Category Archives: musings

Book review: Radical Together by David Platt

I have read a lot about David Platt’s first bestseller, Radical, so when I saw his latest book, Radical Together, on the list of books to review for booksneeze.com, I jumped at the chance.

Radical Together is meant to explain how to take what David wrote in his first book, Radical, and live them out. To do that David uses a lot of examples by way of illustration, mostly from his mega-church, Brook Hills.

David begins by telling how he and his family ended up at Brook Hills following the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina. David uses this incident to introduce us to the notion that God sometimes does radical things to get our attention. Like flooding an entire city, destroying lives and property and displacing millions.

For us the flood depicts the radical call of Christ to Christians and the [local] church. When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives and all our [local] churches, all our property and all our possessions, all our plans and all our strategies, all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives and [local] churches according to his will.

David then talks about how he reluctantly came to be the pastor of Brook Hills. He was asked to preach one Sunday and the people there liked him. But he didn’t want to go because he didn’t think he was qualified. David uses this story to express a concept from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God bible study, that God operates on a mystical plane and that we should expect to find God in whatever it is we don’t want and are (or think we are) wholly unqualified to do.

All of this is in the first chapter where David is describing a problem found in most churches where people are busy but their business is not necessarily geared towards productive ends.

I mostly agree with David’s assessment but he seems to equivocate a lot between church as the body of Christ and church as a particular 501c3 non-profit organization.

At the same time we were studying James, we were going through our church budgeting process. To be honest, I hate budget season. As a pastor, I believe this is when the church comes face to face with hoe prone we are to give our resources to good things while ignoring great need. Christians in North America give, on average, 2.5 percent of their income to their [local] church. Out of that 2.5 percent, churches in North America will give 2 percent of their budgeted monies to needs overseas. In other words, for every hundred dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give five cents through the church to a world with urgent spiritual and physical needs. This does not make sense.

From this David draws the conclusion, which appears to have formed a large part of his previous book, that American Christians are greedy and materialistic. Never mind the fact that Americans out-give all other nations on earth. Unfortunately David seems to think that Christians are required to tithe (exactly how does a charity “earn” anything?) and that local church businesses are the best, if not only, means of giving aid and comfort to the poor. Oh, and we are also told that the people we should be primarily concerned with are the poor in nations other than our own.

From here David begins building his case for what he considers a radical Christian life. Put simply, that life is spent asking the same question Charles Sheldon asked in his book In His Steps, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Throughout Radical Together what struck me the most was how ordinary the message was. While I respect David’s desire to call people to live lives that are more consistent with their stated Christian beliefs, what I kept thinking was how neurotic a person who actually takes David’s (or Sheldon’s for that matter) message seriously.

Through Radical Together it seems like the overall message is to go out and make big changes. That thinking about the problem and are fully planning and, as Jesus said, counting the cost are something we should avoid in favor of, basically, living in the moment.

The only bright part of David’s book was where he brought up and championed the home/small church model. It was refreshing, though somewhat perplexing considering the context, to read a mega-church pastor advocating the employment of all believers equally in the body of Christ and that meeting in a small intimate context is more conducive to the discipleship we are called to practice among the body of Christ.

In the end I wouldn’t recommend Radical Together to anyone to read. If you want to read a “get busy for Jesus” book you would do better to read Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps. Or better yet, throw off the existentialism inherent in the notion that in order to truly follow Christ one needs to be “radical”.

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Movie review: To Save A Life

As a rule I tend to avoid explicitly Christian films like Facing the Giants, Flywheel, Fireproof1, and To Save a Life. However every now and then I make an exception to that rule. Most of the time I am merely reminded why I maintain the self-inflicted rule in the first place, but every now and then I run across a movie like To Save A Life and it makes up for all the rest. Well, at least it reminds me why I make the ocassional exception.

The movie begins with the funeral of Roger, a kid with no friends and no hope. One of the 31,000 teenage suicides that happen in the US each year.

At the funeral is Roger’s former bestfriend, Jake. Jake and Roger grew up together but in highschool, Jake decided to ditch Roger in order to become more popular.

Jake and Roger are broken, and through the course of the movie we come face to face with the frank brokenness of many characters. And this is where the rest of the story unfolds. Tracing lines of brokenness with the looming question of whether anything is capable of making a real, lasting difference.

The raw honesty in this movie is refreshing. Its not like the marital fight scene in Fireproof where nary a curse word is to be heard. No. In To Save A Life, the imperfections and frailty of the main characters hit you like a 2×4 between the eyes.

Through Jake’s perepsective we encounter a number of issues including; teen suicide, peer pressure, drugs, drinking, sex, pregnancy, divorce, betrayal, and even cutting.

And unlike many movies where the main character undergoes a mostly linear character progression, Jake regresses during the film. Showing us that a mended heart can break itself again.

Overall we are introduced to the notion that brokenness is best dealt with in community. But not just any community. Along with various types of characters we are shown varying types of communities.

There are the drug addicts, the popular crowd, the outcasts, the youth group, and the Christians. I particularly enjoyed how the movie dealt with the difference between the youth group and the Christians, those performing religious observance and those seeking a genuine relationship with a living God.

And even through the youth minister’s advice and dialog annoyed me at some points. Overall he proved to be a solid character with a love for those he serves and a desire to see them grow and mature.

This is one of those films that should be shown to every teen and pre-teen in America.

  1. Ok Fireproof wasn’t all that bad. []
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Income and expenditures

The federal budget is a hot and devicive debate recently. Battle lines have been clearly drawn between conservatives and liberals but I wonder if both sides really understand the battle each is fighting against the other. So in an effort to help both sides understand one another better, and hopefully have more productive conversations, here are a few things we need to keep in mind.

Income

The only income the government can collect are taxes from productive citizens. This is what conservative groups like the Tea party are mostly focused on. I wonder how many liberals remember that the tea in Tea Party stood for “Taxed Enough Already”. Their major point of contention is the amount of income the government takes in at the expense of the productive citizens.

Expenditures

Expenditures is what a money is spent on. Its tempting to say that expenditures are what income is spent on, and I think this is what many people are assuming, but the reality is that our financial system makes it possible, indeed encourages, the use of non-earned income. For the federal government this means printing money while attempting to “manage” the resulting inflation.

Why are they different?

There are thousands of different businesses in existence. It is not uncommon to find two businesses with the same amount of income but with vastly different expenditures. It all depends on what they are in business for.

Conversely, it is also possible to find two different businesses with the same expenditures, but without the same income as one could be relying on credit. Generally we don’t see businesses with expenses that outstrip their income lasting very long, except if they are banks. Or the government. Or if they qualify for the magic label of “too big to fail”.

The liberal point of view

When a liberal complains that the rich aren’t paying their “fair share” what they are focused on the expenditures. They assume the expenditures are a given and that the only variable is the income.

The conservative point of view

When a conservative says that taxes should be lower they are assuming that both the income and expenditures are variable.

Conflict of ideals

The failure in communication between both groups is the assumed, but unstated, output goal of the government. Both liberals and conservatives (and yes, even libertarians) understand that there are some things the government must spend money on. Only an anarchist would argue that the government shouldn’t produce a functioning court system and means of enforcing laws. But what about other things?

Liberals generally tend to see anything that can be construed as a “indispensable public good” to be an expenditure the government should have on it’s books. Thus welfare, medicaid, fire departments, healthcare, etc. all get lumped into what liberals see as nessiciary items the government should have in it’s shopping cart.

Conservatives, on the other hand, don’t think that just because something can be construed as an indispensable public good it logically follows that government should be the one in charge of it.

So in discussions about the upcoming budget, it may be helpful to divide the issue into inputs and outputs. What many liberals may be startled to know is that many conservatives actually agree with them about the outputs (ie. public education) but disagree on the best way to pay for it. Or, in some cases, whether to care about paying for it at all as in the case with Medicare.

Likewise, many liberals may share the same concern for lower government income, but because they are hung up on an ideal which demands high outputs they see taxes as a necessary evil in order to pay for (or appear to anyway) the things they see as necessary expenditures.

What both camps would do well to do is ask themselves what limits there are on both income and expenditures. With income we know there is a clear maximum of taxing all citizens at 100% (ie communism). However finding the limit to expenditures can be difficult since our monetary system is not independent of government manipulation. But that is the subject for another post.

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Book Review: What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John D. Caputo

After listening to John D Caputo’s interview by Luke Mulenhauser on commonsenseatheism.com (mp3) I decided to get John’s book, What Would Jesus Deconstruct, and see what sort of case he could build for postmodern Christianity that would compel emergent pastors like Brian McLaren to endorse it.

I first encountered JackCaputo’s writings in the introduction to God, the gift, and Postmodernism, which he edited with Michael Scanlon (Indiana University Press, 1999). Since I’m not a professional philosopher, a number of the book’s chapters (sur)passed the reading comprehension capacities of my bald layman’s head, but not the introduction. There Caputo and Scanlon spoke in down-to-earth terms of our need to become “enlightened about the Enlightenment” (meaning, for my fellow less-philosophical laypeople, the eighteenth-century movement that eventually reduced reality to phenomena that could be measured and dissected by “objective” human reason).

-Brain McLaren, pg 9

McLaren goes on to provide a very brief outline of the book which I find rather helpful,

First you’ll notice that Jack flies you into a “zone of intertextuality,” meaning that he is going to suspend you between several texts, notably Sheldon’s In His Steps (the unlikely inspiration of the WWJD craze), the writings of Jacques Derrida, and the New Testament. This may strike you as an unlikely combination, but it will make perfect sense by the time you’re halfway to the last page.

John does rely heavily on Sheldon’s book to, ironically, provide some structure for his book which deals mostly with deconstructionalism. In fact, if you haven’t read Sheldon’s book you might find it worthwhile to put John’s book down and read Sheldon’s work before returning.

John’s book can be broadly divided into two sections. The first being a crash course in deconstructionalism. And the second being what John sees as the practical implications of deconstructionalism when applied to Christianity.

In the first section John does an excellent job providing the reader a cogent and easily digestible overview of what deconstructionalism is. John uses many analogies and weaves in quotes from the founders of deconstructionalsim (Jaques Derrida, Martain Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, etc.) in seamlessly. It is evident here that John is a skilled teacher who is able to convey an otherwise complex topic.

In this section John makes the claim that certain concepts like love, justice, and “the kingdom of God” are not deconstructible. John never explains exactly why or how he comes to this conclusion, but based on his aversion to objective truth I suppose even expecting a well-reasoned argument is asking too much.

John also makes the claim that since the church is not the same as the Kingdom of God (again, the reader is apparently asked to take this assertion on blind faith alone), the church is the first and foremost thing that is ripe for deconstruction.

By way of example John uses several stories from the New Testament where Jesus apparently turned the tables and did the unexpected. John subsumes these as evidence that Jesus would always do the unexpected in the name of “love” (which, defined existentially, appears to be merely a subjective concept).

From here John launches into the second major section of his book which deals with the practical implications of what he just described.

In the second section we are given, without much analysis (which, given John’s adherence to continental philosophy is not very surprising), a steady stream of assertions that Jesus would be a full-blown liberal supporting all the fashionable liberal causes of our day from gay marriage to abortion on demand. John does balk a bit at the concept of abortion but ultimately comes down on the side of the woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her body, which is consistent with John’s deconstructionalism which makes objective judgement not only impossible but wholly undesirable.

In the end, I can see why emergent pastors like Brian McLaren would find John’s work appealing. Deconstructionalism allows the reader to place any meaning they want onto a text and thus co-opt for whatever means they desire. It also makes judgement verboten which means they are absolved from the responsibility of ever taking a real stand on anything. Further, it provides a handy platform for them to support all the fashionable causes without fear of being challenged since any and all challenges to their assertions would, themselves, be deconstructed and rendered harmless.

I highly recommend John’s book for anyone who is looking to understand the emergent church movement. John provides well articulated and frank answers to anyone who wants to understand the thought-process of the postmodern Christian/church.

Even though his work is quite old, older than Caputo’s, an excellent rebuttal to this book would be Francis Schaeffer’s lecture Modern Man & Epistemology.

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Book Review: Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise by Theodore Malloch

I had never heard the phrase “spiritual capital” until I had the chance to review Theodore Roosevelt Malloch‘s book Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise for Booksneeze.com.

Until I read Mr. Malloch’s book, I was only vaguely aware of corporations with a spirit-infused culture. Companies like Chick-fil-A (which surprisingly doesn’t make an appearance until the end of the book) readily spring to mind as well-known faith-based companies. But through numerous case studies to backup his claims, Mr. Malloch meticulously makes the case that doing business in a virtuous manner is the only way to ensure long term success and profitability.

Doing Virtuous Business is divided into 6 chapters where Mr. Malloch deals with related topics such as spiritual capital (1), virtue (2), faith, hope, and charity (3), hard virtues such as leadership, courage, patience, perseverance, and discipline (4), soft virtues such as justice, forgiveness, compassion, humility, and gratitude (5), and some common objections (6).

This book struck a chord with me because early on in my career I decided I wanted to start a business with the express intent on building it around Christ-centered values. Though I possessed precious little knowledge of business itself, I instinctively knew that if I were to form a business that would not only survive (the failure rate of start-up businesses is astronomical) but thrive (meaning it would fulfill my deepest desires and goals in life) it would need to be build on something more transcendent than quarterly profit reports.

One point of concern I had with this book is how Mr. Malloch seemed to posit a view of faith which made it more of a blind leap into the dark (ie. Immanuel Kant’s upper/lower story dichotomy) than simply a conclusion based on evidence that is held on to in spite of uncomfortable external circumstances.

Where other authors have taken on the task of defending capitalism from its critics, specifically showing Christianity to be compatible with capitalism. Mr. Malloch’s book is unique in that it attempts to meld the valid concerns many liberals instinctively raise with the historical success of capitalism as fleshed out by businessmen who understand their chief aim is not simply to turn a monetary profit, but a cultural and spiritual profit as well.

I must also point out that I found Mr. Malloch’s section answering skeptical questions to be rather apt. I think the answer to the person of no faith’s objection was excellent. I’ve known many companies that operate either knowingly or not on the spiritual capital invested by others. I’ve also, unfortunately, seen companies (or unscrupulous businessmen rather) attempt to pillage spiritual capital from others and/or fake their.

I also loved how Mr. Malloch pointed out how modern spiritless attempts to infuse ethics and virtues into businesses ring hollow. There is, simply put, no substitute to real spiritual virtues like compassion, forgiveness, charity, etc.

Overall I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know where business and spiritual interests intersect, why it matters, and how they can work together to provide a rich blessing for everyone.

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Parallel universes: The materialist’s comfort in the face of death

If you want to get a good idea of the best way materialists have to deal with the otherwise nihilistic implications of their philosophical system, take a look at this clip from the movie “Rabbit Hole“.

I find it interesting how the boy makes the assertion that the notion of parallel universes are 1. infinite and 2. well evidenced by science. The truth is that 1. parallel universes are not infinite (as a matter of logical deduction) and 2. have absolutely no evidence for them whatsoever.

I’ve studied this theory for quite a while now. Ever since 5th grade in fact. And while stories like Quantum Leap and Number of the Beast may be wildly entertaining, the fact is that they simply don’t hold water scientifically (for a number of logical and philosophical reasons) and they ultimately provide no hope for anyone searching for real answers worth staking your life on.

Additionally, here is a documentary which attempts to breathe spiritual life into the otherwise dead philosophy of materialism. If you listen closely you will be able to pick up on the distinct fingerprints of post modernism. In order to add any weight to an otherwise vacuous theory, it is wholly necessary to wage an all-out epistemological assault on the mind. If we call into question what we know and how certain we can be of what we know, then we can sneak in a theory like parallel universes which has no real evidence to speak of.

However they do raise a very valid point about the question of where our knowledge really lies. I would argue, along the lines of Alvin Plantinga, that without God, the ability to reason and trust our thoughts is clear evidence of a personal creator.

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Kick Ass: Common heroes


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I loved the movie Kick Ass, especially the first part where we follow the story of an ordinary kid whose yearning to become something more leads him to don a goofy looking costume and almost get himself killed for the sake of others.

I think the clip above as one of the most powerful lines ever uttered with regard to heroism. Watch it, you’ll be glad you did.

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Glenn Beck vs John Stewart

A thought occurred to me the other day. Beck and Stewart are like artists painting their worldviews on the canvas of other people’s minds. When assessing their work it is helpful to keep in mind at least two things

1. Who is the intended audience?
2. What are they intending to convey?

In Stewart’s case, he is simply rehashing the favored prevailing worldview (or hodge podge thereof) of the day.

In Beck’s case, he is attempting to warn others, often times against the wisdom of the prevailing worldview, of dangers he perceives.

Stewart’s agenda is simply to make money by sailing the cultural current. Beck wants to divert the current.

When you want to tell people that everything is fine, you use humor. When you want to warn others of impending danger, you use fear.

That said, I too find his choice of colors and subjects to be disturbing. I don’t disagree with the premises and conclusions in his work, but I do find his paintings to be aesthetically unappealing.

Artistically Stewart is superior, there is a lot of competition in the marketplace of his intended audience. Beck, on the other hand has very small audience with very little competition. So its little wonder, really, that Beck is as bad a painter as he is. And its frustrating when people compare Beck and Stewart.

That’s like comparing Rembrandt to a 4 year old.

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Whale farming

Apparently the IFAW has the right idea!

Quite a while ago now a friend of mine and I were discussing the subject of nature preservation and wildlife conservation. This was around the time that Japan was in the news again for running over an anti-whaling vessel. During our discussion I made the point that I believed that proper wildlife management takes into account the desires of the free market. In the case of Japan, that market appears to include whale meat. So it would seem that if we really wanted to see the whales protected we should make sure someone is responsible for them.

The best way to make sure something is cared for is to make sure someone owns it.

Instead of telling people not to consume a product at all, a far more responsible and viable response would be to allow private parties to take shares in the remaining population. To farm it. In turn the population of the endangered species will likely thrive because the owners are incentivized to increase their allotment.

A good case study of how this works is the American alligator which thrived after the government allowed private farming.

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Something to keep in mind when thinking about welfare rights and abuse

A friend of mine posted an article the other day which declares “Minnesota Republicans To Outlaw Poor People Having Money”. In the ensuing discussion I made the following observation:

There is a fundamental fact that keeps getting overlooked when we talk about the issue of welfare. And that is that the money in question is not theirs. It was not earned. It is a gift, given by taxpayers. One might even consider it to be a loan, an investment into their, and by extension, society’s, future. And just like any other loan, the borrower, that is the taxpayers in this case, have a right to make sure it is being used for its intended purposes.

Take a home loan for instance. A bank generally expects the money it lends be used for the express purposes outlined in the agreement. In fact a lawyer is usually required to be present to make sure all parties understand their legal obligations. If a person were to take that money and do something else with it outside of the purpose the bank lent it for, the borrower would be guilty of fraud.

That’s the basis for the claims, justified or not, of institutional welfare fraud. Its not that the people are operating outside of the system as it currently exists per se but that the people are doing things with the money given to them by the public that runs counter to the purposes which it was given for.

So when people speak about rights with regard to the poor we need to speak about the rights of all parties involved. The right of the poor to seek improvement for their station in life, the right of the lenders to have accountability for the money they entrust to the poor, and the right of the government personnel to uphold the agreements made by both parties.

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