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)