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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ben Stevens guest post


A friend of mine has written a book! I think I will pick this one up for some summer reading:

I'm so excited to announce that my first book, Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation, is being released by Navpress this week! Here's the first paragraph:

"...For most of my life, I never thought to ask myself why God created the world. I had asked myself the question, 'why did God create me specifically,' which seemed like a more practical thing to wonder. But the answers I found to that question always struck me as shallow. I think that’s because it’s impossible to understand what part we play in a story if we have never grasped what the story is about in the first place...."

I wanted to ask whether you might consider mentioning the book today to your circle of friends or to anyone you know who might find the topic interesting. The best way to hear about something like this is from a friend, so I'd be honored if you would consider sharing: 
Thanks for your encouragement and all the best from Berlin!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full~ by Gloria Furman

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full by Gloria FurmanHere is a great book to recommend to weary moms. It is coming out in April but you can pre-order a copy!

A tsunami of self-help books on parenting has hit the Christian coastline and flooded bookstores and homes. The cyber tidal wave of practical tips is not any weaker and engulfs much of social media. When I scroll through my Facebook news feed, I am, in fact, drawn to some of the posts that seem to offer quick fixes to my parenting problems. Want to raise successful kids? No problem, just do A, B and C! Want to make sure your kids don't get cancer? No problem, just feed them X, Y and Z. It is not that these questions are unimportant but the way they are approached often leaves parents guilt-laden and exhausted.
You will find Gloria Furman's little book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full -Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms to be an antidote to the ills of self-help.  You will not find any practical parenting tips here. In fact, her explicit goal as a writer was to "[R]esist the urge to reduce God's word to nice tips for nice living: give them the gospel"(p. 21). And that is exactly what she does!
So, instead of a "band-aid on the wound" approach to the difficulties of motherhood, Furman provides her readers with a wide, over-arching understanding of God's redemptive purpose for motherhood. Giving birth to and raising image-bearers of God is a divine occupation that flies in the face of Satan's destructive plans for this world. Even the mundane, challenging, complicating  and failing moments of motherhood can be transformed into an act of worship when seen from the perspective of eternity. Mothers who want to communicate an understanding of grace to their children need to first be recipients of the gospel of grace themselves.
The book is filled with great Scriptures, transparent personal stories coming from the author's life and a singular throbbing heart-beat throughout each chapter: the gospel, the gospel, the gospel. Furman is dogged about weaving  the message of grace into her story and her book  as a way to minister to other weary mothers  and that is a balm to the soul. I particularly loved the last chapter entitled "The Metanarrative of Motherhood" in which the author gives a mini biblical theology of motherhood. That topic deserves a book of its own!
Most women will find this book a confirmation of their call to motherhood and a motivation to cling to Jesus more and more as they honor Him through their task. Though Furman does say that "[T]he highest aim of womanhood is not motherhood; the highest aim of womanhood is being conformed to the image of Christ" (p. 139), it does still beg the question of what the implications are for single women or married women without children. How do they fit into God's redemptive purpose? Can mothering be seen more broadly than just physical mothering? I would have appreciated a discussion on how childless women can still be a part of this tremendous, redemptive plan without raising physical children of their own. But maybe this transcends the purview of this book.
I highly recommend this very readable, highly inspiring, Christ-exalting book. It is high time we start viewing mothering in such spiritually meaningful terms..

Click here to read an online review.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Unfolding Mystery (25th Anniversary Edition)


Edmund Clowney, my sweet grandfather, who passed away in 2005, has been honored with a new edition of his amazing book, The Unfolding Mystery. If you have not read it, I recommend it wholeheartedly. It will help you see how the whole story of the Bible is about Jesus. I was surprised to find the study and application questions I wrote when I was 22 years old included and unedited (!) in this edition. In my opinion, there are way too many but they are great for personal reflection or Bible study.

To view the book, click here

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I want my kids to be brainwashed

"I don't want to send our son to church to be brain-washed like those Stoddard kids!" said our atheist friend to his wife. He grew up in East Germany and we had been church-planting in the former East for a few years by then. At first, I was offended that he would view the kids' program at our church as brainwashing. But then, I couldn't forget that he was probably taught Marx's view of religion throughout his life.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

1. Are our brains really free?
According to Marx, if people were to truly think for themselves, they'd be able to detox themselves from the addicting, mind-altering power of religion to numb their pain. But the irony of what happened in East Germany was that the systematic eradication of religion in society necessitated a new form of brainwashing to inculcate its people with the socialist ideal. An atheistic society was forged, Christian holidays renamed, and Christian rites such as baptisms, weddings and confirmation replaced with socialist ones. The loss of individualism that my friend feared our children were subject to in our church was exactly what had happened in East Germany under the guise of heralding Marxist equality. Ethics were flattened and equated with abiding by the socialist norm. Personal morality was hardly stressed other than how it related to the socialist ideal. A lack of conformity got individuals into trouble. One of my elderly friends, an intellectual and diplomat for the GDR, recounted that he was sent to work in the country for 4 years to be "re-educated" so that he'd become a more adept socialist. And of course, there was always the watchful eye of the Stasi (secret police) to ensure no one stepped out of line. In East Germany, socialist brainwashing appeared to be the only solution to the problems caused by Nazi brainwashing. Meanwhile, capitalism and individualism imposed a new tyranny of tolerance on the West, at the expense of individual opinion. And so, wherever we live, our thinking is a product of our culture, upbringing, and the political system to which we are subjected. Freedom of thought is perhaps an illusion because we cannot ever think in a vacuum. 

2. Can our brains lead us to morality?
This was, in essence the argument of the enlightenment: With reason as our guide, we can all become moral, responsible, tolerant good citizens. The enlightenment called people to trust Reason because after all, we can only comprehend that which is reasonable and if we could all agree on what is reasonable, we could all live together with a certain set of commonly shared values. But can logical deductions alone lead us to morality? Though our ability to reason is in fact God-given, we can use this tool to selfish ends, rationalizing all sorts of immoral things by putting ourselves and our needs at the center of reality. This happens to us as individuals but also to entire cultures and systems. Recently my husband and I visited the Wanssee Haus, a beautiful villa nestled in a rich neighborhood on the shores of Lake Wannsee. There, on January 2nd, 1942, over breakfast, the most powerful men in Germany master-minded the Endlösung, the final solution for the so-called  "problem" of the Jews in Europe. They drew up an elaborate plan to deport thousands upon thousands to their deaths. These men were well educated people who listened to Bach and Mozart but came up with the most morally abject plan of all history. Their "solution" seemed very reasonable to them at the time. They led a whole nation astray and very few had the courage to stand up against it. So is it possible for reason to run amok? I think yes...

3. Do we need brain-washing?
Through a superficial glance at history it becomes painfully clear that Reason alone cannot lead people to be good. Why? Because our ability to reason is radically flawed and limited in scope and this is universally true. Here in Germany, we have the Holocaust as a glaring example of human thinking that has defected to the Dark Side. But it happens everywhere. One has only to look at "wonderful" ideas such as the crusades in Europe, the enslavement of Africans in America, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Rwandan genocide or the recently uncovered North Korean atrocities. In the face of such a vast moral abyss, the doctrine of total depravity, though at first glance seemingly depressing, is a comfort to me.  It explains the human propensity towards evil: Human beings are not good at the core. If they were, how could we end up such a mess? Most people certainly aren't as bad as they could be, but what it means is that the Fall affected our beings in their totality. Every aspect of who we are as humans is broken: our bodies, our emotions, our sexuality, our thinking, etc.
At the root of the problem is that we put ourselves at the center of the universe and think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We become our own standard, make our own sense out of this world and only trust our own faulty thinking when it comes to making decisions. This process of not trusting God nor honoring him in our thinking is foolishly self-centered and leads our hearts down the path to darkness:
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom 1:21 ESV). Paul's solution to this problem is recognizing that our minds are sinful and that the healing of our minds has to come from outside of us. The Holy Spirit has to transform them, to renew them. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (Rom 12:2-3 ESV). 
Notice what  these verses are not saying. We are not to stop testing, discerning, judging soberly or to disengage our minds and individuality. But we are to do these things in faith, and the outcome of our thinking should be an understanding and embracing of the will of God which is good, acceptable and perfect. If our thinking leads us down any other path, it is most likely self-absorbed and darkened. Our brains cannot lead us to morality, but God's Spirit can!

So should I be offended if someone thinks that church is brain-washing my kids? No, on the contrary! Maybe, next time, I can come up with better answer for my critics, not responding with arrogance but with the message of the Gospel, namely that "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Ti 3,5)."
My kids' brains need washing very desperately, as does mine. My children were born with an intrinsic self-absorption which, if left unchallenged, might lead them down some very dangerous paths, both for themselves and others around them. For as our thinking goes, so go our actions in the end. Jesus is the Logos, Reason incarnate. He is the only one who has ever thought all of God's thoughts after him in a perfect way. It is through his blameless life that my kids will know what pleases God and through his blood that their minds can be cleansed.  As long as the church continues introducing them to Him, I will keep sending them there! And I pray that someday their minds will be so renewed that they will be able to stand up against some of the evils the world around them has embraced without a second thought.