Archive for December, 2011

I first read Desiring God in the late 1980’s after hearing about it from someone I knew. I was a young Christian at the time. Like Knowing God, it would be one of the books to lay the foundation for my life as a Christian.  But not all books hold up over time. So I am reviewing the revised edition from the perspective of an older Christian who has read this book a few times. Does it hold up? Why should I bother with a revised edition? Those are the questions I come to the book with.

Does it hold up? Classic books stand the test of time. There are books that are very popular when they are released, but 10 or 20 years later people won’t point to them as significant long term. This is a book people still talk about. This book is chock-full of good theology. Piper not only defends his assertions regarding Christian Hedonism, but he lays out lots of good theology. In other words, his theological distinctive (you can actually see similar teaching in Calvin, Burroughs, Owen and other Reformed pastors, not just Edwards) does not exist in a vacuum.  Piper has to work through the sovereignty of God, the character of God and the nature of salvation. I think I used more ink in my new copy than in my old one.

People often misunderstand his position based on the name. But the point is that a Christian Hedonist seeks their pleasure in God, one of the many things were are commanded to do in Scripture. Piper shows how Scripture not only teaches but feeds Christian Hedonism. He unpacks the doctrine to see how it plays out in marriage, money, missions and more. One subject that is missing would be work (perhaps in the 30th anniversary edition). This is a very practical theology book, but one that is rooted in theology.


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The Salton Sea is one of my favorite Val Kilmer movies. It is quirky and an odd sense of humor. In addition to Val Kilmer you find Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Peter Sarsgaard, Anthony LaPaglia, Luis Guzman and more. It is a crime drama that takes place in the midst of the tweaker culture of Southern California. Since I was home alone for a week, I decided it was a good opportunity to enjoy the movie again.

"Look in the mirror and tell me what you see."

One of the central questions of the film is “who am I?”. It is a movie wrestling with the question of identity. The movie begins with Val’s character(s) lying gut shot on the floor of a burning apartment playing the trumpet. “Am I an avenging angel, or a rat who got what he deserved?” The movie tells the story of how he ended up there so you can decide.

After the murder of his wife, Tom Van Allen assumes a new identity in order to discover the identity of her murders. His plan, initially, is to take revenge. To do so, he becomes a police informant, and an addict. Every so often he goes to a locked trunk in his room. Inside is his true identity: papers, pictures, clothes, hat and trumpet. He puts them on, and plays. He’s trying to keep who he is in mind. He’s losing his grip on his identity. He’s losing… himself. In the midst of the lies he tells others, he’s beginning to believe those same lies. The lines between Tom and Danny are beginning to blur. He’s not sure if he’s still Tom or if he’s become Danny. But while Tom seeks revenge, someone else is seeking revenge against Danny the Rat.


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While I was a temporary bachelor, I spent an evening watching The Last Man Standing. I had only seen parts of the movie in the past, so I decided to watch the whole thing. It is an updated version of A Fistful of Dollars, which was the basic story line of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that takes place during prohibition on a Texas border town. The basic story is that of the unknown drifter who enters the town in the midst of a struggle for power between 2 gangs (of different ethnic groups in the Leone and Hill versions). What the drifter notices is the beautiful woman who “belongs” to one of the gang leaders.

It has been some time since I’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars, so perhaps The Last Man Standing starts off differently. Or I didn’t have the eyes to notice how important the beginning was. LMS begins with the thus far unknown woman in the deserted chapel. She is praying. We learn later, of course, that she is essentially a hostage. The leader of the Irish gang won her in a poker game. She longs to be reunited with her husband and child (here a little girl). In AFD, we actually see the grieving husband and their grieving son. Here they have vanished in the depths of Mexico. We are led to believe that she is praying for her freedom.


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We’ve all heard the illustration of the frog in the kettle. I never thought I’d be the frog.

I’ve been tired for a long time. I can’t remember when it started, but it was sometime after my daughter was born. I’d come home from work more than tired. I thought it was just getting older. And raising kids. I don’t know. But I couldn’t get enough sleep either. No get up and go. This was beyond being an night owl.

In the last year or so I’ve noticed memory issues. It just wasn’t firing as fast as it used to fire. I’d get the information out of there, but not as fast as I used to. Something wasn’t right.

This year I had what I thought was my annual physical (long story of faulty communication at the doctor’s office). I brought it up. We added a few things to the usual blood work. I’m glad they did.

They discovered a few things, including a B-12 deficiency. There were about 3 issues that directly affect energy and brain function. So I was started to take some supplements and what I call “the cream” (no, I didn’t get it from Balco).  It has been about 2 weeks now.

I feel like a different person. The memory is the slowest to return, but I have fewer “ah…” moments. I’ve come home from work and willingly engaged in projects. I’m not wiped out.  Yesterday, for instance…. awake around 7. At the office I finished 2 sermons and 2 Sunday School lessons. A productive day at the office, even with beginning the process of refinancing our home.

When I finally got home, I took a the dog for a walk and started cooking dinner. After dinner I worked on a project around the house, did some reading and started watching a movie at 10 pm. I didn’t have to fight to stay awake.

Sometimes we slowly disintegrate, so to speak. We don’t realize what is happening to us and it becomes normalized. We never think “something’s not right”.  We just bumble along.

I’m hoping that now that these things are being addressed that I’ll be a better husband, father and pastor.  Oddly enough, I have to re-adjust to normal. And interesting parallel to sanctification- learning to be the person I’ve been redeemed to be. It may pose some interesting dilemmas, but it sure beats going back to being a slug.

May this not be true-


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There are some great boxing movies: Rocky, The Hurricane, Raging Bull, and Cinderella Man. And then there are some lousy boxing movies, The Main Event comes to mind. So does everything after Rocky III. You’ll notice something about the best ones- they are based on true stories. As a result, they are not just about boxing. They deal with subjects like family dynamics, racism, profound set backs like the Depression.

The Fighter is based on the true story of Welterweight Champion Micky Ward, or rather the story of how he became champion. It deals with family dynamics, addiction, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is about second chances.

Christian and Mark as Dicky and Micky

Micky grew up the younger half-brother of “the Pride of Lowell”, his brother Dicky Ecklund (played marvelously by Christian Bale). Dicky made his claim to fame by knocking down boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard (or did Sugar Ray just slip?). After his brush with fame, Dicky went down hill. When we enter the story, he is Micky’s trainer and a crack addict. But he is still the apple of his mother’s (and Lowell, MA’s) eye. Micky (played by a subdued Mark Wahlberg) fights on, as an afterthought. His career started well, but with the family distracted by Dicky’s antics (his mother is Micky’s manager) his career has taken a decided downturn. Micky finds himself at a cross roads: will he be brought to nothing by his brother’s problems and the dysfunction represented by his mother and white trash half-sisters ( they add an authentic and hilarious element to the movie).

Their perpetually smoking mother and manager


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In his book Children at the Lord’s Table?, Cornelius Venema includes an appendix on the issue of baptism. This appendix, he notes, is his chapter in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge. This is an interesting irony since Gregg is one of the people mentioned who advocates for infant communion in the PCA.

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances.” B.B. Warfield

Venema rightly goes after the presuppositions that operate in this discussion. The case is not won on the basis of proof-texts because each side brings different presuppositions regarding the nature of the covenant of grace in its varying administrations. This appendix is here because Venema also sees this problem as the basis for the infant communion debate. He uses the appendix to spend more time explaining the proper relationship between the various administrations of the covenant of grace.

Venema admits both sides have arguments from silence. Just as there is no statement explicitly keeping children in the covenant community (no command to baptize them), there is no statement explicitly removing them from the covenant community. If there was, the would have been a serious battle in the church shortly after Pentecost.  We don’t see this. Rather, we do see, from the beginning, the repetition of the phrase “this promise is for you and your children”. Peter continues to expand it to the Gentiles. Peter is speaking the language of Genesis 12, 15 & 17 in the context of the sign of initiation into the covenant community (just like Genesis 17). But, I get ahead of myself.


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Unlike many other lists, this one is not limited to books written in 2011. I’m not “up to date” enough. This is the best books I read in 2011, regardless of when they were written. Are you down with that, ‘cos that’s how I roll.  I’m trying to be a hipster, but fail miserably.

This list looks shorter than I want since I spent time reviewing books I wouldn’t necessarily read. Some of those books were not good books.

Books About Christianity

  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller. At times I was encouraged, and times I was uncomfortable, while reading this book. Paul shares from his own life and struggles with prayer. I read this over a long period of time since we read it in our community group, so I sometimes lost the flow of the book. Did the book end my struggles with prayer? No. But it helped me recognize why some of those struggles exist (the Fall affected my ability to communicate with God, for instance). It also helped me recognize the gracious character of prayer, and my own Pharisaic tendencies. So, be challenged.
  • King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Tim Keller. Not Keller’s best book, but still better than most books you’ll read. Not quite a commentary, it does insightfully cover the Gospel of Mark.
  • The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor. This book wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. But is was still a great book. It focuses on how it is God forgives us, why it is important that God forgives, and the implication of being forgiven. As I noted in my original review, it was timely in light of the Rob Bell mess.
  • What Did You Expect??: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul Tripp. Hands down one of the top 3 books on marriage I have read. Aside from being uptight about certain bodily functions, Tripp is quite insightful into the human heart and its effect on marriage. Buy it and read it if you haven’t already.
  • Baptism: Three Views by Anthony Lane, ed. The three views are presented by Sinclair Ferguson, Bruce Ware and Lane. Ferguson’s presentation on infant baptism was among the best I’ve read. His presentation in class all those years ago was not as solid and persuasive as this. What the book reveals is the power of presuppositions in this discussion.
  • The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders. Books on the Trinity are rare. Not only this is a rare book, it is a very good book. You’ll be glad you read it.
  • Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper. Piper walks the line in this book. The mind, and the use of it, is necessary but insufficient to the understanding of Scripture and therefore living the Christian life.  He also interacts with some of the implications of postmodernism. Not an easy read, but good things typically don’t come easily.

I’ve got a few other books in process that would make the list, but I’m not done yet. Hopefully they will show up next year.

Books Having Little to Nothing to Do with Christianity

  • The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield. It was a very interesting book about beer and the Guinness family. They had a model of benevolence and care for employees that showed they tried to handle their wealth well.
  • Choosing to See: A Journey of Strength and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman. This could go above, but it is a book that non-Christians might be interested in reading since it deals with adoption and coping with a tragic loss. There were moments where, as a pastor, I was uncomfortable. But it was an interesting book.
  • The Original Curse by Sean Deveny explores the question of whether the Chicago Cubs threw the 1918 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. If you love baseball this is a very interesting read. He brings in the context of the history of gambling in baseball as well as the state of the nation as the U.S. entered WWI.  I think he builds a good case that they did, in fact, throw the World Series, but as a Sox fan I’ll take it.


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The final chapter, though there is an appendix, in Children at the Lord’s Table? has Venema’s concluding observations and an evaluation. Most of the chapter reviews the material presented earlier in the book. It is fairly redundant, as one other reviewer noted.He does remind us that since this view is out of step with the Reformed Confessions, the burden of proof is on them to show from Scripture that they have it right and we’ve gotten it wrong for 500 years (it is possible). But they failed to provide sufficient evidence (in his opinion, and mine).

But his evaluation includes some thoughts about the different view of the covenant that functions under the surface of their arguments. In other words, he moves on to their presuppositions. This is where the disagreement really lies. The subject of infant communion is just the visible evidence of the different presuppositions (the same is true for the infant-believers’ baptism debate).

The advocates of infant communion operate with a view of the covenant that claims that all members of the covenant “enjoy a full and saving union with Christ.” This got me to thinking. It sounds remarkably like the argument for the “pure church” used by many credobaptists. Their argument for paedocommunion is completely consistent with that view of the covenant. But is that a proper view of the covenant? Is the pure church a proper understanding of the covenant community? Why then practice excommunication (apart from being commanded to) if they have a saving relationship with Christ because they’ve been baptized?


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The book arrived unbidden. Unexpected.

This was my first Advance Reading Copy, and I was not sure why I got one. Perhaps I’ll never get another one.

The book is the story of 5 Mexican fishermen who ran out of gas after a fierce storm. The current pulled them westward until the 3 men still alive were picked up by a fishing trawler out of Taiwan.  They had spent nearly 10 months at sea spending their days looking for ships and food, gathering rainwater and reading the Bible one of them had brought with him.

The book is also the story of the author who was quite successful selling syndication rights, but very much adrift and lost himself. After his life falls apart, he leans of the fishermen who’d just been rescued and feels called to tell their story to the world.

There are parts of this book that are VERY interesting. I was fascinated by the story of the Mexican fishermen. I want to know more about their story. It sort of reminds me of 127 Hours, which I recently watched.

Joe Kissack’s story was interesting, but not nearly as interesting. I hate to say that- as though how God brings a sinner to saving faith is not interesting. But it is clearly more ordinary- I know hundreds, thousands of saved sinners. But I’ve never met anyone who survived adrift on the Pacific for 10 months. Unlike the people near the end of the story who encouraged Joe to see the 2 stories as one, I was not as enthused by the process. It distracted me. I understand the contrasts, but they just didn’t work for me like they did for others. That’s okay.


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I’m not sure why I watched it to begin with. I suppose it was because of the commercials on the Comcast On-Demand this summer. I’m not really into zombies but I thought I’d watch the first episode. And I was hooked. I quickly watched the rest of the first season.

The Walking Dead has zombies in it, but it really isn’t about zombies. It is about people- humanity. What drew me in originally was Rick’s quest to find his family. Rick was a deputy who was shot during an arrest. He woke up from a coma to a whole new world he didn’t understand. His town was a ghost town aside from the walking dead who moved in herds. But he knew his family was alive and took some guns to go looking for them.

The show took some interesting looks at morality in extreme circumstances. This is a situation in which there is no law and order. The creatures who are trying to eat you used to be people. It is not like war where they have a different language, form of government or religion. These people used to be your neighbors. In the premiere, they showed a man conflicted about shooting the zombie who used to be his wife. He wanted to end her misery, but he still saw her. This show is not about killing zombies. It is about the living.


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In Children at the Lord’s Table? everything has pretty much been building up to this moment. 1 Corinthians 11 is the key text to the question of whether or not baptized children should partake of the Lord’s Supper prior to a profession of faith. Here is also where the publisher’s commitment to the KJV is the most annoying. Venema does address one of key textual issues, preferring the non-Textus receptus manuscripts.

The Historic Reformed Interpretation

Venema starts with how this text has been interpreted in the Reformed community. The instruction regarding what it means to participate in the sacrament “unworthily” is seen as normative. It was not limited to the situation in Corinth, but is for all churches and Christians, not just those that struggle with the same sins.

In Corinth, there were additional divisions in the church (beyond those in the first chapters) along class lines. These divisions were most clearly expressed during what they thought was the Lord’s Supper. There was little love expressed, but lots of selfishness and pride. In this section Paul uses lots of 2nd person pronouns. It is about their actions.

But then Paul shifts to the 3rd person for his positive instruction. This change to more universal or general language indicates the normative nature of his instruction. Additionally, participation in the sacrament is predicated upon having faith which is able to remember and proclaim the Savior’s death. The people who partake receive and rest upon gospel promises, there is a subjective element to the sign.

Those who participate are also supposed to examine themselves. Some in the Reformed community have neglected the “themselves” part and require examination by the elders before each celebration of the Supper (yes, our Scottish brothers). This text does not require a “complete spiritual physical” either. The idea is whether you genuinely believe in Christ as He is presented in the gospel. The idea that this is a Puritan-like examination of every nook and cranny of your life is not substantiated by the text (I like the Puritans, but they were not perfect either). Venema calls this a strawman argument used by advocates of infant communion. And rightly so.


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