Our Deepest Desires | Book Review


For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith. This interest led me to study philosophy in college and accounts for quite a few books in my library. But over the course of my ministry, I have discovered that arguments — the logical kind, not the yelling-and-screaming kind — have a limited power to change minds.

Blaise Pascal identified a reason for this limitation in his Pensées. “Men despise religion,” he wrote. “They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” Notice the verbs: despise, hate, are afraid. This is the language of affect, not intellect; of roiling desires, not calm, cool reflection. On this account, Christian apologetics often fails because it treats people like the Vulcan Dr. Spock rather than the all-too-human Captain Kirk.

Pascal outlined a three-pronged strategy for apologetics in light of this truth about human nature:

The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is true.

We might call these three prongs negative apologetics, apologetics from desire, and positive apologetics. Negative apologetics rebuts arguments against Christianity, showing that they are false. Positive apologetics makes arguments for Christianity, showing that it is true. Pascal’s crucial insight is that apologetics from desire play a crucial role. People must “wish it were true” in order to see “that it is true.”

Although Gregory E. Ganssle doesn’t cite Pascal in Our Deepest Desires, I get the impression that his book is a Pascalian project nonetheless. “The claim that this book will explore,” he writes, “is that the Christian story makes sense of our deepest longings. That is,” he goes on to explain, “the story that Christianity sets forth fits well with the things we value most and with the kinds of people we want to be.”

What kinds of things? Ganssle names four key values: persons, goodness, beauty and freedom. These values are, he believes, transcendental and universal. They are the kinds of things all people must take into account as they try to construct a good life.

Take persons, for example. Ganssle shows that “what we value most is connected to our personhood.” This is the case for two reasons: “The value of the things we pursue for ourselves is enhanced because we have human capabilities, and we value other people intrinsically.” In other words, we are persons (not pigs or peanuts or planets), so the good life we pursue must be appropriate for us. Moreover, that good life is relational to the core.

What story makes best sense of this fact? Ganssle contrasts the Christian story with the atheist story throughout the book. Let me cite a representative example of each story, then add in Ganssle’s argument.

First, a representative example of the Christian story:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7–12).

Ganssle writes: “In the Christian story, the most fundamental reality is intrinsically relational” (emphasis in original). God is a Trinity of persons in eternal relationship of love with one another. This eternal Trinitarian love has implications for the doctrine of creation: “God’s love for the created order and particularly for the persons God created is an overflow of the love among the distinct persons within the divine nature. Love overflows into creative giving.” Given this reality, it is not surprising that “the content of Christian ethics centers on love and service to others.”

Now, for a representative example of the atheist story — by atheism, Ganssle means evolutionary naturalism, the “unguided Darwinian story” of human origins — consider this famous quote from the infamous Bertrand Russell:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

In this story, Ganssle points out, “our relational nature arises solely from our biological nature, which in turn arises from the underlying physics. In these accounts, the human drive to form and value relationships found its impetus in the need to survive.” So, yes, relationship is part of the atheist story, but as Ganssle points out, this is “an accident of evolutionary history.” He goes on to conclude: “Our beliefs about these relational virtues do not track with the deep contours of reality. So, although the meaning and value of relationships are not incompatible with atheism, they do not fit well with the atheistic story.”

Notice that Ganssle hasn’t argued that the Christian story is true. He’s simply argued that it’s a better fit to our deepest desires about personhood. He makes similar arguments about goodness, beauty and freedom. These transcendental values — our deepest desires — fit better within the Christian story of reality than in the atheist story. To use Pascal’s words, the Christian story is “attractive.” It is the kind of story “good men wish … were true.”

Obviously, there’s still a place for negative and positive apologetics. We have to show that Christianity is true, not false, after all. But if arguments from desire have moved people from scorn, hatred and fear of religion to curiosity about it, or even an openness to “reverence and respect,” then our arguments stand a far better chance of being persuasive.

Our Deepest Desires is a short book, but Gregory E. Ganssle should be congratulated for how much deep and interesting insight he has packed into its pages.

 

Book Reviewed:
Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, plese vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Trending Up | Book Review


If it weren’t for Johannes Gutenberg, the Protestant Reformation might not have happened. Why? Because Gutenberg’s movable type press made it possible to print and distribute Martin Luther’s spiritual broadsides quickly and inexpensively. The medium facilitated the movement.

Today, we are witnessing a communications revolution even greater than Gutenberg’s. Information technology has made it possible to communicate the gospel instantly, globally and personally via social media. Christians need to harness these media for Great Commission purposes.

Trending Up shows how. Written by social media professionals from a variety of denominations, churches and nonprofit ministries, the book outlines social media strategies for churches and other ministries under five headings:

  1. Why Social Media?
  2. Content Strategy
  3. Story: Your Church’s Story and God’s Story
  4. Connecting with Your Church
  5. Reaching Your Community

If the ministry you lead is looking for a primer on social media, start with this book. Case studies of social media campaigns appear throughout, showing how content strategy plays out in real-life settings. Additionally, the book contains an appendix of books, websites, blogs, platforms and other resources for further investigation.

Near the end of the book, Mark Forrester writes: “Social media is equal parts art and science — and zero parts magic. Don’t let anyone tell you different. As with any form of communication, we must give painstaking attention to make sure our choice of words and images are appropriately reaching our community and resonating in our specific context.” In other words, Gutenberg facilitated Luther, but Luther had something to say that was worth facilitating in the first place.

The same must be true of us. Technological innovations have made it possible to amplify our message. Let’s make sure people hear the gospel loud and clear on our social media.

 

Book Reviewed
Mark Forrester, ed., Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today’s Church (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Why You Should Care About Church Planting | Influence Podcast


This past Sunday–September 17–was Church Planting Sunday. In honor of that, I recorded an episode of the Influence Podcast with my friends and colleagues, Chris Railey and John Davidson, who make a good case for why every Christian should care about church planting.

 

The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity | Book Review


The debate about gender roles between complementarians and egalitarians is one of the most contentious among evangelical Christians. Complementarians believe that God created a hierarchical relationship between men, whose role is to lead in home and church, and women, whose role is to graciously submit to male leadership. Egalitarians believe that the hierarchical relationship between men and women is not God’s creative design but rather the result of the Fall. For egalitarians, Christ’s redemptive work reverses the curse of sin, places men and women in relationships characterized by mutual submission, and frees both men and women to lead as God calls and empowers them.

Among some of the neo-Reformed complementarians affiliated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), it used to be acceptable to prove their position not only by appeal to specific biblical texts (e.g., Ephesians 5:21–32; 1 Corinthians 14:34–35; 1 Timothy 2:11–15), but also by appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, did not Paul write, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3, ESV)?

Complementarian Jared Moore explained the logic of this argument in his review of Bruce Ware and John Starke’s One God in Three Persons:

If complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in church and home.

Thus, complementarians found a way to maintain male-female equality even as they denied that women could be leaders in home and church.

This argument was first articulated by George F. Knight III in 1977. It received institutional expression in the Danvers Statement of 1987, the charter of the CBMW. After that, it was articulated and defended most voluminously by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in numerous books and articles, including Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the most widely used theology text in evangelical seminaries. According to these theologians, to deny fixed role relations between the sexes was tantamount to denying the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father, thus placing the denier outside the pale of orthodoxy and on “a new path to liberalism,” as the subtitle of Grudem’s 2006 Evangelical Feminism.

I say this argument used to be acceptable among these complementarians because it is now widely recognized — even by many of them! — to be heretical, a corruption of Trinitarian doctrine as formally defined by the councils of Nicea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (A.D. 381) in the Nicene Creed. (In January 2017, for example, after a yearlong debate about EFS in complementarian circles, CBMW took the extraordinary step of explicitly affirming the Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity.) Kevin Giles charts the rise and fall of the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity in his book of that title. Giles is an Australian Anglican minister who has argued against the eternal functional subordination of the Son — the name complementarians gave their Trinitarian doctrine — since the 2002 publication of his book, The Trinity and Subordinationism.

Rise and Fall is an eye-opening, theologically helpful book. Why? Not only because it traces the history of a bad idea, but because it explains how that bad idea became so prominent among some theologians in the first place. Giles points to bad theological method as the culprit.

…the complementarian theologians got the doctrine of the Trinity wrong because they had a wrong understanding of how evangelical theology is “done.” They thought that with the Bible in hand they were free to construct the doctrine of the Trinity with virtually no reference to the historical development of this doctrine or any reference to the creeds of confessions of the church. In their mind, systematic theology was simply a summary by individual theologians of what they thought the Bible teaches on any doctrine. For them, an evangelical who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture had in the Bible the answer to every theological question.

This is where Giles’ book hits close to home. As a Pentecostal, I am neither a Calvinist nor a complementarian. However, this same theological method is prevalent among my tribe. As Protestants, we affirm sola Scriptura, Latin for “by Scripture alone.” In other words, we believe that Scripture is “the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and practice,” as the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths puts it. So far, so good.

The problem is that we Pentecostals — along with many other evangelicals — often operate as if sola Scriptura meant what Giles calls solo Scripture— “No creed but the Bible!” There’s a huge difference between saying that the Bible is the only infallible source of our theology, however, and saying that it’s the only source whatsoever. As a historical matter, that’s not what the Protestant Reformation meant by sola Scriptura. The Reformers affirmed the orthodox doctrinal tradition of the Church, even as they appealed to Scripture to critique the corrupt traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. They didn’t throw out the Nicene baby with the indulgence bathwater. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this October, it might be helpful to keep the Reformers’ theological method in mind.

Giles wraps up The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity with a 30-page summary of how the doctrine of the Trinity developed in history. It is a good example of how tradition and reason, subordinate to infallible Scripture, produced Nicene orthodoxy. But that very orthodoxy creates a problem for complementarians. As Giles puts it: “Given that the complementarian doctrine of a hierarchically ordered Trinity has now been abandoned, even by leaders of the complementarian movement, and that they have agreed that 1 Corinthians 11:3 neither subordinates the Son nor women, the reality of a major crisis for complementarian theology cannot be denied.”

How that crisis will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but Giles concludes the book with a quotation by complementarian Calvinist Andrew Wilson: “I’m quite optimistic about the fallout from the whole debate…. I think correctives are good. I think robust challenges to faulty formulations of doctrine will, in the end, produce health rather than decay.

To which this Arminian, egalitarian Pentecostal voices a hearty, “Amen!”

 

Book Reviewed
Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Dr. Todd Wilson | Influence Podcast


In this episode, I talk to Dr. Todd Wilson about the Christian church’s historic consensus about human sexuality, bringing Christian theology to bear on a controversial topic.

Wilson is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, as well as cofounder and chair of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His newest book is Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, which will be published on October 9th by Zondervan

To learn more about Mere Sexuality, visit MereSexuality.com. The website of The Center for Pastor Theologians is PastorTheologians.com.

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge


My friend Carter McDaniel reviewed this book for InfluenceMagazine.com, but I thought I’d give my two-cents’ worth too:

“Influence always outpaces authority,” writes Clay Scroggins. “And leaders who consistently leverage their authority are far less effective in the long term than leaders who leverage their influence.” Scroggins identifies four behaviors that will help readers leverage their influence: lead yourself, choose positivity, think critically and reject passivity. He also gives sage advice for challenging authority as a second-chair leader, when that becomes necessary. His bottom line advice? “Practice leading through influence when you’re not in charge. It’s the key to leading well when you are in charge.” This is an insightful book for second-chair church leaders and young ministers.

Book Reviewed
Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Western Star | Book Review


The Western Star is the thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s series of mystery novels featuring Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming’s (fictional) Absaroka County. It’s also one of the best. How good? I read it in one sitting—four hours glued to my chair wondering what would happen next.

The novel includes three narrative arcs. The first finds Walt in Cheyenne to argue against the parole of a killer he arrested in 1972.

The second takes place in 1972, when Walt is a newly minted deputy of Lucian Connally and accompanies him on a junket of Wyoming sheriffs aboard The Western Star, a steam locomotive from which the book draws its title. When two of the sheriffs go missing, one presumed to have murdered the other, Walt gets dragged into solving the case.

The third narrative arc concerns Tomas Bidarte, a criminal first introduced in A Serpent’s Tooth, who wants to kill Walt, but only after making his family suffer first. These three arcs come together in the book’s explosive conclusion, which, I have to admit, I didn’t see coming. And while they come together, they don’t completely resolve.

In other words, The Western Star made me hope that Craig Johnson finishes his fourteenth Walt Longmire novel really soon. I want to know what happens next.

 

Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, The Western Star (New York: Viking, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling | Influence Podcast


In Episode 111 of the Influence Podcast, I talk with Dr. Robyn Wilkerson about her new book, Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling, which publishes on October 3rd.
 
The Assemblies of God (USA) has ordained women for ministry for decades, but many women ministers still face barriers to their leadership.
 
Some of the barriers are external, as when people–men, usually–say that women can’t be spiritual leaders. (Waldemar Kowalski and I talk about what Paul really said about women in ministry in Episode 72.)
 
The barriers Dr. Wilkerson and I talk about are internal, however–self-limiting patterns of thinking that hold women back. Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling outlines a coaching strategy for overcoming these negative ways of thinking about one’s own leadership.
 

Basic Christianity | Book Review


What does it mean to be evangelical? Derived from the Greek euaggelion — “gospel” or “good news” — the word describes things that are related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the Reformation, it has been used as shorthand for Protestants generally. With the Great Awakening, it began to be used of a specific type of Protestant: Bible-based, Cross-centered, conversion-required and action-oriented.

Now in the United States, the word more often than not is used to describe a brand of partisan politics, at least in the popular press. This is unfortunate, because the gospel itself cannot be reduced to partisan politics. It is bigger and more fundamental than that. John Stott’s Basic Christianity helps readers remember this by outlining a truly evangelical understanding of Christianity.

Stott writes: “Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible.”

Over the course of 11 short chapters, Stott covers who Christ is, the nature and consequences of sin, the atoning work of the Cross, and the necessity of responding to Christ personally.

In the Preface, Stott pens this brief description of basic Christianity:

We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly, to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust in him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.

Over the course of its nearly 60 years in print, Stott’s little book has found a remarkably broad audience — internationally and ecumenically — and for good reason. It is biblical, orthodox and evangelical in the best sense of the word. I recommend it highly. An individual can read it profitably, but I think the best way to read it is with a group. The third edition helpfully includes group discussion questions at the end of the book.

Stott first wrote Basic Christianity in 1958 for a British audience. It has been revised twice, in 1971 and 2008. As far as I can tell, this 2017 Eerdmans reissue is nearly identical to the third edition. Changes include a new cover and minor reformatting of the text. The biggest change is that all Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 edition of the New International Version.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Stott, Basic Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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