Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why Do Pastors Have So Many Books?

The Blue Parakeet
by Scot McKnight

If reading, understanding, and applying the Bible were an easy thing to do, pastors would have a lot fewer books. Those who love the Scriptures and want to be guided by them in life will need to wrestle with the texts themselves and the long Christian tradition of interpretation.

For a long time now, I've found Scot McKnight's books and blog to be very helpful. His latest book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, is another fine offering. Here are two short quotes from the book that I've chosen to pique your curiosity:

"...Christians and churches do operate with a pattern of discernment, but it is rarely openly admitted and even more rarely clarified. Discernment, I am arguing, is how we have always read the Bible; in fact, it is how the biblical authors themselves read the Bible they had! I want to begin a conversation among Bible readers about this very topic: What pattern of discernment is at work among us?" (p.144)

"Culturally shaped readings of the Bible and culturally shaped expressions of the gospel are exactly what Paul did and wanted. That's exactly with Peter and Hebrews and John and James and others were doing. Culturally shaped readings and expressions of the gospel are the way it has been, is, and always will be. In fact, I believe that gospel adaptation for every culture, for every church, and for every Christian is precisely why God gave us the Bible." (p.206)

Here is a two-part review of the book that appeared on Christianity Today's "Out of Ur" blog:

Review: The Blue Parakeet, Part 1
McKnight Rethinks How we Read the Bible

Review: The Blue Parakeet, Part 2
McKnight Offers Great Insights into Bible Reading

There is also a two page article by Skye Jethani (managing editor of Leadership magazine) in the April 2009 issue of Christianity Today. The piece, titled "How Not to Read the Bible," summarizes (from McKnight's Parakeet) five flawed approaches to Bible interpretation. Sorry, but I couldn't find a link to the article anywhere online.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Beautiful Poem from Anne Porter


When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

"Music" by Anne Porter from Living Things: Collected Poems.
© Steerforth Press, 2006.

Buy the Book

Monday, February 23, 2009

Got Doubts?

Faith and Doubt
by John Ortberg (Zondervan)

Like all of John's books, Faith and Doubt is pastoral in tone and easy to read. The overarching point of the book is that faith and doubt go together. "And" is the most important word in the book's title.

The book will be especially helpful to Christians who fear that having doubts somehow contradicts their faith. The book might also be helpful to people who think that becoming a Christian means they can no longer be honest about their doubts, or that they must pretend to have settled every question.

"There is a part of me that, after I die, if it all turns out to be true--the angels are singing, death is defeated, the roll is called up yonder and there I am--there is a part of me that will be surprised. What do you know? It's all true after all. I had my doubts." (from the introduction, p. 9)

"Disciples are not people who never doubt. They doubt and worship. They doubt and serve. They doubt and help each other with their doubts. They doubt and practice faithfulness. They doubt and wait for their doubt one day to be turned to knowing." (p.176)

The book is also available as an audio book.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Becoming Prodigal

The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller (Dutton)

I remember many years ago when a grumpy old woman at the church I attended grumbled that if she heard one more sermon about the prodigal son, she would throw up. She may have had a point. Maybe she wasn't tired of the story, just tired of hearing the same old sermons about the story. Sadly, I think it's more likely that she was one of the people (people like me) who most need to see themselves in the story to understand what it means for them.

Tim Keller's new book, The Prodigal God, does just that. It's a beautiful meditation on the famous story Jesus told about a father and his two sons (Luke 15). The insights Keller brings out of this old story are so profound and helpful that I felt like I was hearing it for the first time.

I'm planning to use the book as a springboard for a teaching series I'm calling "The Prodigal Church." I'll begin this series two weeks after Easter and continue it through June.

prod-i-gal (adjective)
1. recklessly extravagant

2. having spent everything

"The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you." (p. 118)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Finally Got to the Shack

The Shack
by William P. Young
(Windblown Media)

I bought a copy of William Young's popular book about a year ago, but just never got around to reading it. Well, the buzz finally got so loud I thought it was becoming my pastoral duty to read it. The book has clearly stirred up a lot of interest and questions, and since as a pastor many of the questions were starting to come my way, I thought I'd better check it out for myself.

Overall I found it to be interesting and thought provoking. A little too much dialogue along the way, but a pretty good story--The Pilgrim's Progress meets The Matrix.

Some criticism of the book could probably have been avoided if the cover had included two words: A Novel. It's fiction, not documentary. It's a novel, not a theological treatise. The author is playing with his readers. He wants you to wonder if it's a true story. He even gives a fictitious forward and afterward to reinforce the ambiguity.

You have to read "The Story behind The Shack" appendix to finally learn (does everyone read that far?) that the whole thing is a fictional story the writer hopes will one day be a movie. It would make a pretty good movie, if you had the right people making it. Then again, it could go the other way. Be careful, Mr. Young.

As far as the theology goes, I'd say the book is good simply because it's getting people to talk and think about theology--two things I've always associated with good theology. One day last week, a waitress in a restaurant saw my copy of the book on the table next to me. She exclaimed that she had just devoured the book in two days and loved it! If she hadn't been working, I bet she would have sat down right there and then and struck up a good conversation with me.

As you might expect, there are already books coming out to argue the merits and dangers of the book, and to help people sort out the doctrinal issues. Maybe these spin-off books will be helpful. I hope so. For my part, I'm just thankful for any book that makes everyday people interested in discussing doctrine and theology in ways that are meaningful to them.

Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption
by Roger Olson (IVP)

Finding God in the Shack: Conversations on an Unforgettable Weekend
by Randal Rauser

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beethoven and George Who?

I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to sandwich George Benjamin's First Light between Beethoven's piano concertos number 1 and 2, but I think they were wrong. The juxtaposition of pieces written two-hundred years apart from each other was a real shock to the system. Maybe that was the intention.

The effect of the shock on me was that I spent the entire intermission pondering the devolution of music and culture. The concerto that closed the program only served to confirm the negative thoughts I had been thinking about the Benjamin piece during intermission.

The orchestra did a splendid job performing First Light, but I wondered if it was worth their energy and, more than that, if anybody really cared. I know, I know, I'm turning into a curmudgeon about early twentieth-century music. I guess I'm just getting sick of pretending it's interesting. I listen and give it every consideration, but I really want to shout out "The emperor has no clothes!"

On a positive note, Aimard did a wonderful job conducting and playing piano. I also noticed that the members of The Parker Quartet were playing with the orchestra, which made me wonder when and if they'll be performing in the area any time soon. I'll have to check out their website.

One more thing, the Benson Great Hall is a fantastic venue, BUT they've got to do a better job with not seating people once the concert begins. Late comers at the start of the concert, and stragglers after intermission just about ruined the concert for me.

Bottom line, I love the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and you should too.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ 4/5

St Paul Chamber Orchestra
Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009 at Benson Great Hall (Bethel University)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, conductor and piano

Concerto No. 2 in B-flat for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19
At First Light for Chamber Orchestra of Fourteen Players
Concerto No. 1 in C for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breaking Idols

Breaking the Idols of Your Heart
by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III (IVP)

In a very innovative approach to teaching Christian principles, the authors combine the genres of the novella and biblical interpretation. The book alternates between a fictional story of Noah Adamson's life (written by Dan Allender) and a straightforward study of Ecclesiastes (written by Tremper Longman).

I think the format works well. Allender's story gives a real to life context for applying the Biblical insights Longman brings to light from the Old Testament text. Ecclesiastes, according to the authors, is an idol-breaker of a book as it reveals the futility of trying to find meaning or fulfillment in anything less than God.

"...Ecclesiastes is not a book that most Christians enjoy reading. Yet it is the skeptic's bleak pronouncements that allow us to see through the fog of our hectic lives to the book's final conclusion: We find bold purpose when we submit to God's great desires for us." (p. 17)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Windy Evening in St. Paul

Cheri and I attended the first half of this wonderful concert. The Mozart was wonderful and the Nielsen was entertaining. I really enjoyed the program commentary provided by bassoonist Charles Ullery who also provided a laugh for the audience by inserting a rolled up piece of sheet music in the top of his instrument in order to produce the final low A in Nielsen's quintet.

We were sorry to leave early, but we were both exhausted from a long week and didn't want to get caught in hockey traffic.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ 4/5

Chamber Music Series:

St Paul Chamber Orchestra Winds

Friday, Feb. 6, 2009 at the Music Room

Serenade No. 11 in E-flat for Wind Octet, K. 375
Quintet for Winds, Opus 43
Divertessement for Double Wind Quintet

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Saving Christians

Jesus Wants to Save Christians
by Rob Bell & Don Golden (Zondervan)

Bell and Golden present the overarching narrative Scripture as a grand story of redemption. They contend that in recognizing and taking part in this redemptive mission, Christians are saved from empty, irrelevant, and unfulfilling religiosity. I found the final chapter and epilogue to be the best part of the book.

"In a world in which there twenty-seven million slaves, in a world in which 840 million people will go to bed hungry tonight because they cannot afford one meal, in a world in which one million people commit suicide every year, in a world in which today nearly 4,500 people in Africa will die of AIDS, Jesus wants to save our church from the exile of irrelevance. If we have any resources, any power, any voice, any influence, any energy, we must convert them into blessing for those who have no power, no voice, no influence." (p. 174)

Slumdog Millionaire

Two weeks ago I finally got to a theater to see Slumdog Millionaire. It's entertaining, fast-paced, and clever. It's a story of two orphan brothers, a tragedy, and a love story. It's an action movie, a drama, a travelogue, and at times a comedy. The cinematography is beautiful. It has a feelgood ending and I was glad for the Bollywood dance number they included for the closing credits.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ 5/5

Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan,
Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto
Directed by: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Great Omission

The Great Omission
by Dallas Willard

Like everything else written by Dallas Willard, I highly recommend this book. I'd like every leader in my church to read it and take it to heart.

"Christian spiritual formation is the redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree to which it is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus. But the external manifestation of Christ-likeness is not the focus of the process, and when it is made the main emphasis the process will be defeated, falling into crushing legalisms and parochialisms." (p. 105)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Confronting Criticisms of Christianity

What's So Great about Christianity
by Dinesh D'Souza (Tyndale)

Is Christianity a good thing? Dinesh D'Souza says it is. His book is a case for Christianity that directly confronts both historic and contemporary criticisms. I think he does a good job making good arguments. I enjoyed his direct approach and clearly defined objectives.

Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and the others, in this book I will demonstrate the following: 1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3. Darwin's theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence fo supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5. It is reasonable to have faith. 6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. (From the Preface, p. xvi)

Just after I finished reading the book, I was able to see him in a debate at the University of Minnesota, and then again the next day at a lecture in Golden Valley, MN. He seemed like a genuinely nice fellow. He signed my book with the words, "In Christ."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Avant Jarred

jarred - having an unpleasant, annoying or disturbing effect

Sad to say, but this was the most disappointing SPCO performance I've attended to date. It was an awful selection of pieces, and the performances were poorly executed. Is it possible that the musicians don't like 20th Century music any better than most audiences? Or do they think that atonal music is so esoteric that no one knows whether or not something is going wrong?

Not only were the performances mediocre (it seemed more like a performance for a music appreciation class), the use of amplified sound for the CD and the guitar was a major disappointment. If you're going to blend electronic and acoustic music, you might want to place the speakers in more sensible places and actually have a sound professional monitoring the mix.

The Copland was the only decent piece of the evening, and I think that was because the musicians seemed to actually like and understand it. The rest of the evening was pretty much a bust. This music is hard to do well, as this concert proved. Instead of endearing respect, appreciation, and enjoyment of 20th Century music, I'm afraid this concert gave or reinforced the impression that atonal and experimental music is either a stupid novelty or a boring waste of time.

◊ ◊ • • • 2/5

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Chamber Music Series
The Music Room, SPCO Center
St. Paul, January 23, 2009

Selections from John's Book of Alleged Dances for String Quartet and CD (John Adams)
Twilight Music for Horn, Violin, and Piano (John Harbison)
Two Pieces for String Quartet (Aaron Copland)
100 Greatest Dance Hits for Guitar & String Quartet (Aaron Jay Kernis)

Monday, January 12, 2009

SPCO Weekend

Saturday, January 10, I was able to take my grandsons to a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra woodwind concert at the Ordway Center. The concert was a music appreciation event for kids, and they performed Mozart's Serenade for 13 Winds, Gran Partita. There was even an actor in full costume playing the part of Mozart. We had a great time.

On Sunday, January 11, my wife and I saw the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the direction of Douglas Boyd performing at the Benson Great Hall at Bethel University. The program included: Shostakovich Prelude and Scherzo for Strings, Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a (arranged from String Quartet No. 8), and Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence for String Orchestra.

During the intermission all the chairs were removed from the stage, and then risers with chairs brought in for the four cellists. With the exception of the cellos, the orchestra performed the Tchaikovsky piece while standing. I thought this was brilliant as it allowed the players to really throw themselves into to piece. I think in greatly enhanced the intensity and feeling of their performance. It was wonderful.

The SPCO is a fantastic organization. I have enjoyed every one of the concerts I've attended in the last two years.

Friday, January 09, 2009

One Thumb Up, One Way Down

Gypsy Caravan [NR]
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ 4/5

I heard about this documentary in a review on National Public Radio. I was especially interested in it for a couple of reasons. First, because I enjoy gypsy music. Secondly, I have several connections (family and friends) with people in Romania, and two of the groups featured in this film are from Romania.

I'm glad that the DVD included some extra full performances, since you never get full performances in the film. A couple negative comments: I don't think the Johnny Depp interview added anything, and I thought the contrived use of the stage manager's microphone to slip in extra background details was hokey. Overall, I found the movie to be enjoyable. Oddly, the best footage was not the performances, but rather the visits to the homes and villages of the performers.

The film documents a six week tour in America by five very different musical groups including Esma Redzepova, Maharaja, Fanfare Ciocarlia and more. The wide variety of musical styles (flamenco, brass band, Indian folk, Romanian violin, jazz and raga) reflects both the diversity and similarities of the Romani peoples from India to Spain.

What the Bleep Do We Know [NR]
• • • • 1/5

I read about this movie in several blogs discussing physics and metaphysics. As it turns out, the movie is basically a piece of new age propaganda from several adherents of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. The teachings of the RSE claim to be received from an entity known as Ramtha who is allegedly "channelled" through JZ Knight.

The movie uses the mysteries of quantum physics as a springboard for advocating RSE concepts. Viewers may be surprised to find out that they, along with everything, are God; that there is no right or wrong; and that reality is just a projection of the mind. Everything is pretty much your fault, but don't worry, you can think it all better.

Don't waste your time with this movie. If you're really interested in physics and metaphysics, look for books and interviews with John Polkinghorn. There is a wonderful interview with him on the Speaking of Faith website.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The First Job Each Year

My brother, Joel, gave me a book for Christmas. It's a collection of excerpts from the writings of C.S. Lewis arranged as 365 daily readings and entitled The Business of Heaven. It also has selected readings appropriate for Feast and Fast days of the liturgical year.

I've placed the book on my morning reading shelf and plan to have a little C.S. Lewis everyday in 2009. It's a very simple way to make the New Year a little brighter. Thanks, Joel.

I thought I'd share this passage from the January 2 reading. Lewis talks about the whirlwind of ideas and goals that rush in upon us at the beginning of each day and threaten to distract us from what is most important. Here at the beginning of 2009, it seems appropriate to expand his concept to the beginning of each year.

"The real problem of the Christian life comes where peope do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to tht other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind."
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ch. 8)