Modesty can be a fighting word, even in the church these days. I could maybe even say, especially in the church. So, we at MoS thought this would be a conversation that counts. Todd showed up especially dressed for the occasion. And we invited Gloria Furman, author, blogger, and pastor’s wife, to discuss this sensitive issue with us. Gloria is able to help us pick apart this Christian virtue with a unique perspective as an American living in Dubai. Plus, Gloria is one of my fellow proponents and contributors in the wonderful genre Carl has dubbed Reformed Chic Lit. Take a listen here.
The title of this book prevails upon the reader to open it up and see what this is all about. It’s daring. I mean encouraging and hell are in the same sentence! It kind of reminds me of the old fundamentalist preachers my husband sometimes impersonates. With a big, starchy smile on his face, he says, “You’re going to hell!” But of course, Thor Ramsey is not that man. He seems to bring back some of the edge we remember from the Old English Puritans, however, he is comedic and succinct. Ramsey’s mission is to convince the reader that hell glorifies God.
While very evangelistic, the book is also a polemic of sorts against the shift in evangelical thinking on hell. He confronts the books that have been written to suggest hell doesn’t exist, the prosperity pastors who promote a “non-judgmental Santa-god,” as well as those who may just be too embarrassed to bring up the whole hell-thing. The book is broken down to teach that without the doctrine of eternal hell, “we will suffer the loss of the fear of God, the loss of a holy God, the loss of an extravagantly loving God, and the loss of God’s wisdom in the cross” (18). The author does this in a mere 103 pages. And I have to tell you, I really did finish the book encouraged. The title is brilliant, and it just may be true!
At first I didn’t know how the whole pastor who does stand-up comedy was going to sit with me. I mean the guy is talking about hell. But he already had me laughing in his dedication: “Dedicating a book on hell is problematic. Which ex-girlfriend do you choose?” And yet Ramsey’s sense of humor in no way compromises the holiness of God in the book. I think that the mordant remarks peppered throughout the book actually helped take away that stereotype of the fundamentalist pastor that my husband imitates so well.
I always think it is a challenge to write in depth on an important doctrine in a mere 100 pages. I don’t want to buy and read a glorified outline that is missing reflective thought. While Ramsey doesn’t have the space to carry each of his points through the forest of literary beauty, there are many flowers that you can capture and preserve. The author is insightful in his teaching while he is building a biblical case for hell. I especially like how he brings up the proclivity that we often have to think that God needs our PR help.
As a side note, I learned that busses make good comedy material. It’s as if Ramsey just can’t help himself. Like a good stand-up guy, he weaves a seemingly random theme throughout the pages. Yes, busses. He begins in the dedication. There he moves on from the ex-girlfriend idea to dedicate the book to a long line of people worth it:
…to all the pastors who act like men, friends that stick…rock band members who read, rappers who preach, countrymen who think,…and lay people with discernment—especially those from Grand Rapids, Michigan who find grace disabled by sentimental views of a morally lax and complacent God who winks at evil and has about as much authoritative oomph as the public school system’s bus drivers, not that they don’t do the best they can to keep the little tyrants in order.
May you all begin speaking about eternal punishment again with tenderness and clarity.
Especially the bus drivers.
We get another comedic dose on p. 22, where Ramsey is giving his own rendition of the stereotypical fundamentalist preacher. He says that these pastors “gently instilled in the congregation a healthy fear of busses. ‘If you were hit by a bus walking home tonight (dramatic pause), do you know where you would spend eternity?’” He does make a good point that it is the fear of God that should occupy our thoughts more than death itself. Later, Ramsey astutely reminds us that our main concern should be loving God, not avoiding hell (56).
The bus gets another short cameo on p. 31, where we catch a lesson in what happens when the church doesn’t fear God. We preach a different Christ. “It’s the difference between Jesus dying for you or just giving up his seat on the bus for you.” Not so much comedic, but he plays the ball again.
Later, the author goes into a whole Keanu Reeves illustration under his subheading, “Hell and the Purgatorial Buss Pass” (51). As you can imagine the bus plays an even bigger descriptive role here. And just to finish us off, Ramsey ties that illustration into his closing (92).
For now on I will think of hell when I see a bus.
But again, I don’t want you to think that the comedic notes in the book take away from the seriousness of the author’s message. Ramsey doesn’t shy away from pressing the reader. He ends the book challenging us with the notion that our love for God should bear fruit. Our lifestyles shouldn’t cause fellow loved ones to wonder about our eternal life. He reminds us of the words of Jesus to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Then Ramsey pleas with us. If we believe the biblical doctrine of eternal hell to be true—and it is!—then it is cruel for us not to warn others whose lives do not bear the fruit of repentance.
I didn’t get into the details of how hell glorifies God, or of what we lose when we lose the doctrine of a biblical, eternal hell. That’s because I think you should read the book! I was encouraged by it, and the author wrote it for a broad audience. It also may be one of those books which you to buy an extra copy and mistakingly leave behind on your bus seat…
Today I realized what one of my main aims is in every blog post—to get you, the reader, to stay with me more than ten seconds and actually focus your attention on one thing. It occurred to me as I was reading Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, that every time we jump on the internet, we are in a sense saddling up on the mechanical bull. “The Net is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention” (132). Carr reveals study after study documenting how the internet really is changing our brains, making it much more difficult to retain information, comprehend what we are reading, and discover its meaningfulness.
You see, I’ve probably already lost you. Hang on, dang it! If you’re still with me, I know you’ve probably read that last line because I also learned how we have adapted to reading online by skimming in an “F” pattern. And that line would probably count for the second horizontal stroke (after all, you had to read the line that connects blogging and a mechanical bull, who wouldn’t?), so I will try to make sure I put all the other important stuff on the left side of the page.
Anyway, what’s going on is that every time you see a notification pop on your screen, notice a hyperlink in the text, or
any other internet-ninja distraction occurs, it’s like the jolt from the mechanical bull. It’s almost as if we are having little mental concussions all day! “Every time we shift our attention, our brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources” (133). “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links” (127). And so, when we hop on the bull, we begin strategizing the ride.
A team of German researchers conclude, ”Most Web pages are viewed for ten seconds or less. Fewer than one in ten page views extend beyond two minutes, and a significant portion of those seem to involve ‘unattended browser windows…left open in the background of the desktop’…[These] results also reinforce something that Nielson wrote in 1997 after his first study of online reading. ‘How do users read the web?’ he asked then. His succinct answer: ‘They don’t’” (135-136).
Of course, I’ve revealed my bleak chances as a blogger to have you still reading this article. But if your head hasn’t been banged around too much today, and you are one of the internet cowboys who can persevere longer than 10 seconds, this all leads me to a point other than blogging. These studies show how completely differently we read digital words from words on a physical page. In fact, Carr goes into great detail about how our online activity is actually changing our brains. And he reasons, “Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together” (120).
As a group of Northwestern University professors wrote in a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Sociology, the recent changes in our reading habits suggest that the “era of mass [book] reading” was a brief “anomaly” in our intellectual history: “We are now seeing such reading return to its former social base: a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class.” The question that remains to be answered, they went on, is whether that reading class will have the “power and prestige associated with an increasingly rare form of cultural capitol” or will be viewed as the eccentric practitioners of “an increasingly arcane hobby.” (108)
Are readers the ones that are going to be viewed as stuck in the superannuated, Pony Express method of receiving content, while the risk-taking mechanical bull riders happily flail from one link to the next? How can we better participate in both mediums?
And my big question, what does all this research suggest about our ability to meditate on Scripture and the preached Word? I also wonder if there have been any studies on the focus, retention, and comprehension of those who come to church with their Bible downloaded on a cell phone or iPad versus those of us who walk in with our bulky, printed copies? How do we approach God’s written Word differently on a shiny, mechanical screen opposed to the worn tactile pages? Because clearly, the medium does affect the message. Furthermore, what kind of social networking is really going on within the walls of the church?
How can or how should the church best promote the sanctity of life? Well, Todd and I may seem to have a different nuance to the relationship between the church and politics. But I will just paste the Martin Luther quote that he posted on his blog this week to prove my point on the church’s role:
Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word. - Martin Luther
So as I suspected, we agree more than we disagree. Of course, Christians are both citizens of Christ’s redemptive kingdom, the church, as well as citizens of his civil kingdom of providential rule and justice. And so we are sent out as salt and light to serve our neighbor. It is certainly important for Christians to think about how they can uphold justice for the unborn as fellow citizens and serve their communities in that way. Carl seems to hold to this understanding as well, but refuses to call it a two kingdoms view. Call it what you like, but don’t call us radical!
Hopefully we didn’t get anyone’s Underoos in a bunch. Take a listen to the short podcast here.
About two years ago, I wrote an article about my first experience with a Kindle. I had a little fun with the description and I used the metaphor that the Kindle is a bad kisser. What I want to talk about today reminded me of just how well that metaphor can work.
Many people are just plain overwhelmed when it comes to reading good books. While they may have an inclination to learn, they so often don’t persevere in engaging with a book, much less the many other books they could continue to read afterwards. And I especially see this result when it comes to reading books on theology. But, as I’ve mentioned recently, reading is an active exercise. You wouldn’t want to take out a prospective good date and be a bore all night, would you? And you need to ask the right person out to the right occasion. In other words, you need to be good at the art of sizing up a book.
Let’s say that you wanted to approach a woman and ask her out. If every time you see her she is in heels with her hair in a bun, you most likely wouldn’t ask her to be your partner in the Tough Mudder competition when it comes to town. At least, not until you get to know her a little better.
Likewise, when you first meet your new book, you need to make some observations and develop a bit of a reading strategy. We all tend to take a look at the cover, and maybe the endorsements on the back. Most of us will do a quick scan of the Table of Contents to get a better idea of what we are getting into. But I thought I’d offer some additional tips that you may or may not be doing that can help you not to fall asleep on your date, I mean book, and be more engaging.
Go ahead and put some time goals on your date. How many pages are in the book? This is simple math people. Let’s say your book is 180 pages long. If you are finding it hard at first to carve out good reading time (or to concentrate for long periods of time), commit to 10 pages a day. You will be finished your book in a little over two weeks—not too shabby. It’s not all that much a of a sacrifice to give ten minutes of your time for a mere 18 days. With a longer book, do the same thing. You can stick to your ten minutes and spend a month or so on it, or you can bump it up to 15 or 20 minutes.
When you ask someone on a date, you are setting aside time for them. You don’t let a bunch of silly distractions end your time together. That is, unless the date really stinks. Then you should always have an exit plan…
Come With a Clear Expectation
What is it that you would like to get out of this book? Are you trying to grow in an area that you already have some knowledge? Are you trying to learn about something completely new? It would be a good idea to even write down some expectations you have for the book. You will be able to get an idea from the introduction whether your expectations are realistically going to be met. What do you suspect that the author is going to say? Are you coming into the book with an open mind to their position, or do you think you are going to be disagreeing with the material? Either way, how would it be enriching for you to read this book?
This is comparable to something I’ve shared before about how my friend Dana plans for our get-togethers. She makes a cheat sheet. This consists of all the things that Dana wants to share with me, topics that she wants to discuss, and questions she may want to ask during our short time together. Preparing the cheat sheet before hand ensures that she wont forget all that she was hoping to achieve in our time together. I really appreciate that! It keeps us absorbed in meaningful conversation (well, it’s not all meaningful, some of it is just plain fun) when we have the opportunity to hang out.
Engage in the Conversation
The best readers are active readers. Don’t just sit down expecting to absorb a bunch of information. Have an imaginary dialogue going on in your head while reading. Let yourself wonder where the author is going with a particular section. Are they setting you up for something else? Just because they bought you dinner doesn’t mean they can come in for coffee! Be discerning as you read.
And remember that you aren’t reading as a blank template. How does this particular book connect with other things you have read? Particularly, how does it measure up to Scripture? Read synoptically. Make connections. Develop some of your own insights as the author is sharing their own. Ask questions. Write them down. See if the author addresses them later. This goes along with the well-known tip to read with a pencil. I like to use a colored pencil.
Talk About Your Date
One of the best things I do to better comprehend what I’m reading, retain the information, and personalize the material is to recognize how what I’m reading relates to other conversations I am having. Take your book for a test drive. Let her meet your friends, or your mom if she’s really special. What we read shapes us. Be aware of this, and be cognitive of how your book is affecting your thinking. Maybe the book is written poorly, or doesn’t shed any new light. That is okay too, because recognizing this is a sign of discernment. You don’t continue to take out a bad date, and you wouldn’t want to recommend them to others. But know why it is bad. And if it wasn’t necessarily a bad book, but maybe just not for you, someone else may benefit from you sharing it with them.
Consider Writing a Review
Although you wouldn’t want to kiss and tell with a date, books are meant to be publicized, discussed, and even dissected some. Think about writing a review. You may not be a blogger, but you can still get in the discussion and inform other readers by leaving a review on a site like Amazon or Goodreads. This doesn’t only help prospective readers, it helps you to articulate your thoughts and even bring up some of those questions you had. But as with a date, remember that there is a person behind the book. You wouldn’t want to write anything in a review that you wouldn’t feel is appropriate to share with the author themselves.
I have found that writing out reviews, or even a reading reflection, has helped me to become a better reader. It also helps improve my skills to know what I’m looking for in a book.
So there’s just a few things to keep you engaged. What helps you to improve as a reader? Do you set reading goals for the year? Do you have something that you would like to learn more about, but haven’t had the nerve to ask it out yet? What keeps you reading and what keeps you from reading well?
Go ahead and say it, it’s kind of a fun word. But no one wants to be called an antinomian. When you first hear the word you may immediately think, “Oh yeah, this applies to those people who are anti-law.” But Jones makes the case that “’antinomianism’ is a lot more complex than its etymology might suggest” (18).
I’m not exaggerating when I say that he turns the word inside out. At the beginning of the book, Jones suggests that maybe even the legalists have much in common with antinomians. Echoing Oliver O’Donovan, he elaborates, “Legalism and antinomianism are in fact two sides of the same coin because they are ‘fleshly’ ways of living life” (2). This is very perceptive, and Jones is setting the reader up to see that the solution isn’t to find a middle ground between the two, because they are “fundamentally the same error.” Instead, Jones’s book sets out to show that “The grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ, properly understood, is the only solution to these twin heresies. In essence, the mistakes of legalism and antinomianism are Christological errors” (3). This is what I appreciate the most about the book. The author teaches the relationship of both Christ’s person and work to our sanctification.
He also gives us quite a history lesson. The first chapter chronicles some of the more impressionable antinomian debates covering everything from Luther, the Puritans, and the Marrow Men. With that helpful context, Jones moves on to a chapter on The Imitation of Christ. He helpfully indicates that while it is good that we emphasize Christ’s impetration, that is, “Christ’s meritorious work,” we must not focus on it to the neglect of application, that is, “the enjoyment of Christ’s purchase of redemption. The two concepts are distinct but not separate. So to be holy is both to look to Christ’s work of reconciliation (i.e. impetration) and to labor after conformity to his image (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29)” (22). I love how Jones points out the relationship between Jesus’s life of faith and our own, both dependent on his Holy Spirit.
But back to the whole antinomian debate, does the law have a role in our sanctification? If so, what exactly is it? Jones exhorts, “Because of the greater indicatives of the new covenant, the imperatives are not relaxed, but in fact are strengthened” (37). How can this be if we are now under the reign of grace under the new covenant? Well, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the law, and another on the relationship between the law and the gospel. Jones breaks down the command to believers to love as Christ has loved us, explaining how after the incarnation, Christ demonstrates an even greater model of love than is commanded in the Decalogue. Since Christ has filled this perfectly on our behalf, we now have a new relationship with the law. We can pursue holiness, holding on to the promise of God, knowing that Christ is interceding on our behalf, and confident that he will accept our worship and obedience even as it is now imperfect. The believer’s relationship with the law is very different than it was as an unbeliever, but there is still a relationship there. “The gospel, largely understood, involves the work of the Spirit in applying Christ’s work of impetration. Thus, the law is changed by the Spirit into something effectual, so that we may accurately claim…that the law is an instrument in progressive sanctification” (56).
I appreciate how thorough Jones is in this chapter on law and grace. He is able to maintain the impetration of Christ as the key message in the gospel, while getting into the implications of how this is worked out in our sanctification. He does all this not my lessening Christ’s work and putting a false burden on the believer to be left in despair, but highlighting how the mediatorial work of Christ actually makes the law friendly to us, as well as the Spirit’s application in leading us to gospel obedience.
Not only does Jones turn the “A” word inside out, he pulls out all the pockets. There is a chapter on Good Works and Rewards, as well as a chapter distinguishing between God’s benevolent love and his complacent love. I confess, this is where I wrestled the most. He explains God’s benevolent love as his primary love for all believers in his election and generosity that accompanies all those who are blessed in Christ. But Jones evidences how the tradition of the Reformed also taught on God’s special delight and friendship in response to “the good that is in the elect.” On one hand, I understand. All our goodness is in Christ, dependent on the Spirit; and so as we do good, we are in a sense closer to God. But at the same time, I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. God’s benevolent love is a passionate love that strongly pursues us, and the good that is celebrated there is a broken heart. We often focus on the good that is more visible and rewarded even by our own church peers, but we need to be reminded that God knows our thoughts and our hearts. So I would maybe have liked to see the author spend some time distinguishing between performing good with the wrong heart motives, verses the good we do in Christ that doesn’t always look to outsiders as a great spiritual accomplishment. I circled a footnote that articulated what was floating in my head as I read that chapter: “Of course, keeping with the idea that our good works are prepared in advance by God, we could also look at the issue in terms of whether those who do more good works than others have been recipients of God’s love and grace on a greater level” (82).
Is your brain twisted yet? I am amazed by how much ground is covered in a mere 130 page book. Jones opens in the preface saying every sentence must count in a book about antinomianism. He certainly succeeded in writing a succinct history, explanation, and interaction with some of the warning signs he sees in contemporary Christian language. The author ends the book working toward a solution. I appreciate the pastoral advice and tone in this chapter. I found this excerpt particularly helpful:
In the context of the Christian life, the Spirit so works in believers that they have not been deprived of their wills, but rather in such a way that our obedience is truly our obedience. The faith that is a gift of God is nevertheless our faith. The power comes from God; the act belongs to man. (125)
One thing I do fear is that readers will want to start calling out all sorts of people as antinomian, just like we like to label people as legalists. I like how Jones teaches these are two sides of the same coin. We all have tendencies to fall on one side or the other. But then again, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t operate with some sort of law—-as Jones put it, if we keep “beating the grace horse,” that too can become a law. That’s why it is so important to have the right understanding of both law and grace, as well as a solid doctrine of Christ’s person and work. This is the greatest benefit of the book. You may not agree with Jones on some of the lingo that he tags as antinomian, but you will certainly learn from him and be challenged. You will also be edified by his Christological focus, and encouraged to continue in the race that is the Christian life.
This is my third post today, and I typically only post three times a week. What can I say, walking on the wild side! I have to links to share with you.
Secondly, William Hill, from Greenville Seminary’s Confessing Our Hope podcast, has interviewed me on my book, Housewife Theologian. Take a listen here. They are giving away a free book!
I feel like I should have a third thing for my third post on Thursday. So I will tell you to stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Mark Jones’s new book, Antinomianism.
I’ve been spending some time lately in the beginning of Colossians, where Paul is sharing what he has been praying for this church. I decided to write it out as a personal prayer to God for my family, church, and for some groups of women that I will be speaking to in the upcoming season and have found it very helpful. So it was even more enlightening for me to read some highlights that G.K. Beale points out about this section of Scripture in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.
In this particular chapter, Beale is demonstrating how the church is described as a new temple in the epistles of Paul. He makes a very important point that the “Spirit himself is the beginning evidence of the new creation, wherein is resurrection existence and the abode of the cosmic temple…The Spirit is not merely an anticipation or promise of these realities but is the beginning form of them…the Spirit is the beginning evidence that the latter-day promises have begun to be realized in Christ and his people” (258). After giving ample evidences of this from 2 Corinthians and Ephesians, Beale moves on to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here he further reveals the fulfillment of the Gen. 1:28Cultural Mandate in Christ, the “eschatological Adam,” and all those in Christ, the church. Check out this parallel:
“increase [auxanō] and multiply and fill the earth…and rule over all the earth’.
‘in all the world also it['the word of truth, the gospel'] is bearing fruit and increasing [auxanō]‘ (v.6); ‘in every good work bearing fruit and increasing [auxanō]…’ (v.10). (264)
Read the rest of this article over at Reformation21.
An interesting debate has been brought to my attention from the folks over at Alpha and Omega Ministries:
On January 24, 2014 Dr James White (Alpha & Omega Ministries) will debate Dr Michael Brown (Line of Fire radio) live at 9 PM, US EST on the topic For Whom Did Christ Die ?
On the following night, January 25, 2014, Dr. White and Dr. Brown will debate live the topic Has the Gift of Healing Ceased in Our Present Age? at the same time slot.
Revelation TV is hosting the event. Here is a link to the promo. If I can figure out all the technological details, I will be streaming the debates live here at Housewife Theologian.
I know that I have a good number of wonderful pastors that actually stop by to read from a housewife theologian. The latest Mortification of Spin Podcast will be edifying to you, as well as to those of you who occupy the pews. Carl, Todd, and I actually took a little field trip before recording. You can see us in this shot taken, listening to a fashionable sermon together. We dressed for the occasion. Carl actually found himself some skinny jeans. Todd wore some special jewelry for this juncture. Take a listen here to our discussion on both the theological and practical side of preaching.
What’s the purpose of a sermon? Is it to inspire the congregation or just a means of transmitting knowledge? Or is the sermon something greater? Dead bones came to life when Ezekiel preached. Are the sermons you listen to that powerful? Listen to Aimee, Carl and Todd discus once again discuss the sermon.