Idea of God | Thomas Merton

Thomas MertonNo idea of Him, however pure and perfect, is adequate to express Him as He really is. Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.

—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Books, 1972), 15.

The Advent of Justice | Sylvia Keesmaat

The cover of Keesmaat's The Advent of JusticeAdvent is often misunderstood in the evangelical world. For years, I saw it as a mere prelude to Christmas. Only recently have I started to search out the depths of the season. Advent is a season of absence, of waiting, of anticipation. In Advent we come face-to-face with the judgment of God before receiving His gospel.

The Hebrew prophets are foundational figures in the season of Advent. More than anyone, they understood the spiritual depravity of their culture and desperately tried to connect their people to the heart of God. In The Advent of Justice, the four authors (Brian J. Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, and Sylvia Keesmaat) mine the riches of First Isaiah and offer both critique and hope to our own culture.

While every author had something valuable to add to the season, Brian J. Walsh’s writings for the first week of Advent stuck home the hardest. He tells the truth of the prophet clearly:

The problem is that good news without prophetic critique invariably is a cover-up. Good news that will not openly and honestly confront that which perpetuates brokenness and sin is not good news at all. An Advent without judgment isn’t Advent at all. It is a secular Christmas with a store-bought peace. (15)

These authors bring you face-to-face with judgment which will challenge the way you live. Your Christmas will be the richer for heeding them.

—Sylvia Keesmaat, ed., The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Killing Yourself to Live | Chuck Klosterman

The cover of Klosterman's Killing Yourself to LiveWhat is it about premature death that makes musicians so famous?

That’s the question that Spin editor Sia Michel used to convince Chuck Klosterman to embark on an epic road trip across America to visit the places where musicians met their demise.

Killing Yourself to Live started out as a feature article for Spin, but ended up book-length when Klosterman decided to pack the story full of his musing on past lovers, turning this travelogue into a memoir. This article/book was supposed to follow a standard script. At the end of his journey, his coworker, Lucy asks him some questions.

Are you going to be able to write a compelling story that will dissect the perverse yet undeniable relationship between celebrity and mortality? Will the narrative illustrate how society glamorizes dying in order to perpetuate the hope that death validates life? Will you be able to prove that living is dying, and that we’re all slowly dying through every moment of life? (233)

That’s not the story Klosterman came up with, however. In the end he realized that “love and death and rock ‘n’ roll are the same experience” (234).

This memoir is painfully narcissistic (not to mention exploitative of his relationships), but his brutal honesty makes for compelling reading. Klosterman doesn’t seem to care what the reader will think of him or his moral choices. Add to this his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll culture and you get Killing Yourself to Live: a window into the mind of one of our generation’s best cultural critics.

—Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (New York: Scribner, 2005).

Everything is Possible | Søren Kierkegaard

KierkegaardThe believer possesses the eternally certain antidote to despair, viz. possibility; for with God all things are possible every instant.

—Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death, Trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941), 158.

Imminent Domain | Ben Witherington III

The cover of Witherington's Imminent DomainKingdomtide was launched in the 1930s by the Methodists along with some other Protestant churches. The church season begins on the Sunday closest to August 31 and runs until Advent. It’s during this season that the church is invited to reflect on the Kingdom of God—or, as Witherington III calls it, the Dominion of God.

Witherington III uses the term “Dominion” rather than “Kingdom” because the latter implies place where the former stresses rule. The Greek term basileia as well as the Aramaic malkuta favors the second emphasis. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we’re praying for the effective rule of God, not the annexation of a territory that already belongs to the Creator.

Having just read McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy, this book raised a fundamental point of tension. McKnight challenges the idea that any and every good deed is “Kingdom work” by stressing that church = Kingdom. Witherington III, on the other hand, assumes that Kingdom/Dominion > church just as Kingdom/Dominion > Israel.

What is crucial to bear in mind at this point is that’s [sic] God’s Dominion is a larger concept than either the church or Israel. (5)

I’m not sure how real the disagreement between McKnight and Witherington III is on this issue, since they both approach the ontology of God’s Kingdom for different reasons. Witherington III continues, “wherever God’s people can be found, there is the Dominion” (4). I suspect he is using kingdom/dominion > church to emphasize that we can’t limit the effective rule of God to that which happens within our own churches.

The sticking point is whether or not God’s Kingdom/Dominion requires human subjects in order for it to exist. If so, then McKnight; if not, then Witherington III. It would be interesting to hear the two discuss this point!

Imminent Domain is a slim book (85 pages) that is suitable for a church Bible study. Witherington III makes this theological topic relevant and interesting as he argues for a revival of the season of Kingdomtide in our churches.

—Ben Witherington III, Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).

Church Membership | Chuck Klosterman

Chuck KlostermanNothing depresses me more than hearing an organized religion worry about membership. Do they think Jesus is somehow impressed by voter turnout? Do they think God gives preference to religions that appear especially popular? It’s not like God only allocates federal funding to religious organizations that meet a quota.

—Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (New York: Scribner, 2005), 104.

1 John 5:9-12 | This Life Is In His Son

Car ChaseCut to the chase!

The expression came from Hollywood. When films became bloated with too much dialogue causing the audience to lose interest, the operative command was to “cut to the chase”! Use that car chase footage to pull people’s interest back.

Of course “cut to the chase” means much more than that now. The expression has developed a wide-reaching figurative meaning. “Cut to the chase” now means get to the point.

In 1 John 5:6-12 (delineated as one paragraph by the ESV translators), the word “testimony” is used no less than eight times. We looked at some of those uses in our last post. We saw that the Spirit, the water, and the blood testify. In this post we’re going read a bit more about the testimony before John finally cuts to the chase and lays out the contents of that testimony.
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