not saying that I was won over to eastern philosophy, but the fact that there was a spiritual side to the story left an indelible mark on me. As look back now I can see how God was showing me that story can teach powerful truths; in fact, most of Scripture is the story of humanity told through the lives of individuals and nations and each of them speak mightily into the shared experience of all of us. Stories make things personal and God desperately wants us to know that the gospel is about our being personally connected with him.

Star Wars had a direct impact on my picking up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was longing for more grand and heroic stories. Picking up this book changed my life, I became an avid reader of fiction from that point on and it is still my favorite book. The mark that this story left on me was the way in which Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund. He has done nothing to earn this “salvation”, Aslan’s love for Edmund causes Edmond to turn from evil and love Aslan back. This dimly reflected the gospel for me, and it laid the foundation for what was to come.

There is a big gap for me in my story education. I moved into my teenage years and drifted further from the faith. Oh I was trying hard, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Familial issues of trying to earn love had poisoned my understanding of God. I was lost trying to prove myself worthy and devastated by the falls. The disillusionment grew to the point of me becoming two people, one for the church crowd and the other for world. I pretended to be the good little church boy, all the while diving into the pit of lust and the desperate need to be loved accepted and known. I looked to women and sex to fill this desire and when it didn’t depression set. I was driven to the point of suicide. I did not want to live anymore because nothing in the world could seem to fill the void. Realizing I needed help I looked back to God and medication(prescription anti-depressants). A friend gave me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and for the first time an author spoke my language. He spoke of brokenness and failure and the reality of never feeling good enough for God. Manning showed me that God did love me, even when I was a complete screw-up. My understanding of the pure gospel was refined at this point but not fully.

I was still dealing heavily the idols that I had set up in my life. I truly worshiped the idea of relationships and romantic love, I believed as so many movies and stories tell us that I would not be complete until I had “the one”. There was also still this idea of pleasing God and making him love me more. I believed there was no better way to do this than go into ministry. So I set out to make these things happen. I got married, not long after my own parents had divorced and a couple of years later left Dallas for seminary in Minnesota. I had everything that I believed that I wanted. All of my idols were on the shelf and gleaming in the light of newly being fulfilled. Then it all fell apart. What I was worshiping could not sustain me or truly give me what I need. So I began desperately searching for something better to replace the obviously deficient idols. I tried to find the better woman and the more fulfilling career, but searching for things left me empty. A friend gave me the book The Sparrow and I immediately identified with it. It is the story of a priest and his friends who go on a mission to another planet to discover the source of the music SETI has picked up. It brings up the question, what do you do when you follow the calling you believe God has given you and then everything goes horribly wrong? How do you cope? What becomes of your faith? Was it God you were following or an idol? The story left me with the hope that I was not alone; others had asked these questions and it was ok for me to do so. I just didn’t know how God would answer.

I moved home after seminary with a masters and a divorce. Much of me had been crushed and yet I was still fighting for my idols. I know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, but I continued to plug away. Working at Barnes & Noble I was surrounded by books full of stories. I came across a book that peaked my interest it was called Christian Atheist. The book opened my eyes to the way that I was living. I said that I believed in God but that belief did not have much impact on my daily life. I was still working to be a more moral person, not necessarily someone who was moving into deeper relationship with Christ. The gospel was being opened to me in a way that I had not heard before.

Home and Prodigal God both furthered my gospel education. Home is all about the black sheep in a family and his question of whether or not he is destined to always be the screw-up or if he can come home again. This drove straight to one of my most painful wounds; how could God love me and accept me after all that I had done and was there any hope of change?

Tim Keller helped me see the prodigal son parable in a whole new way. I had been hurt by the self-righteous “older brother” types in the church many times They had driven deep arrows into my heart, underscoring my feelings of inadequacy before God and the impossibility of ever truly making God happy with me. I was never going to live up to God’s standards and many “older brothers” had made sure I knew it. Yet Keller shows how this parable is about the sons, not just the son. Each one of these boys has left the father and gone their own way, one tries to live life his way and the other tries to earn salvation in his power; each missing the free gift that is being offer to them.

Gospel, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, The Explicit Gospel are the culmination of my story so far. God had primed me through the subtle spirituality of Star Wars, the sacrifice of Aslan, the love God has for ragamuffins, the truth that God cares even for the sparrow, the futility of saying I believe in God yet not having that belief impact my life and the hope for a black sheep to run back into the arms of grace. Its grace stupid; God grace. It’s not about what I can do because in and of myself I can do nothing (and I have tried so hard), I can never live up, all that moralism is filthy rags to God and leads ultimately to self-righteousness (which is utterly useless) or depression or and early death. Each of these books opened up the gospel for me in a way I could finally understand and hear. Each one had laid a foundation that allowed it to click and make sense more fully and deeply when the Holy Spirit opened my heart to the explicit, crazy/love of the gospel.

There is nothing that I can do to make God love any more or any less. It is through Christ and his work that I am made new and whole (Romans 5:1-11). This is the last story that has had a major impact lately, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this story Eustace, a very self-righteous and disagreeable lad is turned into a dragon because of his greed. He literally becomes the embodiment of his self-righteousness and it is ugly. He tries desperately to undo it, to scrape off the skin he now lives in, but to no avail, he cannot dig deep enough. It is only when Aslan comes and “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” God showed me that it is though Jesus and his work only that I am made new

Christ has not just saved me from something but to something, freedom. Freedom to be the fullest and best version of me, the version he created me to be not the perversion that I had been trying to create (Galatians 5:1-6). I am called to abide in Christ, to be rooted in him and his love and his love are his commands. You see, I thought of commands as something that hindered me from doing something  I wanted or would be fun. I never fully trusted that God would give me what I wanted. I held so tightly and I trusted only myself to provide for the deepest longings of my heart. Again and again I tried to get what I want, all the time trying to earn God’s love through “moral living”, yet my pursuit of idols led to immoral living and therefore never living up to the standard that I believed God had for me. Jesus lays it out in John 15. He calls me to abide in his love and obey his commands; and as I look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given me the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to hinder my life and existence but someone who truly wants my best. This is why David can say that he delights in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night; he’s not some kind of sadist, he realizes that God’s commands are his love they are love itself. His love will be our joy and fulfillment if we will abide in and follow his love, since he knows what it best for us; being the creator of the universe and all.

So God is calling me to rest in his gospel and to dive deeper into his love by abiding in a way of life that will bring me closer into relationship with him, those he brings into my life and the world at large. I will never move beyond the gospel, but as Jewel the unicorn says in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in!”

Christianity · Matt Chandler · Suffering · Titanic · Uncategorized

100 Years of Titanic Dreams

It was evening, over 100 years ago, in the summer of 1907 when some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people sat in a mansion and started down the path that would lead to the greatest ocean liner of its time. This liner would be the envy of the shipbuilding community, cater to the richest of society and set the standard for everyone else. On March 31, 1909, in the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yards in Belfast, Ireland, the keel for the Titanic was laid. The hopes, dreams and ambition of many men were poured into this vessel. This ship was a crowning achievement in Victorian engineering, a floating dreamland and a ship that God himself could not sink.

On April 10, 1912, this monument to the ingenuity of man was at full steam on its maiden voyage. On April 14, 1912 at 11:40 p.m. an iceberg was spotted. First officer Murdoch shouted, “Iceberg right ahead.” All engines where thrown in reverse, but it was too late. The ship’s starboard side was compromised and the dream became a nightmare. The Titanic reported her location at 41° 46′ N, 50° 14. On April 15, 1912, exactly 100 years ago today, the mightiest ship of its time, the colossal floating palace, sank and became the poster child for the foolishness of man.

“Everyone has a dream,” Billy Joel sings. There are so many things that we long to do or experience. Like those who conceived and built Titanic, we have big dreams. These dreams are mighty enough to drive much of our lives. They help inform where we will go to school, if we marry, who we marry, where we live, who we are friends with, what the priorities of our lives will be, and what presuppositions we will hold to. The fulfillment of these dreams are what we believe will make us happy and satisfied in life. “Happiness is the driving force behind everything that you do. Anything you do has the desire for happiness at it’s center.”

Inevitably, our ship of dreams runs into disaster. We are forced to abandon them and jump into a lifeboat for safety. We are separated from the protection of the liner and become much more susceptible to the squalls of life. We are tossed around, capsized or just left to drift endlessly. The separation is not just from our dreams, it also from each other. Sitting alone in our little boats we cling to the hope that we will run across land or someone else. We long to join our hearts to something beyond ourselves.

The question for many of us becomes, “What is the purpose of this suffering? Why have my heart’s desires not been satisfied? Is there a chance that this devastation has some meaning?” And we answer these questions by buying, “into the philosophy that what we need to finally be happy is more of what we already possess.”* So we pursue more money, more power, more sex, more things and it leaves us even more isolated and unhappy than before.

“The majority of human beings believe that people and circumstances exist to make them happy. We believe the brokenness inside will be satisfied by things outside.”* God needs to allow us to run to the end of ourselves in the hope that we will stop looking to our dreams and to other people to fill what only he can. God wants us to stop worshiping the stuff he created and reorder our lives. It is by placing ourselves under this divine order that we can truly be free to live life to the fullest.

“God gives gifts to all men. Whether you believe in God or not, you are living, walking, and wearing his stuff. He gives gifts to all: food, drink, work, friends, family. He gives gifts to all, but only the children of God, only those who believe in Jesus, receive the gift of lasting enjoyment. Why? Because if we’re oriented around Jesus, our satisfaction is not tied to anything but him. We can actually enjoy God’s good gifts the way they’re designed to be enjoyed, because they are in orbit around the right sun – not our self, but our Savior.”*

Jesus said,

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:9-11 ESV)

*Quotes from The Explicit Gospel – by Matt Chandler

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The Explicit Gospel – Review

12ExplicitGospel_L_859027438The Explicit Gospel

Matt Chandler

Wheaton: Crossway, 2012 237 pages  $17.99

Matt Chandler cements himself as one of the best Bible teachers today with his first book, The Explicit Gospel. There have been a flurry of books on the gospel in the last year and for me, this makes the third in what I am calling the “Gospel Trilogy”. This includes Gospel by J.D. Greear,  Jesus+Nothing=Everything by Tullian Tchividjian and Chandler’s book. Matt’s book is a fantastic capstone to these other books (this does not mean it does not stand alone, which it certainly does). The Explicit Gospel is just what the title says – it is a concise and yet surprisingly comprehensive look at the gospel in less that 230 pages.

The introduction lays out the why and the how Matt will tackle this subjet. There were growing concerns, for him, of seeing people who had been in the church all their life and hearing them say something like this,

“‘I grew up in church; we went every Sunday morning and night; we went to Wednesday prayer, vacation Bible school, and youth camp. If the doors were open, we were there. I was baptized when I was six, seven or eight, but I didn’t understand what the gospel was, and after a while I lost interest in church and Jesus and I started walking in open sin. Someone recently sat me down and explained or invited me to The Village and I heard the gospel for the first time. I was blown away. How did I miss that?’ Or they would say, ‘No one ever taught me that.'”(12)

This lead to a realization that began to haunt Matt. Why was this such an issue? What has happened in the church to allow this kind of thing to become so prevalent? He began to see that much of what the church was teaching was not the explicit gospel but, “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

“The idea behind moral, therapeutic deism is that we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves before God by virtue of our behavior.  This mode of thinking is religious, even ‘Christian’ in its content, but it’s more about self-actualization and self-fulfillment, and posits a God who does not so much intervene and redeem but basically hangs out behind the scenes, cheering on your you-ness and hoping you pick up the clues he’s left to become the best you.

The moralistic, therapeutic deism passing for Christianity in many of the churches these young people grew up in includes talk about Jesus about being good and avoiding bad – especially about feeling good about oneself – and God factored into all of that, but the gospel message simply wasn’t there. What I found was that for a great many young twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the gospel had been merely assumed [Chandler’s italics], not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit.” (13)

The goal of the book is to make the gospel explicit. “But I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing.” (15) So, “in part 1, ‘The Gospel on the Ground.’ we will trace the biblical narrative of God, Man, Christ, Response…When we get to part 2, ‘The Gospel in the Air,’ we will see how the apostle Paul connects human salvation to cosmic restoration in Romans 8:22-23…If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level” (16) “Both are necessary in order to begin to glimpse the size and the weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ.” (17)

I could walk through both of the sections here, but I would only end up quoting the whole book, instead of letting you read it. Chandler constantly builds on each chapter and methodically shows how the gospel has impact on the person and then on all of creation. I was surprised at just how much theology he is able to fit in each chapter. None of this is exhaustive, but it is a concise and easily understood introduction for anyone. And because of the depth in each chapter, it is engaging for those who may feel like they have heard it all before.

The next section of the book looks at the problems that can arise for us if we focus exclusively one aspect over another.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son. By holding these perspectives together, we do the most justice to the Bible’s multifaceted way of proclaiming the good news. When we don’t hold them together, either by over affirming one or dismissing (or outright rejecting) the other, we create an imbalance that leads to all sorts of biblical error.” (175)

Then he moves to moralism and the cross and the danger he mentioned in the beginning of the book: not being explicit about the gospel to the detriment of souls.

“…the truth that unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean – even if we preach biblical words on obeying God – people will believe that Jesus’s message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.

But the problem is deeper and more pervasive. If we don’t make sure the gospel is explicit, if we don’t put up the cross and perfect life of Jesus Christ as our hope, the people can get confused and say, ‘Yes, I believe in Jesus. I want to be saved. I want to be justified by God,’ but begin attempting to earn his salvation. By taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral, therapeutic deism promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well. The result is innumerable Christians suffering under the burden of the law’s curse because they have not been led to see that gospel-centered living is the only way to delight in the law” (208-209)

The beginning and ending quotes I have shared are monumental for me. Personally, the trilogy of books that I have read in the last year have had a – well, what adjective is sufficient to explain the life-changing nature that the gospel has had in my life? God has opened my eyes and has illuminated the Word to me in a truly life-giving and life-altering way. So, do I recommend this book? Yes, but as I do, I recommend reading it with the Word of God ever in your focus and praying that the gospel would come alive to you.

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