REMOVING HISTORICAL GLOSS: Metaxas’ Enlightening Luther Biography

Johann Tetzel was being robbed. The Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany was on his way from one very profitable preaching crusade to another when a German nobleman, one who had made a great point of asking whether all future sins could be forgiven if only the right indulgence was bought, cashed in on his prior purchase and relieved the preacher of his purse.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

Yesterday, October 31, 2017, was the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which, according to the 2000 edition of LOOK magazine was the second, behind the invention of the printing press which enabled it, greatest event in the last one thousand years. The story of Tetzel and the robber baron, which is probably mythical, is one of many that Eric Metaxas covers in his excellent work, MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Although I am only halfway through the book, listening to the audible version, I am totally sold on Metaxas’s ability to make a complicated story not only accessible and informative, but entertaining.

Mailed Not Nailed

For example, everyone knows that a theologian and monk named Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses opposing the sale of indulgences on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. (An indulgence supposedly draws on the merit of the good works of Christ and the saints to deliver a sinner from punishment on earth or in purgatory). But most do not know that Luther may or may not have personally nailed the document to the doors, the bulletin board of its day. It could have been a clerk that swung the hammer. What sets October 31st apart, according to Metaxas, is that is the day Luther mailed his theses to his presiding bishop, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, with a proposal to call a conference of theologians on the abusive sale of indulgences.

Gutenberg’s Internet

Metaxas also illuminates the fact that, in those early days of the printing press, Luther had no intention of igniting a revolution and no idea of the part he would play in it. He was simply a pastor / theologian and faithful Catholic trying to do his job and protect his parish from oppression and heresy. The 95 theses, written in Latin, would have been indecipherable to most Germans who passed the church doors. They were meant for a limited audience of theological scholars who would have had thoughtful discussions and sent their conclusions and recommendations off to higher authority for approval.

But the printing press was to the sixteenth century what the internet is today. Information transfer went from snail’s pace to light speed almost overnight. Further, with no copyright law in place, Luther could not prevent publishers from pushing his ideas far beyond the boundaries of Wittenberg and Mainz. He was soon embroiled in a battle that he had not planned and could not have anticipated. (He also never made a dime from his writings). Ultimately, Luther saw this series of unfortunate events as providential and embraced his calling as a reformer. But Metaxas removes the gloss of history and helps us see that Luther, like many of us, was a man of his times driven as much by circumstance as by conviction to take up the work which God had prepared in advance for him to do.

I’ve only brushed the surface of Metaxas’s latest, but I hope you will read it. It will give any Christian a greater comprehension of the treasures of grace we possess, the place in history we occupy, and perhaps help us see our calling as well as Luther saw his.

A FACE LIKE FLINT: Os Guinness’s Call to Courage

8 “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”[1]

Thus spoke God to Ezekiel, his prophet to the exiled Jews in Babylon circa 593 B.C., and so speaks Os Guinness to a church increasingly exiled from American culture today in his book, IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization.

Guinness, the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, is author of over 30 books and one of the most erudite and articulate spokesmen for the truth and goodness of the biblical world view working today. IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE is a clarion call to the church to face up to the realities of the forces arrayed against the faith and to stand strong against “everything that contradicts the call of our Lord – whatever the cost and whatever the outcome.”

“At stake,” writes Guinness, “is the attempted completion of the centuries-long assault on the Jewish and Christian faiths and their replacement by progressive secularism as the defining faith of the West and the ideology said to be the best suited to the conditions of advanced modernity. The gathering crisis is therefore about nothing less than a struggle for the soul of the West and the place of faith – any faith – in the life of advanced modern societies.”[2]

With that introduction he proceeds through seven concise but weighty chapters to explain the philosophical, social, political and spiritual roots of the mudslide of global modernity now enveloping Western Civilization.

Guinness is not content with social criticism. He does not stop at analysis nor does he offer up practical but ultimately shallow steps at making a difference. He goes deeper by helping us think and pray about our part in the grand drama that is the Church in the world.

The book’s brevity, it is only 225 pages, and Guinness’s clarity make his analysis convincing and fascinating, but it is weighty. It is not a “how-to-do-it” book, but a “how-to-think-about-it” book. Each chapter concludes with an insightful prayer and three discussion questions designed to help the reader decide how he or she will participate in the grand struggle for the soul of civilization. If you like meat in your morning devotions you will find it here. I read it with pen in hand after my first cup of coffee and found it compelling.

The Church in what remains of Western Civilization needs more Ezekiels. Those who feel the call to fill those shoes need to read Guinness.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] P. 22

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

News broke this week that noted evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, famed for The Message paraphrase of the Bible and many other works of spiritual theology, had come out in support of same-sex marriage. Then he backtracked but, as they say, the toothpaste was out of the tube and believers all over the country were flummoxed.

Can anyone be depended on to steer a true spiritual course through our tumultuous cultural waters? And how can we equip ourselves to stand with grace and truth when so many, it seems, are falling?

Many books are available to equip believers to think with the Biblical worldview. Among them are Chuck Colson’s master work HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? co-written with Nancy Pearcy; THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson and a little more accessible; Pearcy’s solo effort, TOTAL TRUTH; Abdu H. Murray’s GRAND CENTRAL QUESTION; Russell Moore’s ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel; the works of Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness for those of a more intellectual bent, and of course the Breakpoint daily podcast.

All of those are helpful but none of them, save the Breakpoint daily, are as easy to digest and practical to use as A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CULTURE: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkel. The book is targeted at parents and Christian leaders who are tasked with equipping teens to face the pressures of our cultural moment, but it is useful to wider audience.

Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and well-known, with Eric Metaxas, for the daily Breakpoint podcast (www.breakpoint.org). Brett Kunkel, who has over twenty-five years working with junior high, high school, and college students, is the student impact director at Stand to Reason, and founder of a new organization called Maven (www.maventruth.com).

Their book is broken into four sections: Why Culture Matters; A Read of the Cultural Waters; Pounding Cultural Waves; Christian Worldview Essentials. All four are clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Each chapter concludes with four discussion questions. But for those who are secure in their worldview essentials yet still need practical tools for the day-to-day cultural situations being thrust upon us, section three, Pounding Cultural Waves, is worth the price of the book.

In it, Stonestreet and Kunkel take on eight hot-button issues every believer faces in all manner of environments including the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. Each topic is further broken down into four sections that, in turn, reveal the false cultural narrative about the topic, restate the biblical view of it, suggest practical action steps, and forecast hope.

Christian high school and college students, professionals, educators, business leaders, government officials, and all manner of other believers stemming the tide of this cultural moment have reason to feel somewhat like Elijah of old, when the corrupt culture of Ahab and Jezebel held sway. When the knees of trusted leaders seem to buckle in the surf resources like this remind us that God has far more than seven thousand who have not bowed to the pressure.

I encourage you to read it, study it together with your kids and friends, and strengthen your knees.

 

ONE RING TO BIND THEM

Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage

Ask any pastor what the toughest part of his job is and, second only to funerals of the young, he will tell you “counseling broken marriages.” Nothing else wreaks more emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial havoc than divorce. No wonder then that we are always on the lookout for resources to help couples, especially pre-marital couples, prevent that disaster. Glenn T. Stanton’s THE RING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (Moody Publishers, 2011) takes aim at one of the preeminent pre-cursors to broken marriages today: pre-marital cohabitation, and does so with pinpoint accuracy.

Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, and a leading spokesperson on marriage and family issues. He can also be heard on the weekly “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, hosted by John Stonestreet.

At fewer than one hundred and fifty pages, The Ring is an easy read, incredibly well-documented, and highly practical for couples or individuals who want to think carefully and act wisely as they approach marriage. Each chapter has large-print summary quotes for quick review along with five or six insight-inducing questions at the end.

The book is also a great example of science “catching up” with scripture. Anyone familiar with the biblical understanding of marriage knows that sex before marriage is sin and cohabitation is not equal to marriage. The mid-twentieth century sexual revolution and feminist movements undermined that message, and cohabitation has skyrocketed as a result. Most couples just sort of slide in to the arrangement, not intending to commit sin so much as failing to see why it matters. But social scientists have been tracking the results of that sea-change for fifty years and the results support the biblical view. A few of the findings are indicative:

“Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs us or our parents tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined.”

“Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that without a marriage license, they are freer to exit the relationship at any time. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other.”

“Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not deal with. This is why cohabitation even exists.”

“People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited.”

All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation, even with someone you eventually wed, sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”

Any married person would benefit from Stanton’s book, but I highly recommend it to young men and women contemplating marriage, as well as to those who haven’t yet found that special someone. Read it, and protect yourself from a world of hurt.

 

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him … Luke 24:30-31

Are you happy? If not, do you know why?

Several things can make us sad and stress us out. Illness, family problems, financial set-backs have their place in our day-to-day contentment quotient. But all things being equal are you a generally happy person, satisfied with the life you live?

Many of us would have to answer “no.”

Peter Moskovitz, in his article America’s Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy, reports that we have a multibillion dollar happiness industry bent on helping us find contentment, yet over forty million of us have diagnosed anxiety disorders.

We are obsessed with happiness, yet not finding it. Perhaps we aren’t finding it because we are pursuing it the wrong way.

Read Mercer Schuchardt suggests as much in a recent CT Mag article, The Future of the Church is Analog Not Digital, when he wrote, “The most important and biblical pieces of technology in a church today may not be the projector and the amplifier, but the crockpot and warming plate.”

Schuchardt’s peice struck a chord in a song the Spirit has been singing in my soul for some time. I hear it in Sunday School as Jamie Laine leads us through Ray Vanderlaan’s excellent video series, Becoming a Kingdom of Priests in a Prodigal World. I see it in the faces and hear it in the stories of friends attending our Alpha Course this fall. I read about it in books like Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered and articles like Peter Moskovitz’s interview with Ruth Whippman, author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.[1]

If the song had a title it would be something like: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, (but somebody already took that one). The chorus would be:

Sit at table with new friends,

Make room in your life for them,

You never know what God may grow,

By simply inviting them in.

Corny, I know, but it gathers up the power of God at work community. Let me explain.

Whippman notes that, “If there was one thing that’s consistent in happiness research it’s that the main source of our happiness is our relationships with other people in our communities (emphasis added). It kind of cuts across class, race, gender, age, and everything. But the focus in America is very much on happiness as kind of a personal, individual journey; looking deep inside yourself, about mindfulness, about your own thinking. All of that being inside your own head, and remaking your own thoughts from the inside.”

Here’s the thing, as long as we pursue happiness as strictly personal, as a goal only to be achieved as individuals, we will remain isolated, empty, and anxious. Happiness is found in community, in common purpose, in shared successes and sorrows, the great and the small threads we weave with others to create the fabric of a meaningful life.

I know the objections, “Other people rub me the wrong way!”  Indeed they do, but the point is, we need them to. Their idiosyncrasies reveal the cracks in our characters that Christ has yet to fill and force us all to pursue him higher up and farther into life in the Spirit.

More to the point, the life, the Shalom, that flows from the Spirit of God cannot be found, or lived, or shared in isolation. Technology can deliver a sermon to your “personal device” (see the irony?) but cannot include you or others in the body of Christ. Only you can do that as you commit to be there, both body and spirit, and to welcome others to the table.

[1] Whippman is the author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, and the interview can be found at:  https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/flip.it%2FBDcPRo-americas-search-for-happiness-is-drivin/f-869a36fce5%2Fvice.com

FLABBY-BRAINED BELIEVERS?

The bathroom scales hounded me back to my Nordic Trak last week with the words: “You are a middle-aged blob who eats too much and exercises too little!”

OK, it didn’t actually say that because it can’t talk. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it read either (I am vain that way). Let it suffice that I sweated through my first thirty-minutes in about a month on the twentieth-century torture tool and I’m headed back there today.

I wonder, however, if there was a scale for the Christian mind that could talk, what it would be saying to the people of God? I’m afraid it would report that many of us have flabby brains.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” said Joseph Addison, but far too many of us read nothing at all.

If you’re ready to get your mind back in action here’s a list of recommended reading that will equip you to think Christianly about life.

Suffering

SUFFERING AND THE HEART OF GOD: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Diane Langberg, PhD. Langberg, who has worked with Rwandan genocide victims, is a globally recognized expert on trauma, particularly that special evil suffered by sexual abuse victims. She is theologically solid, clinically expert, and personally compassionate. I’ve heard her speak and read her previous book, On the Threshold of Hope. I guarantee that if you do not already know a sexual abuse victim, you will and you will want to know how to help. Her books will help.

Marriage

SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. The Parrotts are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve been offering per-marital counseling since 1995 and I’ve yet to find a better resource.

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: Healing for Troubled Marriages, by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jim Talley. Talley’s work became my go-to for counseling couples in crisis many years ago and remains so today. It is simple, clear, and concise. Read it five years into your first marriage and you probably won’t have a second. Find him at drtalley.com.

Giving Wisely

TOXIC CHARITY: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and how to reverse it), by Robert D. Lupton. Bob, the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, moved his young family into inner-city Atlanta in the late seventies and stayed. He “has developed two mixed-income subdivisions, organized a multiracial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families,”[1] and is a friend of our family. He is also an excellent writer and teacher of the ideas he promotes. The book is an easy and useful read.

Biblical Worldview Thinking

HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE, is the late Chuck Colson’s and Nancy Pearcy’s magnum opus on biblical worldview thinking. If you have no exposure to the genre and five hundred pages doesn’t frighten you, begin here. It is compelling and easy to follow.

THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson with Harold Fickett, is much shorter and more about answers to the questions we all have, like: Why am I here; how can I find significance? But all of Colson’s works are infused with the worldview rubric and this one will challenge you to choose carefully.

Culture War

CULTURE MAKING: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch. Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, makes an excellent case that it is not enough to condemn culture, nor to stand aloof and critique it or naively copy it, still less to unconsciously consume it. If Christians want to return to the cultural influence that helped build Western Civilization, we have to create better culture. CULTURE MAKING is the best book yet on how to do that.

ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, by Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man who, like Albert Mohler, is an energetic, entertaining, and articulate defender of the faith. ONWARD is a quick, compelling read that roots our cultural engagement squarely in the Gospel and never strays from it.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t have time to read serious books.” If so remember World Magazine and World Radio, both of which will keep you up-to-date with the latest biblical worldview thinking in a highly portable format. Go to getworldnow.com for a free three month trial. The daily worldview update, Breakpoint, with John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas is also excellent.

Brains, like bodies, get flabby without exercise. What would our imaginary mental scales say about yours? Time to get to work!

[1] From the book cover.

SLOWLY SERIOUS SUMMER READING

Some of our lives speed up in the summer. I’m thinking of my farming friends who are already working well before sunup and late into the evening this time of year. But some of us, thankfully, get a chance to slow down and recharge.

Few things refresh my batteries like a good book slowly absorbed in the shade of long summer day. I like to begin the season with fun stuff that helps me completely disconnect from everyday life, and slowly work my way toward more serious titles.  If you’re looking for some good summer reading, here are my favorites from the last twelve months.

A Man Called Intrepid – by William Stevenson. Ever wondered how Churchill managed to outwit the NAZIS, engage the aid of a war-resistant America, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in history’s greatest conflict? Wonder where the American CIA got its start? How Ian Fleming created James Bond? The biography of Sir William Stephenson, (no relation to the author, whose surname is spelled with a “v”) is the most fascinating non-fiction account I’ve ever read of a global intelligence operation. Personally code named Intrepid by Churchill himself, Stephenson, who was an air-combat veteran of WWI, a scientist, engineer, and wealthy industrialist, risked his life and his personal fortune to help not only Great Britain, but America set up and run the spy rings and covert ops that were essential elements of Allied victory in WWII. Reading it is not only entertaining, but also an excellent education in the geopolitics of the mid twentieth century that still shape today’s world.

At Risk – by Stella Rimington. Interested in more up-to-date spy thrillers? Stella Rimington satisfies with her fictional heroine, MI5 agent Liz Carlyle, member of the British Intelligence Joint Counter-Terrorist Group. Rimington, who was the first female director of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, knows whereof she speaks, spins a good yarn, and provides insight into the kinds of asymmetric warfare western governments fight every day against international terrorism.

Looking for something a bit more personally edifying? On the self-help side of things I’ve found the following serious titles quite encouraging.

Blue Genes: Breaking Free from the Chemical Imbalances That Affect Your Moods, Your Mind, Your Life, and Your Loved Ones – by Paul Meier M.D. and Associates. Meier, who is not only the founding psychiatrist of Meier Clinics, but also holds advanced degrees in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, completed his psychiatric residency at Duke University, and was one of the founding members of the Focus on the Family Physicians Research Council, has written over 70 books, including the bestsellers Love is a Choice, and Happiness is a Choice. One of his earlier books, Don’t Let the Jerks Get the Best of You, was tremendously helpful and introduced me to the importance of serotonin in brain chemistry. His insight into the connection between brain, body, and spirit is, in my opinion, unsurpassed.

Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve – by Lewis Smedes. Have you or someone you love been wounded? Hurt? Irreparably damaged by a close friend, or loved one, or even a complete stranger? Read this book. We’re not talking about minor slights here; we’re talking about the big stuff: infidelity, assault, murder, sexual abuse. And don’t let the title throw you off. No one every truly forgets, not even God, and Smedes does a brilliant job of explaining that. These injuries go deep and have the power to fester into soul-wrecking, permanent disabilities if they are not healed by the Great Physician. Smedes shows the way into his office.