My First Novel: Defying Conventions

Last week I published a short, alternate history novel, Defying Conventions (available in paperback and Kindle format; free to read through Kindle Unlimited).

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Here’s the book description from Amazon:

In early 1787, Camden Page finds himself apprenticed to a prominent attorney in Richmond who rubs elbows with all of Virginia’s prominent political figures. Among those figures is a member of the Virginia Senate whose daughter captures the young man’s heart. Fortuitous circumstances take Camden to Philadelphia where he begins to uncover the pieces of a conspiracy bent on sabotaging the constitutional convention and sowing the seeds for the destruction of the fledgling nation.

Just how fragile was the political situation that yielded the United States Constitution? How easily might have the Philadelphia Convention have been derailed? What could that have meant for the future of America? This short novel of alternate history follows the story of a young man just entering adult life as he asks himself those and other questions and tries his best to find the answers.

I wanted to think through some of those historical scenarios and tell a good story, but I also wanted to explore some Christian themes about the state as well. I harbor no illusions about this short work being a masterpiece to withstand the test of time, but it was fun to write and I think there might be some people out there (beyond my immediate family!) who might enjoy it.

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Book Review: Why the Reformation Still Matters

Book Overview

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his ninety-five theses has come and gone, but Reeves and Chester convincingly demonstrate that the Protestant Reformation is so much more than a historical event to be commemorated.

Who should read this?

Each of chapters of this book gives an excellent summary of a key idea of the Reformation for those who might not be as familiar with what was at stake. Since the first century A.D., there has been, perhaps, no more important era in church history than the Reformation. Therefore, Protestant Christians ought to know what happened and why.

For others (those who can recite the Five Solas as easily as their phone number), this book does an excellent job of connecting the issues of the Reformation to the modern church. The Reformers, I think it would be fair to say, would not have viewed their work as something that could be perfectly completed prior to the return of Christ. For today’s church leaders as well as for members in the pew, this book serves as a clear and timely call to preserve the heritage of the Reformation.

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SUMMARY

Co-authors Michael Reeves and Tim Chester helpfully organized their book into eleven chapters, each of which focuses on a single topic. For instance, the first chapter of the book is dedicated (appropriately) to the material principle of the Reformation, justification by faith alone. Other chapters cover such topics as Scripture, sin, the sacraments, the church, and union with Christ.

For those who might be less familiar with what the Reformation was all about, this way of setting up the book will help them get a big-picture view of why the Reformation was so important.

Reeves and Chester have definitely written this book for a general, Christian audience. There is a fair amount of historical information presented, but the presentation is geared toward the layman, not the academic or the seminarian. This book could prove useful for local churches who offer their members courses on church history: the scope is limited to a particular time period and it gives special attention to connecting past and present.

The reason the authors wrote this book is obvious from the title. In 2017, there was no shortage of events commemorating the date on which Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. But how many of the billion or so Protestant Christians have a firm grasp on just exactly why their churches are Protestant rather than Roman Catholic or something else?

Does the average person in the Protestant pew know what difference it makes for them today that a German monk proposed a debate on the practice of selling indulgences?

 

Read the rest here.

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Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

Book Overview

In our “post-truth” society, living out the Gospel virtually requires Christians to form a sort of new “counter-culture.” Rosaria Butterfield shows how realizing that kind of culture looks not like street protests, but more like a pot of soup simmering in your kitchen.

Who should read this?

Judging by the full title of the book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, one might think that this book is targeted at a narrow segment of the church. What Rosaria Butterfield shows, however, is that the kind of radical hospitality that her book describes is the calling of every Christian: men and women, young or old, married or single. This is not a book exclusively for stay-at-home moms, nor is it a book meant only for women (although it has much to say to Christian women). This book is for the church – the family to which all Christians belong.

Lists of spiritual gifts often include “hospitality” as a gift or category of gifts. Undoubtedly there are those whose personalities are more inclined toward a certain kind of hospitality; we can even say with confidence that God made them that way. This book shows, however, that hospitality is not merely a gift for some Christians, but an essential part of life for all Christians.

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SUMMARY

 

Butterfield’s former work as a university professor is evident in her style of writing, but even for all the skill with which she can turn a phrase, this book always seems to remain on the level of a heartfelt conversation in a friend’s living room. Each of the book’s ten chapters focuses on a different aspect of hospitality. Like turning a diamond to catch light from a different angle, Butterfield’s stories from her own life and the lives of her neighbors show the reader just how multi-faceted the topic of hospitality is.

The preface makes clear the author’s motivation for writing the book. Her prayer is that the book will help the reader see how God can use his or her “home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family.” The kind of regular, intentional fellowship urged by this book will, she hopes, grow the reader in union with Christ so that he or she “would no longer be that Christian with a pit of empty dreams competing madly with other reigning idols, wondering if this is all there is to the Christian life.” (p.14)

For those who are already familiar with Rosaria Butterfield it probably comes as no surprise that she has written a book like this one. Table fellowship in a Christian home played an integral role in her conversion, the chronicles of which she documents more fully in her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Parts of that story reappear here, and the book is full of stories of her life, family, friends, and neighbors.

The theme that drives the book – the main idea connecting what otherwise would seem like unrelated anecdotes – radically ordinary hospitality “brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.” (p. 32) Butterfield goes on to show just some of the many different ways that the daily discipline of hospitality does those things.

Read the rest here.

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Another Flaw of “Social Justice”

Jacob Brunton has already done better than I probably could in outlining competing views of justice. His article lays bare some of the many problems with the modern “social justice” movement and its infiltration of the church.

In this brief post, however, I want to highlight one other way in which the prevailing notions of “social justice” conflict with Scripture. Consider the following verses:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – I John 3:16-18 (ESV)

I think these verses make plain that Christians simply don’t need “social justice” in the first place. The Gospel is sufficient and complete and requires no worldly supplements. The Christian concept of love is a reflection of what Christ did on the cross. If we truly understand what He did for us, the overflow of His love will reach those around us.

In this passage, John gets right to the real issue: it is love, a disposition of the heart, that must motivate our human longing for what some mistakenly seek in “social justice.” So far, I haven’t come across any advocate for “social justice” who does not also insist that the state be the primary means for achieving their ends.

To enlist the state to achieve “social justice” negates the change of heart, the only holy motive for helping others. Far from facilitating justice or helping the oppressed, the state can only kill true compassion for those in need because the state, by its very nature, always involves the use or threatened use of force. Forced compassion is a contradiction in terms.

True, John writes that we should love in deed and in truth. The “doing” part, however, comes after the admonition about love. It’s possible for the world’s goods to be passed along to those in need while hearts remain closed.

In truth, how can a Christian see his brother in need and open his heart to him, if the transaction is carried out not by individual Christians but by agents of the state? Can Christians open their hearts to their brothers without actually knowing who those people are? Do we fulfill our calling to love in deed and truth by merely knowing that someone, somewhere obtained something from the resources that the state took from us or would that be more like loving only in word and in talk? The answers should be obvious.

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Book Review: Moses and the Burning Bush by R.C. Sproul

Book Overview

With his signature teaching and writing style, R.C. Sproul succinctly but emphatically demonstrates the significance of Moses’ wilderness encounter with God at the burning bush.

Who Should Read This Book?

Those who have been blessed by the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul will not want to miss this relatively short work, published in March 2018 a few months after Dr. Sproul went home to be with the Lord. For those who are not yet familiar with Sproul, this book could serve as an accessible introduction to his writing on a topic, the holiness of God, that was clearly of great importance to him over the course of his ministry.

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SUMMARY

I’m certainly not among those most qualified to say what kind of legacy R.C. Sproul has left here on earth. It takes no giant of the faith, however, to know that Dr. Sproul always wrote and spoke in a way that took even the most difficult theological or philosophical topics and made them understandable for the layman. This book is no exception.

The book begins by outlining Moses’ life leading up to the burning bush encounter. From there, Sproul walks through the story, drawing out the full implications of what happened, what it meant for Moses, and what it means for us.

If you haven’t recently thought deeply about the story of Moses’ meeting God at the burning bush, you might gloss over the full implications of that event. Adults are sometimes prone to subconsciously treat Bible stories like the burning bush encounter as ones that can safely be relegated to coloring pages for children’s Sunday School activities. Dr. Sproul’s book destroys any such lingering notions.

Read the rest here.

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Book Review: Authorized by Mark L. Ward, Jr.

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark L. Ward, Jr.
Length: Approximately 5 hours. To read (145 pages)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Overview

What is the “best” Bible translation? In Authorized Mark Ward explains why that’s the wrong question to ask and what 21st century Christians should do with the King James version.

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Who should read this?

This book initially attracted my attention because of my earlier experiences with KJV Only groups. Mark Ward’s book, however, is certainly not that narrow in its scope or its usefulness for the church. From the outset, the author is clear that his book is for the “regular, English-speaking, Bible-reading public.” Scholars of Greek and Hebrew will be disappointed if they expect a deep analysis of original-language Bible manuscripts. Authorized is unapologetically written for the modern-day equivalent of William Tyndale’s “boy who drives the plough” and it succeeds in being accessible on that level.

Read the rest of the review here.

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Context is King: Judge Not

A very popular verse quoted at Christians (and sometimes by them) is Matthew 7:1, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Did Jesus mean to tell Christians that they were never to make any sort of judgment?
 
If we put that verse in its proper context (both within that passage and within the rest of Scripture), then the answer is a clear and unequivocal “No.”
First, consider the rest of that passage:

 

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Even from the few verses that follow, it’s clear that Jesus is not talking about refraining from all judgment. On the contrary, Jesus’ admonition in this passage is that his followers first take the logs out of their own eyes before tending to the speck in another’s eye.
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An artist’s rendition of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

The immediate context should be enough to eliminate the “Jesus says not to judge!” line of thinking. When held up against the rest of Scripture, however, the argument falls apart even more.

As just one example, take John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Here, Jesus gives both a negative and a positive command. Negatively, he tells his followers how not to judge. That, by itself, carries the implication that there is some standard by which we ought to judge. Positively, Jesus tells us to judge with right judgment. Not only does Jesus permit Christians to make judgment, but he commands them to do so. As shown above, this fits perfectly with the rest of Matthew 7:1-5.

Exactly when Christians should judge and how they should go about doing it are topics for a different post. At this point, however, Jesus’ teaching about Christians making judgments should be clear. True followers of Christ not only are permitted to make judgments, but they are commanded to do so, provided they do so by the correct standard.

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