Why I’m not reading what most evangelicals read

Here is a list of the top 50 bestsellers according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

I was stunned by how uninterested I am in most of those books. How different they are from Christianity Today’s Book Awards for 2010.

There is little concerning the life of the mind in the former. In the former I feel the obsession with self. In the latter the vistas open up and grand scenes appear. In the former there is one reading. In the latter, there is rereading and rereading again.  In the former I feel the marketing of publishers who are feeding a socially current appetite. In the latter I sense a timelessness that will spill over to another generation and a generation after that.

I think I have always been out of step with the Christian publishing industry. How thankful I am to InterVarsity Press for resisting the currents and publishing literature that rises above the immediate and the readily forgotten.


When the hero pays the price

I just read this story of Earl Campbell, big, bad running back with the Houston Oilers. He’s 52 now and many years removed from the glory of the game. He has paid a big price to win. As Tony Dorsett comments at the end of the article, “no matter how big or strong you are, the game ultimately wins.”

Many people don’t know the toll that “winning” is taking on them. Once the spot light goes out and the attention dies, people are left with their own decisions and their own consequences with no applause to make up for the sacrifices. It can be a lonely and devastating life.

I am old enough to get a huge heaping helping of consequences. I see mine. I see others. The applause of crowds no longer enamors me. There is something deeper that must be fed, an authenticity that must be sought that no other satisfied appetite can substitute for.

Some people seem to know this at an early age. I know some of them. I have tracked them over the years. They made hard decisions, refused the bait others were hungry for, knew how to pace themselves, and decided that genuine was a better way. I took some of the bait they let go. Hats off to them. I am glad to see wisdom at work.

The first sentence of several systematic theologies

Lately I listened to a show on NPR in which callers would identify their favorite sentences from works of literature. It was a fun show. Some sentences can thrill and drill into our consciousness.

Tim Challies went through several systematic theologies and gave us their first sentences.

  • Prolegomena (lit: pro, “before,” and lego, “speak”) is the introduction to theology. (Systematic Theology by Norman Geisler)
  • In 1949, the English playwright and novelist Dorothy Sayers observed the common antipathy in her day toward doctrine: “‘Dull dogma,’ they call it.” (Michael Horton)
  • In this book I will introduce you to the discipline of systematic theology. (Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame)
  • In every science there are two factors: facts and ideas; or, facts and the mind. (Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge)
  • Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. (The Institutes by John Calvin)
  • What is systematic theology? (Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem)
  • One may rightly say Christian theology is study or organized treatment of the topic, God, from the standpoint of Christianity. (Systematic Theology by Robert Duncan Culver)
  • Works on dogmatic or systematic theology generally begin with the doctrine of God. (Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof)
  • Humans are wondrous and complex beings. (Christian Theology by Millard Erickson)
  • Hundreds of the world’s space scientists are spending vast sums from their nations’ treasuries trying to make meaningful contact with imagined rational beings living in deep space. (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond)

Like Challies I believe Calvin wins.

You will have a “Joel Osteen Moment”

Al Mohler writes about this at his blog. Osteen was interviewed on TV and asked about whether or not homosexuality is a sin. That is a binary question – yes or no. A lot of preachers don’t like binary questions. They force us out of the comfortable place where we can be the nice, positive, counselor type and not take the brunt force of opposition when we declare ourselves on moral positions.

The fact is that a well-rounded ministry for a pastor is similar to a well-rounded ministry as a parent. Lots and lots of love, love that is strong enough to build road blocks that keep others from dangerous cliffs. It means from time to time willing to be the bad guy in the midst of a child’s frontal assault on our love, our intentions, and our standards. The biggest mistake a parent can make is trying to be liked. After 40 years in the ministry, I still find that the desire to be liked can dull the edge of ministry effectiveness. I think at the end of it all, I will judge that this is the biggest downfall in ministry.

It is difficult in the extreme to mark out a moral position and stick to it in the trenches of ministry. Not the least of those difficulties is that we must do this as sinners. Yes, sinners must stake out moral positions, as counterintuitive as that may seem. For every moral position I take, there are a host of exceptions I make for myself. If I make exceptions for myself, maybe I should drop taking moral positions at all! I am after all, as John Bunyan makes so clear, a man who preaches the liberty we have in Christ to live a new life while I hear the clanking of my own chains.

But someone must stand up in the midst of the madness and say “Stop.” We want somebody to do that. We want somebody to stand in our way, stand up to us, force us to make a clear decision, keep us from wandering in the moral fog. Thus, the job of the pastor. Churches actually pay someone to at times stand over against them. It’s a strange combination of factors. But I think churches are suspicious of pastors who will not confront and offer moral guidance. They know what kind of game he is playing, and in the end he will lose their respect.