Disquiet Time

disquiet time

Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. Edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani. Originally published in 2014.

I saw this on the shelf in the library, so I picked it up and flipped through the table of contents to see if I recognized any of the authors who offered essays for this compilation of thoughts on various aspects of The Bible.

When I saw the name Steve Brown, I checked it out without giving much thought to the other authors included. I listen to Steve’s snippets on the radio, and in addition to his awesome voice (second only to Voddie Baucham and followed by Alistair Begg), I appreciate Steve’s solid but compassionate exploration of the gospel.

Being acutely aware of your imperfections makes you giddy at the prospect of new mercies every morning and a Heavenly Father slow to anger and abounding in compassion, Who knows we are but dust. Steve reminds me, since I tend to skip along the outskirts of the town of Condemnationville pretty often, not to go there.

So like I said, I checked out the book. Sigh. I’m not going to hold it against Steve Brown that his essay was parked in the middle of some of the most outlandish interpretations of Scripture I’ve ever read. However, I was sure tempted to.

After nearly every essay, I found myself whipping out my tablet to google the -often female- author of ideas that stretched the bounds of the traditional interpretations of Scripture. A few of the men were kind of sketchy, but more often than not they seemed to stick to the spirit of Scripture. What I found were pastors of liberal denominations, emergent church pastors, and all sorts of interesting biographical information that would have informed me of what was to be found if I was familiar with many of the writers. But I wasn’t.

To be fair, there were plenty of opportunites here to eat the meat and spit out the bones. As a longtime believer who is familiar with and well taught of the Scripture, it was easy enough for me to do that. The new believer, the seeker, or the person just looking for an understanding of the Bible would come away from this book fairly convinced that there is very little need for sanctification and that Scriptural interpretation is intensely personal.

I think I just described post-modern American Christianity in its entirety in one sentence.

If I am making this book sound as if I didn’t enjoy it at all, I’m not being clear enough. There were parts I enjoyed immensely, little nuggets stuck right in the middle of essays I thought were otherwise drivel. But as I said before, I can handle that, and not everyone can.

One of the most egregious essays was Debbie Blue’s exploration of her thoughts on the story of  the conflict between Hagar, found in Genesis 16. She was so postmodern (not to mention feminist) in perspective, I asked one of our daughters what she thought about Blue’s opinion. She too thought Blue was off base in the way she interpreted the story, and that was before you consider that she repeatedly painted the picture of Ishmael as a toddler (rather than a young teen) when he and Hagar were sent away from Sarah and Isaac with the promise from God that he would make Ishamel a great nation.

Because I have wearied of a church which prizes propriety over piety, and seems uttely devoid of being able to bridge the gaps between the reality of human struggling, God’s mercy, and the command for us to increase in sanctification with the understanding that we will never fully arrive this side of Paradise, I picked up this book expecting far more than I got. It wasn’t worthless, but neither was it a wealth of encouragement to grow in grace.

You can get some idea of the impetus and thrust of the editors and contributors to Disquiet Time by reading a few posts at this site dedicated to the premise of the book. A book, by the way, which you can skip.

Grade: C-

 

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UnChristian

Unchristian: What a New Generation really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman. Originally published in 2007.

I finished this book a couple of months ago, and my feelings about it were mixed. I didn’t know how to review it. The premise is simple: Christianity has a real PR problem with today’s generation of young Americans, and this is in large part due to the fact that we -American Christians- are for the most part horrible examples. We are, in a word, UnChristian.

On the one hand, and the research bears this out, there is very little difference between the lifestyle of the average Christian and the average American in terms of entertainment, how we spend our money, how we dress, etc. These are certainly legitimate concerns.

However, Kinnaman loses me with his insistence that most moderns reject Christianity because of the behavior of Christians. While there is something to be said for the issues in the American church, this conclusion thoroughly ignores the fact that the Bible clearly indicates that fewer and fewer people will embrace truth, choosing the “broad way”, while those who choose the “narrow road” will be few in number.

He makes excellent points, many of which I have made myself on numerous occasions, such as:

“Having spent time around “sinners” and also around purported saints, I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.”

But a lot of the “hypocrite label that he claims is rightly thrown at Christians by unbelievers strikes me as disingenuous. He ignores the corresponding balance of human nature which has always rejected Christ and His Truth.

For all the problems in the postmodern church, and they are many, the solution to the “problem” of lagging Christian conversions has little to do with the church itself, and more to do with the spirit of the age; a spirit which has infected the church in ways big and small. Such as the way many American Christians conflate our political views with convictions of faith.  Kinnaman makes a good observation here:

 “It strikes me as unChristian that we often have more charitable attitudes toward ideological allies than we do toward brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree on matters of politics.”

Also,  there is the proliferation of ministries which focus on technology as a means of spreading the gospel rather than being salt and light to other human beings in the flesh. It gives us the false illusion that we are doing more than we actually are. The strategy is a bad one:

“In an era of mass media, it is easy to believe that the more eyeballs, the more impact. But radio, television, and tracts accounted for a combined total of less than one-half of 1% of the Busters who are born again.”

I doubt the Internet does much better. It probably does more to turn people off than draw them in. If those of us who are really, truly pressing for a true and deep relationship with Christ would connect with others outside of our comfortable christian bubbles, we might see more people opening their hearts to the gospel.

Instead, Kinnaman suggests we should try to be “used of God” in media, arts and entertainment, and other avenues to reach people through the mediums of communication most commonly used today:

In many ways politics follows culture. As ancient Greek musician Damon of Athens said, ‘Show me the lyric of a nation and it matters not who writes its laws.’ Movies, television, books, magazines, the Internet, and music are incredibly significant in shaping world views and lifestyles of today’s America. And Christians are expressing a growing awareness and response to these avenues of influence. Where is God calling you to serve him – media, arts and entertainment, politics, education, church, business, science?

Am I the only one who has noticed how inept and far afield “Christian” media goes when it attempts to make movies and music which connect with the culture? For all the panic and shrieking Christians expressed over the movie, “The Shack”, I found the theology in that movie as “accurate” as most Kendrick Brothers films. In other words, Christian movies leave as much opportunity to eat the meat and spit out the bones as most secular produced movies which portray Christianity in a positive light.

Despite my initial and lingering problems with some of David Kinnaman’s conclusions, UnChristian certainly offers an opportunity for prayerful self-reflection. This is an appropriate summation of something we need to consider as we encounter those outside of the faith:

Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don’t hold up both truth in tension, you invariably becomes useless and separated from the world God loves.

Too often, it seems we forget that God loves those who have not yet encountered His grace as much as He loved us before we encountered it.

Grade: C+

 

 

 

 

 

 

At My savior’s Feet: A Bible Study

I started this study on Monday, and when I am done with it six weeks from now, I may or may not offer a review. It is an exploration of the parables of Jesus.

You may notice that it is logged under the category, “My friend wrote this book!”. That is because a friend of mine, a flesh and blood friend, is indeed one of its authors. I am excited to dive into this and re-establish a steady morning routine that includes times of study. I read Scripture regularly of course, but it’s been a while since I committed to a sustained time of independent study. This is exciting on two levels for me.

The official start date was Monday, and there is a small fee for the full study. However, if you click on the link above you can get a free abbreviated version of the study’s daily verses.

Hello Mornings is an excellent site for mothers of many or any woman who likes tips and suggestions for fitting time in the word into your daily routine whether you have 5 minutes or 50 to do so.

Y’all know I plug my friends’ work, so… just go take a look, huh?

 

 

The Disciplined Life

disciplined-life

The Disciplined Life: The Mark of Christian Maturity, by Richard S. Taylor. Originally published in  1974. 108 pages.

I couldn’t think of a better book with which to start the new year than this one. Even though I read it three months ago, I am rereading it again so soon because it is 1) a much needed resource in my life at present, and 2) one of those books that you have to read more than once to soak in.

Rather than bother you with my thoughts, other than the grade I’ll add to the end of this review, I think the best advertisement for this book is a few excerpts to give you an appreciation for the spirit and tone of the book. Additionally, I hope these quotes will serve as inspiration until such time as you can acquire the book for yourself, because you should.

On the Western shift from a work ethic to a play ethic:

“When play… consumes a larger proportion of leisure time, money, conversation, and interest than is warranted by its cultural and recreative returns, then the play becomes the mark of a decadent age and the badge of softness rather than strength.”

“There was a time when intercollegiate debating drew big crowds.  Now the debates are held in side rooms, while the crowd cheers at the basketball game… the shift of excited popular interest from debates to basketball is a sign of cultural decline.”

“Apart from divine intervention, the nation which produces the most scientists and educators will dominate the world, not the nation that produces the best sportsmen.”

On kindness as an end to itself:

“Kindheartedness is a virtue when coupled with moral stability.  Without discipline kindheartedness becomes sentimental weakness.  No nation has survived which has become self-indulgent and flabby.”

“The undisciplined mind is always an easy prey for the demagogue and the charlatan.  Out of such intellectual dullness and inertia dictatorships are spawned.”

On discipline in matters great and small:

“The advantage that the disciplined person has over the undisciplined one shows up in many ordinary matters of daily life.

The disciplined person picks up his clothes; the undisciplined one lets them lie around.
One wipes clean the bathroom sink that he uses. The other leaves it dirty for someone else to clean.

One plans his work and works to his plan. The other works haphazardly.

One is always punctual in keeping his appointments. The other is notoriously late. One is always on time for the meetings of the church. The other is never on time.

The difference in all these cases is not one of character, but of habit.”

Was I the only one who felt a pang?

It’s a good book. Not perfect, as I had a quibble with one or two points, but the overall thrust is sound, the bad far outweighs any minor quibbles, and it is good inspiration to live life in a way which leads to a more productive life and a strong Christian witness.

Grade: A

 

 

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door

brainsatthedoor

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door, by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler. Originally published in 1992.

This book was marketed as a high school students’ apologetics book to help Christian teenagers more articulately express why they believe what they believe.

Unfortunately, a Christian teenager with any substance or firm foundation of faith in his life could check their brains at the door of this book and still understand the information presented just fine.

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door contains 42 very short chapters divided into six sections:

  1. Myths About God
  2. Myths About Jesus
  3. Myths about the Bible
  4. Myths About the Resurrection
  5. Myths About Religion and Christianity
  6. Myths About Life and Happiness

Each chapter within the sections is devoted to debunking commonly heard myths and misconceptions about the Christian faith, The Bible, and Christians themselves.

By far, the best and most informative section, containing information many Christians have never been exposed to or considered, is the section Myths About the Bible, where McDowell and Hostetler do a decent job of supporting the authenticity and historical veracity of the Bible:

When you study Plato in school, does the teacher express skepticism about the reliability of The Republic?

When your ancient history teacher has you read aloud from the poetry of Catullus or Julius Caesar’s account of The Gallic Wars, does she warn you that what you are reading my be unreliable?

Do your instructors dismiss the writings of the Greek historian Thucydides or the philosopher Aristotle or the tragedian Sophocles and Euripides as being unworthy of serious consideration because off textual problems and variant readings? p. 51-51

Probably not.

After taking the time to document the rigorous and meticulous process required when both the Old and New Testaments were being copied and verified, they point out the two factors commonly accepted as the most important in determining the reliability of an historical document:

Two factors are most important in determining the reliability of an historical document: the number of manuscript copies in existence and the time between when it was first written and the oldest existing copy.

When you compare the New Testament with other ancient works, it’s reliability is immediately obvious. Not other ancient document even comes close.p. 52

He includes a chart there with the comparison of the Bible to other ancient works and as I said earlier, this is by far the most informative portion of the book.

This isn’t to say that this book isn’t useful to a new convert, because it most definitely cold be. I just approached it looking for more depth and intellectual rigor than I found within its pages. Perhaps I have overestimated the capacity of today’s typical Christian teenager.

Grade C-/D+

 

 

 

I’m No Angel

im-no-angel-book

I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model, by Kylie Bisutti. Originally published in 2014. 304 pages.

Recent events, both public and not so public, set my mind to becoming curious about what books have been written on the subject of modesty. I don’t mean the kind of dogmatic, rigid approach that presupposes any bit of attractive femininity is sinful. I was looking to see what was written about the convergence of true modesty and feminine beauty in the context of a walk with Christ in the real world.

So I went to my local library’s website for the express purpose of checking out Wendy Shalit’s book, which I have read much about but never read. Somewhere along the way as I clicked, clicked and clicked some more, I ran across Kylie Bisutti’s book recounting her journey from child model to winner of the Victoria’s Secret Angel competition as a young bride of 19, to deciding less than a year later to walk away from it all as she began to realize how her career as a lingerie model dishonored both God and her husband.

I first encountered Mrs. Bisutti’s story in 2012, and even blogged about her at the time, so I was slightly familiar with it. I expected the book to be slog to get through,  but as I was embarking on a project of sorts, I was willing to tough it out even if it turned out to be horrible. Thankfully, it was not horrible and I read through it in three nights online via hoopla since our library system did not have access to a hard copy.

The book was surprisingly interesting. High brow it is not, and I was a little bugged by Kylie Bissuti’s dependence on the teaching’s of Joyce Meyer as she struggled emotionally through an industry that she both loved and felt increasingly out of sorts with.  Nevertheless, she told a compelling story.

The best parts of the book were without question, the behind the scenes glimpses of what life is really like in the modeling industry. After the release of her book, Victoria’s Secret fired back numerous accusations concerning the facts of her story, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

I felt a bit of compassion for 17-year-old Kylie when at 5’9″, 1115 pounds, her agent called her a cow in front of an office full of people and demanded that she come back from her holiday break 8 pounds lighter. I found this particularly shocking, as she realized that her 36-inch hips was relegating her to the designation of curvy, and not it a complimentary way:

Not big hips, mind you- just hips. In the modeling industry, anything over 30 inches is considered curvy, and curvy does not play well on the runway- especially in high fashion, where being rail thin is considered the ideal. Horrifying as it may sound, some models even go so far as to have their hip bones surgically shaved down to reach that precious 30-inch mark. Others have their bottom ribs removed so that they look ultra thin. It just felt like part of the industry to me when I was starting out, but now it breaks my heart to think of girls and young women using surgery to deform the beautiful way that God created them.

With a recounting of her childhood, teenage years, and the very brief courtship she shared with her husband Mike, Kylie Bissuti makes a run at presenting a well rounded recounting of her life. Interwoven within all of it were the numerous moments of nagging doubt that she felt the urge to walk away and didn’t- starting with her HS boyfriend all the way up to the very uncomfortable party after winning the Victoria’s Secret modeling competition.

In the end this turned out not to be a book about modesty as much as it was about one young woman’s struggle to do the right thing. I didn’t come away from it feeling as if it had been a total waste of four and a half hours of my life, so that’s something.

Grade: C

One Thousand Gifts

one-thousand-gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are, by Ann VosKamp. Originally published in 2011. 240 pages.

This is an updated and edited review from 2011. I took some time to re-read this book (re-skim is more accurate) since I find so often that my ways of viewing some things evolve as I grow older and, for lack of a better word, wiser.

Ann VosKamp’s grateful heart is evident on her blog which I  used to occasionally read. Because of that I decided to read her book when I usually run screaming from “Christian” books which make it onto the New York Times’ best seller list. I don’t do well with the most popular Christian works because the poor handling of Scripture makes me cringe.

However since this was a book about being thankful, one of my many weak areas, I gave it a go. I often struggled to be thankful, but have grown exponentially in this area since I first read this book 5 years ago.

 I’m not much of a poet, preferring to cut to the chase while skipping around in politically incorrect minefields despite my best efforts to be graceful when I write. I sometimes enjoy poetic language though, and Ann Voskamp  definitely has a poetic way of expressing her thoughts.  I admire her penchant for seeing the beauty in every little detail of her days.

Still, I questioned whether I could appreciate her flowery writing style in a book. Poetic language and extensive use of literary device is tolerable, even enjoyable in her blog posts broken up by pretty photographs, but I wasn’t sure I could do 200+ pages of it! With no pictures! If that wasn’t enough, before her book reached my doorstep I stumbled onto a controversy concerning the theology within it. I am thankful that I embarked on a reduction of Internet time just as I began to read it because I don’t know that I could have fully appreciated it if I was still sifting through the critiques it sparked. We’ll get to my thoughts on all that in a bit, because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some.

As I began to read the book,  I related to Mrs. VosKamp a bit. I, a city girl and fledgling gardener who kills more seedlings than I harvest every spring, who’s never even seen a snowflake, found that I liked this Canadian homeschooling mother and  farmer’s wife as I read One Thousand Gifts.

Throughout my life I have come to sense people who know what it is to experience a ripping away of the veil of innocence and beauty in life at an age too tender to absorb it, all while being taught that we are being cared for by a God who is infinitely good. There are times in my life, in my Christian walk, when I’ve wondered if this would be easier had I heard the name of Jesus for the first time as an adult, from the booming voice of some random street preacher. If I were more like my husband, whose faith has always been rooted in a certainty.

Would the Good News have been better received by me had it not been News I’d heard preach as far back as I can remember? Would the goodness of God seem more real if it wasn’t competing with the questions that inevitably rest in the heart of every child whose life is marked by the stinging pain of loss?   More importantly, I used to wonder if there was any other person who “gets” it. Ann Voskamp got it:

For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into nightmares. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I’d be bound to wreck. Years, I lie listening to the taunt of names ringing off my interior walls, ones from the past that never drifted far away: Loser. Mess. Failure. They are signs nailed overhead, nailed through me, naming me.

Funny, this. Yesterday morning, the morning before, all these mornings, I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get t all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always,  the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I lived tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, do enough?   (Excerpted from pages 26-27 of One Thousand Gifts)

I could’ve written those words myself. Actually, I couldn’t have written those words because I don’t write that way, but they resonate. Living every day desperately grasping for the illusion of control produced in me the very symptoms Ann penned above. We type A’s don’t particularly fancy the idea that we have no control over what happens to us. Despite the flowery language which I did eventually weary of, I read on to see how Mrs. VosKamp went from that level of dysfunction onto the NYT Bestseller list for writing a book about joyfully giving God thanks every day.

That’s what the book is; at least that’s how I read it. It is a testimony, the story of one woman’s journey from a life marred by pain and loss to a life full of gratitude for all the gifts God graciously bestows upon her each day, starting with the precious gift of His Son’s precious blood as a sacrifice for our sins. It is not an exploration of doctrinal teaching, though the gospel is woven throughout it for those who dare to look.

It was not an attempt to convince any other person to see the world through the eyes of the author, although I was certainly challenged to open my eyes to the blessings I take for granted every day.  It is a testimony of Ann Voskamp’s struggle to live a life of gratitude in a world where we are constantly receiving invitations to discontent. I know I have to shrug off the whispers that invade my consciousness, tempting me to gaze at the greener grass on the other side. The other side always beckons us to neglect the abundant blessings God has given us today. This book did exactly what the subtitle says. It dared me to live fully right where I am by practicing the Scriptural command to give thanks in everything.

As for the controversy concerning a particular use of terminology near the end of One Thousand Gifts: I can appreciate the discomfort some bloggers have expressed with the phraseology.  Mrs. Voskamp appears to conflate our spiritual relationship to God into what can be interpreted as a sexual relationship with expressions such as “making love to God” , “intercourse of the soul”, and “climax of joy.”  I wouldn’t have put it that way, to be sure, seeing that my perception of God tends to revolve around my relationship to Him as a beloved daughter to a merciful Father and less from the perspective of the bride of Christ. That’s because I think of the bride of Christ as the church universal rather than a personal connection between myself and God alone.

Is the intimacy Ann Voskamp referred to Scripturally sound? I’ll let the critics continue  to hash that one out. I can only speak for myself and say that I never got the impression that Mrs. Voskamp was saying that she experienced intimacy with God in a carnal way. When I put the book down after reading the last page, the thing that stayed with me was the challenge to give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.I wasn’t so offended by the metaphors used in that particular chapter that I couldn’t appreciate the book’s central theme.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to see a bowl of cheese or bubbles in dishwater the way Ann does.  I am either too “grounded” or too fearful of a theology that appears flaky to allow myself to view laundry as something to get giddy about. Life is sometimes hard, tears are warranted, and sometimes even anger is warranted. I still feel a burden to use my small platform to speak about hard things and yes, rock the boat.

However, I have begun occasionally to write the things I am grateful for at the start and close of the day. I recently took notice of the pink wildflowers growing in the median of a 6-lane highway. I hate 6 lane highways. I’m usually too focused on where I’m going to notice things like that. I’m amazed at how little I desire as I focus on what I have. And for that I am thankful. Thankful that God used Ann Voskamp’s journey to remind me that no matter how badly I’ve been hurt or how much I’ve lost in my life, God has given me so much more.

Grade: B-