Review of The Church and Postmodern Culture Series (7 Volumes via Logos Bible Software)

I was thrilled to have been asked to review the “Church and Postmodern Culture” series. Having previously read a one of the titles of the series already, I was pleasantly surprised to see Logos offer a seven volume set and personally excited to read more of the series. I have two more titles to go and coming up for air here. I feel as though I am nearing the end of an extremely affordable seminary class in terms of emotional energy and the pressure of the deadline (It turns out I skim a lot less when there is no syllabus telling me the required reading is due on Tuesday). Grade or not, what I am confident in is since beginning the series in early June, I feel like I have taken a course on postmodernity and church practice.

What Is It? From the Logos site:

“The seven-volume Church and Postmodern Culture Series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church. This collection is assembled by a variety of contemporary theorists and uses insights from Deleuze, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Augustine, Irenaeus, Aquinas, and others to bring different angles to answer the many questions dealing with postmodernism and its impact on ecclesial practice.
Logos Bible Software dramatically improves the value of any resource by enabling you to find what you are looking for instantly and with unbelievable precision. As you read these volumes, you can easily search and access topics or Scripture references you come across, for example, “postmodernism” or “discipleship.”

The books are:

  • GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Raschke
  • The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens by Graham Ward
  • What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good New of Postmodernism for the Church by John D. Caputo
  • Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church by James K.A. Smith
  • Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutic for the Church by Merold Westphal
  • The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World by Daniel M. Bell Jr.
  • Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in a Christian Worship by Bruce Ellis Benson

 

Who I Think It’s For:

The pastor who has always loved the academy but knows (s)he is called to serve in the local church.
The seminary student whose program does not include a framework of postmodernity.
Those who want to read Derrida but know they won’t anytime soon.
Any honest soul who actually is uncomfortable with postmodernity, relativism, etc.
Those who think they appreciate postmodernity and are surrounded by those who are bound/committed to modernity and/or critical to the potential goodness found in postmodernity.
The curious.
What I Think It Is:

Did you catch this linen the description: “for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church”? That’s me. As much as I love the idea of reading enough Derrida to converse intelligently, I don’t have the time, the community, and the bandwidth these days. Further, if I am being a faithful steward of my energy and discipline, there are other topics and conversations that my community is asking me to stay more on top of. This isn’t to say philosophy and postmodernity are not important to me (or them). it’s that I cannot spend the hours a week to read/process it. That said, any help I could would be desirable. Enter the Church and Postmodern Culture Series.

Good books educate, help you ideate/create and they also point you to other good books. As mentioned in the introduction, I read five of the seven in the Logos series but also added the print copy of Whose Afraid of Relativism by James K.A. Smith (the series editor).  This title is also a part of the series and coming soon to Logos (you can pre-order it now). From here, I grabbed a copy of The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age by George Lindbeck because as Smith points out, if you want to understand post-liberalism, you need him (or it’s like reading Calvin without understanding Augustine). Sold.

Even more, I am reminded that I need to keep reading Barth, not because I like to, but because of how he frames belief and mission to so many of us today. A repeated theme throughout the Church and Postmodern Culture series is the connection of doctrine and practice. Which is why some of us pastor types stopped reading high theology and philosophy, we weren’t seeing enough practice in it. This is what moved me to grab Who’s Afraid of Relativism? Among the topics Smith tackles is the issue of pragmatism. It turns out, I’m not crazy, just uneducated. If you are concerned with aspects of pragmatism, but find yourself unable to resist aspects of it, you’ll probably enjoy this book but I’d start with What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John Caputo. (Again, you may not have time to read Derrida, but you can Caputo’s accessible treatment of his work and the many virtues of postmodernity.

Which brings me to the most obvious benefits of this series - they are crash courses on the subjects and conversations we keep bumping up against today. Please note, crash course is not the same as the” (Insert Topic) for Dummies” series. This isn’t light reading but it’s not super-academic either. They books are more essays than heavy text.  Smith and friends generally summarize the history of the philosophical dialogue, help us understand the players, what they are critiquing in the other and then what it’s saying to our culture and our church today. My favorite part of each book is the pay-off you feel as you work towards the conclusion. My second favorite aspect is the access to continental philosophy.

Most of us will never feel we’ve read enough. So it becomes a matter of priority, discipline and figuring out ways to have a little cake and eating some of it too. And that’s what I think the “Church and Postmodern Culture” series helps offer people like me – access to conversations I wish I had for thought and practice.

—-

Logos Bible Software

The Logos software is one of the best investments I made in seminary. Early into my second year, I asked for this to be my early Christmas/birthday gift. Then last year, I upgraded to Logos 5. I’ve invested in a couple packages including the N.T. Wright library.

While I know I’m not using all the features, the portability and efficiency of the digital form is never lost on me. Meaning while I will likely always holding a book, I really love the ease and speed of reading off my iPad. When it comes to using commentaries, I like the ability to take my Macbook Air and iPad to a coffee shop and writing my sermon/small group study there. True story: as Sunday nears, I find fewer books on my desk and it often comes down to my Macbook Air and the open tabs in my Logos.

If you need a nudge to invest in Logos, I hope this helps. If you need more information from someone who does not receive any form of commission from sales, feel free to email me. That said, I have called their support line a few times over the years and they never try to upgrade me or sell me stuff. “Good peoples” and great technology to serve in the Kingdom.

“Do I Need a Seminary Degree to Understand the Bible?”

I heard a form of this question a few times this year. In some way this is very good as it reminds us that we’ve been talking about Scripture in our community. In another way, it’s not as good, as the statement implies frustration and perhaps a growing disunity between those who hold different convictions, different interpretations and most obviously an “us versus them” when it comes to seminary education. As one who is sensitive to disunity, I keep thinking about this.

The simple answer to the question is no, you do not need a seminary degree to “understand the Bible.” Everyone should read the Scriptures as this is one of the great maxims from the Protestant Reformation, “Sola Scriptura”, and making the Bible available to everyone was another one of the greater convictions and benefit that came out of the Reformation.

Everyone should read the Scripture but no one fully understands the Bible either. No one. 

Yes, I am keenly aware of the great stories of those who have memorized chapters and books of inspired text, they’ve read the Bible every day for hours for decades, and someone has identified them as one who “knows the Bible inside and out.” We can presume this individual is clearly well-versed in Scripture, loves the Lord and is doing amazing work for the Kingdom of God but no mortal can fathom the ways of God, no can know the mind of God, no one can comprehensively understand the Bible.

We all like to think that if we were alone on a desert island that we could master the Bible. Well, we definitely couldn’t if we were reading it English. it’s not simply that word meanings are lost in the translation so the solution becomes learning Hebrew and Greek while alone on this island. No and ask anyone who has taken Greek/Hebrew and they will tell you, we’re not even sure we’re using the right words. How often do you hear the line form a professor, “Perhaps a better word for this particular translation to have used was ….”? This is one of the reasons why we have so many translations and no shortage of new ones. The more we understand of the original language and historical context and the more our own languages change, the more translations we’ll have and need so make sure that island has a P.O. Box.

We can learn this truth from Scripture, we can learn it from experience, we can also learn it in places like seminaries. There have been books written about why to go to seminary and it’s been my observation that some are helpful and some over-promise. There are many excellent reasons to go to seminary, particularly vocationally, but among the reasons for me is that seminary gave me access and a measure of formal training in a conversation about Scripture, theology and mission that I really craved.

It was eight years between my first master’s and second and I clearly remember during my first year at Biblical Seminary reading the Drama of Scripture and thinking to myself, “Thank God I signed up for this crazy, intense cohort program, I need this.” In those in-between years, I was trying to read nerdy books, trying to keep up, but I had no real academic community around me that offered the conversation, encouragement, frustration and refinement around me.

One of the best moments of any seminary education is when the professor leads an intelligent room full of people in a discussion on something that seems initially solvable and as we explore contrasting passages, interpretations, traditions, and practical ramifications, we come to a moment of complete frustration and collectively say, “Wait, so what do we do this??” There are some moments when you literally say to the professor, “I can’t leave this room not knowing the answer.” And the prof responds, “I’ll make some coffee for you because you’re never leaving here then.” We stare at the text, shrug our shoulders and the education is learning the history, complexity, and beauty of Scripture.

It’s a humbling experience. One that moves the student of Scripture to prayer, to be Spirit-led, to seek God’s wisdom until we are given the complete answer on the other side of this life. The reality is you actually do learn quite a bit of the historical context and nuances found in our holy text. But that education and humility gives you sense of self-awareness of how great God is and how rich these sacred words are.

So where does that leave us especially those of us who are not seminary-bound? Should we not bother reading Scrpture? Of course not, the best thing we can do is keep reading.Then should we stop forming opinions, convictions and doctrinal statements? Of course not, there’s a place for all of that.

It’s our spiritual and hermeneutic posture that needs forming. My opinions, convictions and doctrinal conclusions will be in conflict with another and that’s ok. What’s not ok, is the arrogance and superiority we assume over the other. We can receive Biblical education in different forms: personal study, academic education, sermons/podcasts, communal learning with fellow believers, etc. and all of this will make a difference in the quality of our informed positions but none of us, from the newbie to the PhD can actually know the mind of God.

To be sure, I’d rather have the understanding of the PhD, unless it’s stripped me from the love of God, Scripture and neighbor. But for all of us, we learn the power of Scripture by sitting at our Lord’s feet and living by word and deed and you don’t need a degree for that.

For some practical resources for study, consider the following:

Use different translations in whatever passage you are reading that day. Biblegateway is very helpful.

The New Testament for Everyone Series by N.T. Wright

The NIV Application Commentary Set

Reading/discussing Scripture with friends.

Too Busy to Keep the Ridiculous Notion of the Sabbath

Everyone I know is busy. And if you read the previous post, I don’t know anyone that is really happy. Are these observations linked? Would we be happier if we were less busy? Some might say so but I know plenty of bored people who are not happy either.

We’re busy people. There’s a lot we want to do these days and there’s a lot we want to do before we die. We want to enjoy life, laugh with our family and friends, experience happiness and love, find discover new things and contribute to the good of this world. We want to find meaning, find God (if there really is one), and figure out our place in this world.

As we search the answers to these big questions, we have schedules to keep, bills to pay, people to take care of, demands, responsibilities, and all the whatevers of life that keep us busy. At the end of a long day we sit down to catch our breath, turn on “Love It or List It” and two hours later, dozens of houses, and a few annoying home-buyers, you’re even more tired, more frustrated and already bogged down by the busyness forecast for the next day.

Exhausted by the never-ending to-do list, and frustrated that our aspirations move further beyond our grasp someone inevitably comes along and asks, “Do you ever practice keeping the Sabbath?”

Ahh yes, the Sabbath. The Fourth Commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

Umm, no I don’t keep the Sabbath, I’m busy, I have a lot going on, so if you don’t mind, please either move along or quickly unload the guilt on me and I’ll add it to my to-do list of dealing with it later but whatever you decide, just make it fast because I have stuff to do and watch more “Love It or List It” and then Sportscenter.

Is there anything more ridiculous than the keeping of the Sabbath? All decent people will understand the other commandments that forbid murdering, theft, adultery, even the worship of idols (that can’t be good, right?). But a mandatory off day? Why does God care so much and why put it on the same scale as these other commands?

Sabbath-keeping feels like a luxury for rich, spiritual people. Or for the Jetsons. But you don’t understand, I have people relying on [Read more...]

Is Anyone Actually Happy and Was Jesus?

There are days when it feels like I don’t know anyone who is really happy.

Life is tough … for everybody.

Which is odd because so many people look so happy. I walk into a coffee shop, I see women hugging and greeting each other like prodigal friends, “Oh my goodness Darlene – you look fabulous!!” I’m at bar with friends and sometimes it feels like I just walked into a Bud Light commercial with all these dudes high-fiving, singing, retelling old stories and intoxicated with life – “Yeah, I’ll have what they’re having.” Then the next day, I will look in the rearview mirror in our van and marvel at the sight of these beautiful children and say something sarcastic to my wife about how I’m really sensing that we should really keep all these kids.

But inevitably I will wonder why these moments feel so fleeting for us. The ladies in the coffee shop will start complaining, the bros in the bar will have a few too many and the sweet kids in the rearview will turn into Gremlins.

The more people you talk to, the more pain you see. The longer you talk to someone, the more hurt they reveal. And the longer you live, the more awful things you see and hear. It’s the theme of the book Ecclesiastes and it’s all throughout anytime anyone says, ““I’m just not happy anymore” and share their feelings of hopelessness.

Then there’s you. You and your happiness or lack of it. We say things like, “If only this were different, if only this could be changed, if only this had or had not happened, if only …”

At this point, we’re wondering a few things. Just how depressed is everyone, should I be more depressed, is happiness simply feeling a little better than the collective misery around me and how depressed is this blogger? And is he really a pastor?

Well, most days I think so and today happens to be one of them and while I’m unconvinced that happiness can be found at the end of a blog post, don’t click away yet because these words feel very true to me.

Predictably I’m going to talk about Christianity and the promise of happiness. In fact, I’d suggest that if our faith is not pointing us to a deeper, truer life,  and happier life then we should either get rid of it or figure out if we really understand it.

Frankly, if Jesus does not understand happiness, can I really trust him and further, what good would Jesus/Christianity be if happiness was not part of it? What’s not as predictable is perhaps our  understanding of happiness. 

[Read more...]

Blog Update: What I’ve Been up to, On My Mind & What’s Coming

Quite a few thoughts on my mind lately. Got back from a vacation a couple weeks ago and hit the ground running like you do. Also got to spend July 4th weekend with great friends, been a nice start to the summer, and the only real casualty is the blog. So hoping this post gives me some clarity and gets me blogging again. If any of this resonates, let me know.

I was grateful to have preached last week in our new sermon series “One Word Prayers” and my word was “Please.”  In the message I revealed my love for bacon, coffee and that we’re expecting a new baby this fall. That said, the point of the message was we use the prayer, “Please” in many ways, from seeking God’s blessing, interceding for others, and desiring God’s sweeter reality. You can listen/watch it here and embedded below.

There’s a draft on the post-sermon that I’m unsure I’m going to finish. Similar to the feeling of “it’s great to have written”, there’s the “it’s great to have just preached” but this time I really feeling, “It’s great to have just connected.” I was grateful to have had a bigger part in shaping this sermon series and I think I feel the difference of having preached something a bit closer to my heart. If you’re not a weekly preacher, there’s often either a hangover or afterglow, I’m grateful to have experienced the latter.

The other night I started on a draft that wondered why it sometimes feels like everyone I know is unhappy. It’s a half-true of course but it feels like there’s a lot going on with all of us, we’re all in need of something and what do things like contentment, waiting and joy look like in the midst of this? Working on it. 

 

I’m also thinking about what’s going on in the news:

  • Still have a few thoughts and finishing the follow up to “What to Do with all These Stories of Women Being Sexually Attacked …”
  • Working my way through the Supreme Court-Hobby Lobby decision. On one hand requiring businesses to provide birth control seems like clumsy socialism yet this decision feels like it gives greater power to corporations and I’m not comfortable with that either. Some great essays/posts out there and I’m processing

There’s a pile of book reviews I’m trying to put together:

  • The Church and Post-Modern Culture Series via Logos Bible Software.  I was asked to review this seven volume series and while it’s time-consuming nerdy work, it’s reading I need and thankful for, especially during these post-seminary days. 
  • Fail by J.R. Briggs – love this guy, love how he talks about failure, love that IVP published this. I even when to his conference where each presenter shared about their greatest failures and how they survived. 
  • 24/6 by Matthew Sleeth – Sabbath, rest, worship, renewal. Every time I approach my stress and confront the feeling of being overwhelmed, I return to the teaching and practice of Sabbath. 

And an assortment of reflections ranging from short term mission trips, student ministry, small group ministry, discipleship culture in churches, faith and science divide and general leadership. I’ll never get it all out but I’m grateful to be around all this.

On a bit more of a personal level, I’m looking for rest and renewal this summer. I’ve said this all year, so I guess it’s been one of the themes all along and it’s filtered through just about everything I’ve been a part of including our Summer Discipleship Course starting this Sunday morning at the Lexington campus during both morning worship hours. We’re calling it “Rest and Renewal in Summer and Scripture” and I’m excited to  kick it off this week.

Hope all is going well with you and your summer.

 

If you’re up for a 30 minute sermon about prayer, heaven and bacon, I’m your preacher :)

 

What To Do With All These Stories of Women Being Sexually Attacked From #BringBackOurGirls to #TakeDownThatPost Post 1

Even if you’re only paying half-attention, there is a lot of news, content and awareness on the poor treatment of women right now. Frankly, it’s difficult not to be sensitive to what’s happening. Bad news is bad news but what’s even worse is to not learn from these hurt-filled moments so that people can be helped now and that pain can be limited or even avoided in the future. 

To recap the context I’m working through:

Back in April, news broke of 200 school girls in Nigeria were kidnapped in one day. Some have escaped, while the whereabouts of most are still unknown. As a result, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign was born (and shown to be effective). But we ask ourselves, how do we live in such a world? This is absolutely mind-boggling to an outsider like me.

Two weeks ago we read reports from Egypt of women who were sexually assaulted during the inauguration celebration. Make no mistake, these sexual attacks are political statements which brings back the question, what kind of a world do we live in?

Stateside, our heads are spinning from the news of Bob Jones University faculty telling a rape victim to repent of her sin. The link is to a story about a young woman who was assaulted at her summer job, then began college, shared her story, and was advised by faculty to repent because there’s “sin under sin.” Stupid advice is sinful too.  [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Calling of Fatherhood (Father’s Day 2014)

[Been out of pocket this week - a few belated postings going up in the next few days.]:

Most days I feel like a good father but I’m just being humble. It turns out, I’m actually “The #1 Daddy.” My six year old confirmed this for me in writing and I can produce this document at a moment’s notice.

I’m tempted to set it all on cruise-control but in a moment of self-awareness, I thought maybe I’d reflect on the goodness and the challenges of fatherhood.  I’m thinking about my personal joys, I’m thinking of two friends celebrating their first father’s day among a few other scenes featuring fathers and grandfathers playing out in my head.

This Father’s Day, I was surrounded by my family, my wife, my children, my own father and mother, brother, sister and her husband and kids. We’re vacationing together and it all fell on Father’s Day weekend. We all live in different parts of the country now so these days are special.

If we’re local or Facebook friends, you know we just announced that Susan and I are expecting baby number 4. If you don’t know us, we’re a couple who spent 6 years in fertility treatments, quit them and adopted our first [Read more...]

The “Slippery Slope” Argument is the Adult Version of the Boogieman and It’s Not True

My least favorite excuse these days is the “slippery slope” argument. It goes something like, “If you bend or change your mind on this, then you’ll have to do the same for everything else. And then you’ll end up in chaos and destruction. Therefore it’s best to avoid the slippery slope.” In my mind is a particular context that I want to be sensitive to. It affects people I agree with, people I disagree with and I have friends on both sides. Still, I feel the need to call it out.

First, the slippery slope feels like a modern day boogieman for adults who, pardon my saying so, are afraid to change their minds. I’m struck by how unhelpful a Google search of “slippery slope” turns up. From my perspective, It’s a lot fear language preached from a loftier and often overly-conservative position.

[Read more...]

A Look at 1 Timothy 2:1-15 from My Egalitarian Perspective

I had the opportunity to write our church’s small group study this week. We create every other week based on the text the sermon will be preaching and while the study is not always sermon centric, the guide aims to study the passage through small group discussion. We’re big believers in the importance of Scripture in community.

Also, it must be mentioned, the sermon this past Sunday was incredible. Our pastor, Bryan, gave one of the clearest and strongest messages for the egalitarian position that I’ve heard. He includes his “conversion” from complementarianism to egalitarianism, his look at I Timothy 2:-15, and a fantastic historical understanding of evangelicalism and the role of women. I had no idea how mindful early evangelicalism was to include women in leadership and am shocked at its regression. Here’s the link to the video or if you prefer, audio only.

So the text for my study was the infamous 1 Timothy 2:1-15 and here are a few of my reflections from [Read more...]

Reflecting on #Yesallwomen

This week, I’ve been thinking about the #Yesallwomen hashtag. And like most hot cultural issues of the day, I keep avoiding putting my thoughts down for public consumption. Even with the sincerest of intentions, it’s often feels difficult to contribute anything positive to such loaded conversations.

It always takes longer than it should but eventually I realize that loaded conversations never go away. They may slip out of the public scene but it’s only temporary and they keep coming back with greater tension, sometimes they come back with fury. It’s better if we can speak into them and in the best case scenario, contribute progress, redemption and hope into them. This will of course, expose our pre-suppositions, philosophies and guiding narratives and frankly, I have a lot of faith in mine. Hope you join me.

When I look at my Twitter feed, I’m struck by how many times #Yesallwomen comes up. I follow a [Read more...]