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Joy Flowing to the World

Dec 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

JFTWGreg Forster:

Borrowing a few lyrics from the wonderful hymn “Joy to the World”, which I ran around the house singing as a boy, here’s how I think the joy of God flows out from our hearts into civilization.

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: The Holy Spirit miraculously transforms us through our relationship with Jesus, giving us the joy of God in mind, heart, and life.

Let Men Their Songs Employ: Because God made human beings as social creatures, this joy of God is not locked up in an isolated heart; it flows among us and transforms how we relate to one another.

Let Earth Receive Her King: The church is the special community of people who are undergoing this transformative work, and the Spirit uses the distinct life of the church to further that work by means of doctrine, devotion, and stewardship.

He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow: We live most of our lives out in the world, among people who are not (yet) being transformed in this special way. How we live in the world should manifest the change the Spirit is working in us, carrying the impact of the joy of God “far as the curse is found.”

He Rules the World with Truth and Grace: As we learn to manifest the Spirit’s work in our hearts through the ways we live in the world, the portions of the world that are under our stewardship start to flourish more fully – not in a way that directly redeems people, because only personal regeneration can save a human being, but in a way that makes the world more like it should be and delivers intense experiences of God’s joy to our neighbors.

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A Time to Speak

Dec 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

I’m encouraged and challenged by “A Time to Speak” – two panel discussions held Tuesday at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The event included Bryan Loritts, John Piper, Voddie Baucham, Thabiti Anyabwile, Trillia Newbell, Ed Stetzer, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Albert Tate, Derwin Gray, and Darrin Patrick.

These brothers and sister don’t agree on everything, and they have different views of the best way forward. But in their conversation, you’ll see a model of grace and guidance for how to discuss these matters and grow in Christlikeness.

You can watch the video of both panels below.

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Worth a Look 12.18.14

Dec 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing by Jonathan Dodson. $3.99.

Showing readers how to utilize the rich gospel metaphors found in Scripture and how to communicate a gospel worth believing—one that speaks to the heart-felt needs of diverse individuals—Dodson connects the gospel to the real issues people face each day by speaking to both the head and the heart.

Timothy Tennent – Gospel Clarity vs. “The Fog”

When you walk into a vibrant church, you can immediately sense the difference.  At every point, you meet gospel clarity.  The church exudes confidence in the unique work of Jesus Christ.  They understand the power and authority of God’s Word.  They feel the lostness of the world and the urgency to bring the good news to everyone.   At every point, you observe gospel clarity.

Philip Nation gives a list of one-sentence book reviews:

This year, I intended to read a great deal more books than I actually did. However, I think most of the books I interacted with were helpful. Since I’m not one for writing long book reviews, I decided to offer one sentence book reviews on some of the more enjoyable books I read. They are not listed in any particular order except that I hope everyone will read the first book I’ve listed from Tim Chaddick.

I love this video. Two brothers arguing politics on C-Span get a surprise call from their mother:

Brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and they recently sat in on a C-SPAN call-in show to air their varying opinions.

At least one listener, however, was not happy to hear their continual disagreement…

Get Ready for the War on ‘Gendered’ Toys:

It is—get ready, innocent holiday shoppers—an army of sexist, “gendered” toys, ready to oppress children around the globe. Sadly, these toys, much like, say, Victoria’s Secret models, face a rather odd conundrum: They are both victimizers and victims at the same time. These inherently sexist toys, you see, are also forced to live in a virtual apartheid of equally sexist, restricting, and gender-segregated toy store shelf arrangements. It is, as modern feminists like to say, a bit of a double bind.

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My 10 Favorite Reads of 2014

Dec 17, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Every December, I select the ten books that I most enjoyed reading during the year. I am not claiming these are the most important books of 2014 (since many weren’t even published this year). Instead, I choose ten books (and an honorable mention) based primarily on how much I enjoyed reading them. (See last year’s list20122011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.)

1. A SECULAR AGE by Charles Taylor
and HOW (NOT) TO BE SECULAR by James K. A. Smith

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A work of philosophy and history that opens a window on the meaning of secularity and its significance for how we live. I don’t know how I would have had the stamina to persevere through Taylor’s volume if not for a companion book: How (Not) To Be Secular by James K. A. Smith. The companion volume does more than summarize Taylor’s work; Smith adds to it, dissents from it, and explores its relevance for the church today. (Click here to read my interview with Smith as well as several reflective posts on Taylor’s work.)

2. IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE
The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
by Hampton Sides

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Tells the story of explorer, George Washington De Long’s attempt to navigate through a wall of ice in hopes of discovering the open polar sea at the top of the world. The journey is told with attention to the details left by surviving crew members, the diaries of De Long, and the scientific theories at their disposal at the time. ”Grand” and “terrible” are great adjectives for this voyage. Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year. (See more of my review.)

3. JESUS CONTINUED
Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You
by J. D. Greear

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This is a book that challenged and convicted me – and ultimately led me to repentance for the many times I have overestimated my own ability and vision and underestimated the magnitude of what God can do through us when we yield to the Holy Spirit. I’m currently co-writing a curriculum with J. D. on the same topic, a task which has only deepened my dependence on and love for the Spirit of God.

4. A LIGHT TO THE NATIONS
The Missional Church and the Biblical Story
by Michael Goheen

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This book describes the missional identity of the church by tracing the role God’s people are called to play in the biblical story. Using both the Old and New Testaments to provide context for the church’s missional identity, Goheen helps us see the integral connections between God’s people and God’s mission.

5. IN DEFENSE OF SANITY
The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton

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Chesterton often turned things upside down so his readers could then see them right side up. He made a winsome case for Christianity by poking holes in the assumptions of his opponents. It’s not by force of will, but force of wit that he startles you and makes you think. This collection of essays is a good introduction to his thought. Here are four reasons you should be reading Chesterton.

6. CREATIVITY, INC.
Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration 
by Ed Catmull

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Written by Pixar’s co-founder, Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. is fascinating in its portrayal of Pixar’s history of successes and failures, and insightful in its boiling down of Pixar experience into transferable principles.From the book, here are 18 lessons we can learn from the culture of Pixar.

7. TAKING GOD AT HIS WORD
Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me

by Kevin DeYoung

Taking God at His Word

Kevin DeYoung’s new book is written to strengthen our confidence in the truthfulness, clarity, and goodness of God’s written Word to us. He also wants us to delight in God’s Word and desire it. “Psalm 119 is a love poem, not a checklist,” he writes. Most helpful in contemporary debates is the chapter on the clarity of God’s Word – a gentle rebuttal of the idea that because there are various interpretations of Scripture no one has sufficient grounds to know whether an interpretation is right or wrong. (See more of my review.)

8. THE BEATLES
A Biography

by Bob Spitz

Beatles

This is a story of the spectacular and the sad, talent and tragedy. In one band, in one decade, you see the conflation of hedonistic pursuit (through sex and drugs), rebellion against societal norms (marriage and divorce), self-righteous pretentiousness (love-ins, meditation, and pacifism), and consumerism. All the while, the musical backdrop to this sordid affair is perhaps the most brilliant canon of pop, rock, and folk music that Western culture has seen. (See full review.)

9. SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Story of God Bible Commentary
by Scot McKnight

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I work through a Sermon on the Mount commentary every year. (Last year’s was John Stott’s, and 2012 was Dale Allison’s.) Scot’s treatment is up there with Stott for me. This commentary is a nice blend of history, exposition, and praxis. Scot’s method of guiding you through the Sermon is to let the force of Jesus’ kingdom agenda hit you squarely between the eyes. Even when I disagreed with some of his interpretive choices or points of application, I was challenged and moved by the words of Jesus as explained by Scot.

10. THE RIGHTEOUS MIND
Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
by Jonathan Haidt

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Jonathan Haidt’s book provides a crash course in the psychology of human morality. Haidt believes human nature is not just intrinsically moral, but also “moralistic, critical, and judgmental”. In other words, “an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition”.

Honorable Mention:
NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF
by Julian Barnes

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“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” With that line, Julian Barnes launches a book of reflections on life, religion, and morality as the shadow of death slowly closes in. Barnes’ book perfectly captures the “cross-pressure” (in Charles Taylor’s words) of being an unbeliever in a secular age. Barnes is haunted by the transcendence he has dismissed, nostalgic for the God he does not believe exists. (See more of my review.)

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Worth a Look 12.17.14

Dec 17, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World by Michael Horton. $2.99.

In this candid and hopeful book, Michael Horton challenges us to reorient our faith and our practice toward the transformative, Christ-centered gospel–both in the church and in the world.

5 of the Best Free Bible Study Tools, to which I would add MyStudyBible.com:

Beyond the accessibility of the Bible itself, we also have extraordinary access to powerful Bible study tools, many of which are available for free. Here are five of the best free Bible study tools online—or at least, five of my favorites that I personally use all the time.

Kimberly Thornbury – Christian Colleges vs. Hook-Up Culture:

Though deplorable incidents of sexual assault and rape can still take place anywhere—even in the dorm rooms of faith-based colleges and universities—we see several religious schools offering up a distinctly different response to sex on campus. Rather than a move toward radical autonomy, these schools are making institutional changes to help counter alcoholism, hookup culture, and sexual assault.

Eric Geiger – Values, the Vine, and Kids Ministry:

What makes the Christian faith powerful, is not a bunch of virtues. It is Jesus—the Vine who gave His life to give us life. And if we offer kids virtues apart from the Vine, we enslave them with a new Law without the power to live out the virtues we have given them. If we teach for fruit apart from the Spirit, we fail to announce the good news that is the power of God for salvation.

Nick Batzig – 5 Ways to Prepare for Challenges in Ministry:

There are many things that can only be learned on the frontline of the battlefield of the pastorate. So, what can young ministers do to glean the wisdom and counsel necessary to face the pastoral situations for which they were not fully prepared in seminary? Here are five things every young pastor should seek to incorporate into his life and ministry:

Alan Cross – Racism is a Symptom of a Deeper Issue We Don’t Want to Address:

Racism will never be solved in America apart from the Cross of Christ and the sacrificial love that flows from Jesus’s wounds into every area of life. The place for racism to be solved first is in the local church – a colony of heaven in the country of death, as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is in the local church that we must put aside our own personal preferences and individual choices of what WE like and what benefits US over and above others and where we learn to live for the benefit of others who challenge us.

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Your Mind is a Spin Machine

Dec 16, 2014 | Trevin Wax

media_spin_400How do you make a moral decision?

How do you determine if something is right or wrong?

Many of us think of morality as something we discover after rational and reflective consideration. You hear both sides of an argument, you consider reasons that may justify your action, and then you pronounce judgment.

But Jonathan Haidt says we’re getting it backwards. In reality, you judge first, and only then do you justify.

In The Righteous Mind (which I mentioned in last week’s post about self-righteousness), Haidt explains the first principle of moral psychology:

“Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Who’s Controlling the Elephant?

To illustrate how this principle works, Haidt uses the metaphor of the rider and the elephant.

  • The rider represents the controlled processes, the “reasoning-why” we think something is right or wrong.
  • The elephant represents the “automatic processes” – the emotions, intuitions, and whatever things we assume.

When we make a case for our vision of morality, we are appealing to the rider and telling him where to go. But usually, the rider is the servant to the elephant.

So what role does reasoning play in our moral development? Rationalization is what we do to explain our moral intuitions and commend them to others.

“We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment” (52).

Our reasons are an attempt to have others affirm and subscribe to our moral viewpoints.

Looking Right vs. Being Right

“Image is everything,” the old saying goes. And there’s a sense in which our morality follows that line.

In the ancient debate between Glaucon and Socrates, Haidt sides with Glaucon:

“People care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than about reality” (86).

So, it’s not surprising that “people are trying harder to look right than to be right” (89). And one of the ways you can look right is by convincing people to affirm your perspective.

Haidt then makes a powerful claim:

“Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth” (89).

We are looking for approval, so we come up with or search for reasons to back up our moral judgments.

The result of Haidt’s work is to pop the inflated delusions of the rationalist who makes everything subsequent to cold, hard reasoning. “Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason,” he writes (104).

We should be suspicious of an individual who says he or she has reasoned to a position. Why? Because our “reasoners” are only really good at one thing:

“finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons” (105).

The Spin Machine in Your Mind

What does this principle show us? Our minds are like a political spin machine.

You’ve seen the talking heads on television, the partisans who are paid to drone on and on about how good their candidates or leaders are, no matter how poorly they are polling or how obvious their failures. Most of the time, these poor partisan souls really do believe everything they are saying, a picture that would elicit pity if it weren’t so pathetic.

But before we judge the partisan, perhaps we should get acquainted with the spin doctors in our own minds. We’re all susceptible to what is called confirmation bias, “the tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what you already think” (93).

When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves if we can believe it. We look for supporting evidence in order to give us good reasons for believing what we want to. Then, we can stop thinking. We are “justified.”

On the other hand, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves if we must believe it. We look for contrary evidence in order to give us good reasons for dismissing the belief. Then, we can feel smug in our rejection of whatever it is we didn’t want to believe. Again, we are “justified.”

How Do We Persuade?

Given the fact that humans are experts at spinning things to confirm what we already believe, how in the world can we have conversations?

How do we have debates on moral issues?

How can a Christian ever expect to convince someone else of a biblical morality?

Haidt sees a powerful social element to our judgments. Social influence matters. We care deeply about what other people think, to the point we are willing to adjust our beliefs or look for justification for other perspectives in order to fall in line with what others are saying. He writes:

“Other people exert a powerful force, able to make cruelty seem acceptable and altruism seem embarrassing, without giving us any reasons or arguments” (56).

In other words, we rarely change our minds without prompting from other people.

So persuasiveness in conversing about moral issues matters, but not for the reason you might think. The reason it’s hard to have moral arguments, why most debates end with most people feeling like their side “won” though nobody changed their mind, is because “you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments” (57). Going into combat mode is not likely to succeed.

Instead, “if you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own… Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide” (58).

And how do we empathize? Because intuitions are first and strategic reasoning second, Haidt says, ”If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.” You have to “elicit new intuitions, not new rationales” (57).

That’s where the church comes in. The place where new intuitions are created is community. Only in community are we able to have our moral intuitions shaped by others.

When you put forth a Christian perspective, you do so with empathy and conviction, but the most powerful way to combine the two is in a loving community where empathy and convictions are on full display. If social influence is the key to moral formation, then gathering with believers matters more than ever.

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Worth a Look 12.16.14

Dec 16, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) by Bruce Demarest. $2.99.

This singular, comprehensive treatment of one of Christianity’s essential doctrines gives definitive, Bible-based answers about salvation and the cross—and about related theological issues such as grace and regeneration. It’s perfect for clarifying your theology and gaining deep understanding of this foundational theme.

Slate - Are Christian Podcasts Replacing the Church?

Whatever your theology, your denomination, your interests, and your appetite for cursing, there’s a Christian podcast for you.

Eric Metaxas on the Torture Report:

Some people insist the report is a politically-motivated attack on the Bush administration and/or that the report gives aid to our enemies. Neither or both may be true. But for the Christian, it doesn’t really matter.

Jonathan Parnell – The Church on the Fringes:

Not only must the gospel advance in distance, it must also advance in depth. Jesus came to make his blessings flow “far as the curse is found,” and that means both the curse out there among the highways and hedges of this world, and the curse in here among the nooks and crannies of our soul.

Why 1940’s America Wasn’t as Religious as You Think:

It’s common for people to believe that religion was always more vibrant in the past. Earlier generations were always more religious than we are, right? Not always.

Religiosity can rise and fall just like other things do over time. In fact, America of the 1940s was about as as religious as America today.

Don’t miss the Kainos panel today:

A Time to Speak will take place at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 and which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum. The event, hosted by The Kainos Movement and sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources and Fellowship Memphis, will be live streamed today, 4-6 p.m., CDT, at live.kainos.is.

Ed Stetzer will be moderating a panel that includes: Brian Loritts; Trillia Newbell, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, Eric Mason, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Voddie Baucham, Albert Tate, and Derwin Gray.

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3 Ways to Figure Out What To Do, In Light of Who You Are

Dec 15, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Holding-CompassIn the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the importance of a leader who ”understands the times” biblically (here are Old Testament and New Testament examples). Today, I want to look at why it’s important to properly understand your own personal story within that overarching biblical narrative.

Knowing “what time it is” personally is essential for making wise decisions. Reggie McNeal has done a lot of work in this area. I’m going to lean on his book on spiritual leadership in order to focus on three elements we need to discern: personal life circumstances, personal gifting, and a sense of one’s calling.

1. Personal Life Circumstances

Knowing “what time it is” personally begins with a look backward to time that has passed. In order to look to their future, Christian leaders must first look backwards. Only then will they understand the influences and events that have shaped their outlook.

McNeal writes:

“Leaders who want to foster great self-awareness . . . need to reveal and understand the sources of their own identities, particularly their family of origin and its legacy and the significant personal experiences that have marked and shaped them.”

Note how he connects understanding the past to its relevance for one’s current circumstances. McNeal is not calling on leaders to be aware of their past merely from a biographical standpoint; his point is to call leaders to be aware of how their past impacts the present.

2. Personal Gifting

The next step in a leader knowing “what time it is” personally is to take stock of one’s personal gifting in order to discover how these gifts may serve the Church in this generation.

Because of a faulty view of humility, some Christians are hesitant to speak in terms of talents, abilities, and gifts. However, Scripture encourages wise stewardship of the natural abilities God has given us. Knowing “what time it is” personally means seeing how one’s particular strengths are uniquely suited to the particular needs of one’s current context.

Christian leaders understand the times by matching their personal gifts with the areas in which they can make the greatest contribution. John Stott is often credited with saying something like this: “Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the kingdom of God.” In other words, assess your skills and survey your world, and then maximize your effectiveness by putting your gifts and the world’s need together.

3. Personal Calling

What happens when a leader has a good handle on the formative influences of their past and a good understanding of their personal gift set and is presented with more than one relevant ministry option?

This quandary is best solved by a proper understanding of the leader’s personal calling in life. McNeal sees “the call” as framing “the central story line in their life dramas.” He adds:

“Leaders center their lives, their vocation, and their location around the call. The call is not an added dimension to their journey; it gives meaning to the trip. It is personal.”

Evangelicals sometimes misinterpret the nature of God’s calling on a person’s life. Some see a calling as directed toward a specific ministry task. For example, “God has called me to be a missionary to Africa” or “God has called me to be a pastor.” For some leaders, the calling may indeed be this specific.

However, McNeal recommends one views a personal calling in more general terms, carefully discerning between passion and passing interests and simultaneously distinguishing between “tasks” and “mission.” He writes:

“People, even leaders typically define themselves in terms of jobs, position descriptions, roles. . . . Great leaders, on the other hand, tell you what they are intending to accomplish, the mission they are on.”

In a general sense, all Christians have the calling to fulfill the Great Commission. This mission is fulfilled in multiple ways, and Christian leaders may engage in multiple tasks and activities over a lifetime. Thus, while the church’s overall mission is Great Commission obedience, the leader who knows “what time it is” will discern his or her particular role for a particular context. The specific tasks may change, but the leader’s general mission (within the larger framework of the church’s missional identity) will remain the same.

The content of the call must not be confused with the context of the call. Venues change, but the mission remains.

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Worth a Look 12.15.14

Dec 15, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Sojourner Truth: American Abolitionist (Heroes of the Faith)$0.99.

Rodney Stark – A Worldwide Religious Awakening:

It is a very religious world, far more religious than it was 50 years ago. Gallup World Poll Surveys of more than a million people living in 163 nations show that:

– 81 percent claim to belong to an organized religious faith, and most of the rest report engaging in religious activities such as prayer or making offerings to the gods in various “folk religion” temples.

– 74 percent say religion is an important part of their daily lives.

– 50 percent report they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

In very few nations do as many as five percent claim to be atheists, and only in China, Vietnam, and South Korea do they exceed 20 percent.

Jon Tyson – What Moby Dick Can Teach us about What We Click, Read, and Post:

If we think back over the links we click every day, does it seem as if they mostly to take us to articles and videos that rehash things we already know? Every once in a while something new happens, but in between we’ll settle for a “fresh angle” or a “new spin” that temporarily satiates our media hunger.

The Allure of Middle Earth:

Tolkien taps into this deep ache within us. We were made by a King, and we were made to be ruled by him. And when the right king reigns, prosperity will again reign over the land.

What People Buy Where:

Conspicuous consumption is everywhere, but it’s not the same everywhere. People living in certain cities spend far more than the national average on particular goods and services that they believe will enhance their social standing.

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