Posts Tagged ‘christian’

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.

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What were your favorite books of 2011?

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Cannonball 37: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding PlaceThe Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine extended an unusual invitation to me: she invited me to go grave-hunting. As it turns out, Corrie ten Boom is buried in Santa Ana, and you can go visit her grave.

I was in high school when I first read her book, The Hiding Place. At the time, I read it more as a Holocaust book than anything else. I remember thinking, “Man, concentration camps suck.” But I don’t remember much else.

Well, before hunting for Miss ten Boom’s grave and standing there wishing I remembered why I thought I ought to admire her, I thought it might enhance the experience to reread the book. Boy, am I glad I did.

I missed so much the first time around. The book isn’t just about the horror of the Holocaust — it’s also about God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of difficult times. Of course the book talks about the amazing ways in which God answered prayers during Corrie’s time in the concentration camps. But it also talks about how He used it to teach her more about Him, and how her faith in Him grew through these terrible trials, and even of how He used various circumstances before Hitler came to power in order to teach her about God’s love.

I was especially impacted by her singleness. I remembered that she died a spinster, but forgot that, at one point, she was deeply in love with someone who ended up breaking her heart. After this happened, her father comforted her by reminding her that, yes, she did love Karel (the young man who ended up marrying someone else), but that God loved him more than even she could. And he encouraged her to pray that God would help her to love Karel with His love. She prayed that prayer and, in years to come, learned to pray it for people who did far worse things to her than disappointing her hopes for marriage.

The Hiding Place isn’t necessarily the greatest work of literature I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly a great testimony of God’s power and faithfulness. It’s easy to see why Miss ten Boom was traveling the world for speaking engagements well into her eighties, until a stroke took her ability to speak in public.

corrie ten boom

And if you ever get a chance, and you’re in the area, visit Corrie’s grave. It’s nothing fancy, and it might take you a while to find it in the section of the graveyard it’s in. But, much like Miss ten Boom herself, it’s simple, unassuming, and faithfully proclaims that “Jesus is Victor.”

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Cannonball 36: John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and FlockJohn MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I meet someone new at church and strike up a friendship, one of my favorite questions to ask is: “So, how did you become a Christian?” Many people light up as they recount with joy how God opened their eyes to the beauty of the gospel, and how He has done such a mighty work in their lives and hearts.

Iain Murray’s new biography of Pastor John MacArthur was a joyful testimony of God’s work in and through this remarkable man.

Murray is, in my opinion, one of the best biographers of our day, and certainly the best Christian biographer. He brings his subjects to life on the page. He doesn’t just rattle off dry facts about their lives, but gets enough inside their heads to show you the man behind the writings. His two-volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was extensive and in-depth, and it was clear that it was a labor of love for Murray, who served as Lloyd-Jones’ assistant for three years.

His biography of John MacArthur is admittedly just an overview of the man’s life so far. As he’s still alive, the full story is still being written. But Murray is a friend and admirer of MacArthur, and he saw fit to commit to print the testimony of some of the more major events of MacArthur’s life, including the significant impact he has had on evangelicalism today.

twelve extraordinary women

One of my most prized possessions: an autographed copy of MacArthur's Twelve Extraordinary Women, made out to "Jelinas." That's right: MacArthur calls me by my nickname. (Click pic for backstory)

I personally owe a great debt of gratitude to John MacArthur for much of my own Christian growth through his books, sermons, and even for the establishment of the Master’s Seminary, the school from which my own church’s pastors graduated. So it was stirring to read about how God called MacArthur to pastoral ministry, and then gave him an exceptional commitment to preaching and teaching the Bible and making it the authority, letting it inform his convictions and views instead of simply imposing pre-existing opinions on it. It shows in his writings, it shows in his preaching, and it shows in his life.

Murray touches on most of the important events of MacArthur’s life and public ministry, and reading about God’s faithfulness to glorify Himself through this faithful servant of God was a real encouragement. I love reading Christian biographies because I often marvel at the ways in which God has used ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and this always reminds me that the same God who made them extraordinary is the same God who makes me extraordinary.

There may never be any interest in my biography, but God knows my testimony, and He rejoices in it as much as He does MacArthur’s. Someday in heaven, MacArthur will hear me share the testimony of God’s faithfulness to me in my life, and his heart will be filled with praise because of it.

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Cannonball 18: Generous Justice by Tim Keller

Generous JusticeGenerous Justice by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few months ago, the elders of my church read this book. They almost immediately decided to appoint deacons to facilitate mercy ministries (social justice; taking care of orphans and widows and the poor) in our church. According to Acts 6, the church chooses from amongst themselves, so our elders asked us to nominate people that we thought were already actively ministering mercy to others.

In my mind, I was a little dismissive of the process. I thought to myself (and said aloud to a few friends), We all already know who the church is gonna nominate. Why don’t they just choose?

Imagine my surprise when the church chose me.

Me? Merciful? I just didn’t see it. I could see all of the other nominees as merciful people, and most of them were already involved in showing mercy to people in need in some way, but I was certain that my nomination was a mistake; people must just be throwing out whatever names they knew. Plus, I hadn’t given much mercy out to others; in fact, I’d received much more mercy than I’d given in the last year.

Our elders gathered the eleven nominees for a meeting, to share their vision for this ministry. I figured that I ought to at least attend before declining. I arrived at the meeting, confident that they would tell me how many meetings were required and how much work this ministry would be, and that I could then give them an emphatic “no.”

But, to my surprise, they shared that they had no idea what it would look like, and that they were asking us to be the guinea pigs for this ministry. They shared that they just wanted to bring the church more in line with the biblical model for mercy ministries, and for the church to know who they could talk to if they knew of someone in need.

guinea pig

Guinea pigs of service

I left the meeting deflated; I was no longer certain that I wanted to decline this opportunity. On the one hand, I was pretty busy with work and trying to stay afloat financially in my own life. On the other hand, I do love being a guinea pig for ministry, and I agreed with the elders’ vision for the ministry.

In this state of confusion, I headed home and read my assignment for a class I had later that evening. My assignment was to read the first four chapters of Generous Justice, but because I never read directions thoroughly, I ended up finishing the whole book in one shot.

It was one shot, but there was a lot of putting down the book and thinking and praying in between chapters. Some of what I read was almost too heavy for me to bear. Some of what I read filled my heart with such joy and agreement that I wanted to jump up and down, shouting, “Yes! That’s exactly what we should be!!”

In the book, Keller examines what the Bible has to say about social justice and how the church should go about pursuing it. He reminds us that the God of the Bible is a God of mercy; Israel was commanded to show kindness and mercy to the poor, to orphans and widows, and to aliens and strangers. He looks at what Jesus had to say about showing mercy to those in need. He talks about why Christians ought to pursue justice, and how they should go about it.

It’s his look at Acts 6 that changed the way my church’s elders think about mercy ministries. In that chapter, there are complaints by some of the widows that they’re being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The apostles realize that they can’t neglect the ministry of preaching and evangelism in order to tend to this issue, even though it’s of utmost importance. And that’s when they tell the church to choose people from among them that they trust to do this work of distributing the church’s resources to those in need.

In the past, our church had seen deacons as those who took care of the administrative needs of the church. In some churches, they’re seen as the janitors; those who serve behind the scenes and basically clean up after everybody else’s mess. I can’t believe that it took reading this book for me to see what it really is: it’s for seeing to it that the church’s resources for ministering to the needy are fairly and wisely distributed.

This book was a game-changer for me. I went from looking for excuses not to serve in this way to being eager to be a part of this biblical ministry. I also began to see how my financial struggles could help me to understand what its like for those who are reluctant to receive help from the church, and how I could serve people in need with a simple listening ear.

The following Sunday, I agreed to serve as a deaconess of Cornerstone Bible Church. In fact, all eleven nominees agreed to serve in this way. I just hope that God will guide us and help us to give some form to this nebulous ministry so that we can get to work in meeting the physical needs of the people in our church, in our community, and in the world.

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Cannonball 9: The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian FaithThe Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About two years ago, there was a “gospel revelation” at my church. We’d always been a faithful, Bible-believing church, and we thought that God was blessing us because of that. Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, played a huge role in showing us our legalism; showing us that we were counting on our own good works to earn God’s blessing instead of trusting that He would bless us by His grace alone. We believed that we were saved by His grace and faith alone, but we secretly believed that, after He saved us, we had to make sanctification and growth in our lives happen by our own power.

Two years later, I’m still learning what it really means to believe that God alone change me and make me more like Jesus. And I can tell that The Prodigal God is going to play a significant role in my continued growth as a Christian.

My pastor had been quoting this book for months before I actually read it, so I was familiar with the basic premise of the book before I began reading it for myself.

inigo & vizzini

Many people have the mistaken notion that the word “prodigal” means “morally loose” or “wayward” or “bad.” But according to Dictionary.com, “prodigal” means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” The son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was definitely prodigal; he spent his entire inheritance in no time at all.

But Tim Keller’s premise in the book (and the reason for the title) is that no one spends as lavishly, recklessly, and extravagantly as God Himself. He not only gave His own Son to pay for humanity’s debt of sin, but He also continues to give riches of grace to those who believe.

In the book, Keller examines the parable. It’s commonly thought (and preached) that the point of this parable is to show sinners that God will accept them no matter what they do. But this is only partially true. While the story certainly illustrates the sinfulness of the younger son and the mercy and love of the Father, many people overlook a third key character in the story. Actually, the older son is even more important to the story than the younger.

When Jesus told this parable, He was speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes. They were criticizing Jesus for showing kindness to “sinners.” His audience had much more in common with the older brother than the younger: they were responsible, faithful, diligent, good people. But at the end of the parable, they are outside the party, and they are angry with the Father. And they are angry because He has shown mercy and grace to the irresponsible, selfish, reckless son.

Which one is really the good son? Sometimes, it's neither.

The heart of the older brother is one of outrage at God’s recklessly abundant grace to the undeserving because, in their eyes, it’s unjust. These sinners don’t deserve grace; they don’t deserve mercy or kindness or love. But these older brothers conversely believe that they themselves are deserving; they deserve everything that the Father has to offer. But they don’t think that any of it is because of the Father’s generosity or love. They think it’s all because of their own hard work.

Keller faithfully unpacks the gospel truths contained in this parable with simple language and razor-sharp insight. He points out the common attitudes and thoughts of “older brother” types, and he corrects them with gentleness and an ever-gracious eye.

This book has significantly impacted my own view of my good works and the purpose for them. It has greatly helped me to see the sinfulness of my desire to earn God’s favor, to reject His gifts and earn them so that I may be praised and respected as well as He, and to criticize, scoff at, and belittle others because they are not like me.

But the best part is that it has reminded me that I can’t fight these attitudes by standing outside and working like a dog. No; I need to go into the party and receive grace and blessings alongside my prodigal brother from our prodigal God.

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Cannonball 5: The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges

The Bookends of the Christian LifeThe Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back before there was a gospel revelation at Cornerstone Bible Church, there were rumblings of the change to come. I read The Disciplines of Grace with my Bible study (then called “Flock”) and it began to stir in my heart the beginning of a greater understanding of grace, mercy, and love of God.

Since that change in my understanding of the complete work of the gospel began with a Jerry Bridges book, it’s only fitting that another should contribute so much to my growing understanding of the magnitude of the gospel.

The Bookends of the Christian Life compares the two anchors of saving faith to two bookends that keep the books (i.e. Christian life) from falling over. First of all, it looks at the righteousness of Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life. He never sinned; not even once. And, when He died on the cross, He paid the price that I ought to have paid. Not only did He bear the punishment I deserved, but He also transferred His righteousness to me; when God sees me, He treats me as though I have lived Jesus’ perfect life.

This is so important for the daily Christian life. When sin enters my heart, when I make mistakes or simply give in to temptation, it’s tempting to let guilt paralyze me. I’m afraid that I’ll lose what I received from Christ, and I’m tempted either to just give up or scramble desperately to try and make up for it.

Bridges cites two enemies to the gospel: self-righteousness and persistent guilt. Self-righteousness thinks of the cross as an eraser, wiping the slate clean so that they can fill it with its own good works. This can have the (often unintended) side-effect of feeling as though God owes us something for our good works. But the truth is that we can’t count our righteousness without also counting our sin, putting us right back at square one. But if we count the cross as having paid for ourselves, then we can also count the righteousness of Christ as our own. But instead of breeding the pride and entitlement that self-righteousness does, it breeds humility, gratitude, and joy at what Christ has done.

It also kills guilt because the work of Christ is sufficient. We no longer need to bear the weight of our sin because Jesus has already paid it all. Once we believe this, we are freed from the guilt of sin. But we’re not free to just do whatever we feel like doing, which is really just enslavement to sin; we’re free to obey and love God because we’ve been empowered to do so.

The other bookend is the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s because of the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives and our hearts can be changed. And this power is always at our disposal, ready to help. We can have confidence that we will grow and change because it has been promised to us.

Bridges cites one more enemy of the gospel: self-reliance. The clean slate strikes again: this time, instead of causing us to feel like we deserve God’s favor, it makes us feel as though we need to earn God’s favor. But this is an affront to the cross. It presumes that the work of Christ is not enough. But remembering the power of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we don’t need to work for our own righteousness any more than we need to work to make up for our sin. It’s all been taken care of by the work of Christ already.

This is a short, simple work that simply highlights the truths of the gospel in light of the gospel. It was a balm for my soul in trying times. If you ever feel as though it’s tough going to follow Christ, turn to these truths and let the gospel comfort, encourage, and strengthen you.

This book is a quick, satisfying gospel shot, and if you want to live that reflects the gospel, it’s a great place to start.

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Cannonball 36: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Murray’s first volume on the life of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I was practically foaming at the mouth to read the second volume.

It did not disappoint.

This look at the second half of Lloyd-Jones’ ministry covers his ministry at Westminster Chapel, his relationship with InterVarsity, his eventual rift with this ministry, spiritual depression, illnesses, and, above it all, his supernatural faith in a supernatural God.

Murray painstakingly researched his subject. I’m sure that his personal admiration for the man made that process a lot easier. And, through Murray’s faithful research, people for generations to come will have a clear picture of this man, whom God used so mightily in His kingdom’s work.

It’s hard to put into words what I enjoyed most about the biography. I enjoyed so many different things. Murray shows Lloyd-Jones’ unwavering conviction that the Word of God is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). He also shows Lloyd-Jones’ spiritual sensitivity in dealing with controversial issues.

But he also paints the portrait of the pastor as a family man. He was devoted to his wife and daughters, and could hardly stand to be separated from them. He was a die-hard patriot, and Wales was the home that he loved more than any other place in the world, despite his faithful ministry in London for so many years.

He looks at the Lloyd-Jones’ life during World War II, and how it changed them as it changed the nation.

Above all, Murray faithfully shows what Lloyd-Jones himself believed with fervor: that he was just an instrument, and the true skill lay in the hand of the One who wielded it. While it’s clear that Lloyd-Jones was mightily used to promote the gospel and the kingdom of heaven, all the praise goes not to Murray or to Lloyd-Jones, but to the God of heaven.

I benefited greatly from reading about Lloyd-Jones, as well as from reading excerpts of his writings that the author saw fit to include. I look forward to reading more of Murray’s biographies in the future.

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Cannonball 34: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 by Iain H. Murray

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones the First Forty Years 1899-1939David Martyn Lloyd-Jones the First Forty Years 1899-1939 by Iain H. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually didn’t know much about D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones before my friend Mark lent me this book. I’d heard his name attached to Christian quotes here and there, but I didn’t really know much about him, his ministry, or his legacy as a pastor and preacher in England.

Well, Iain Murray has opened my eyes to the treasury of wisdom contained in the words of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Murray is a faithful biographer who actually had the privilege and blessing of working for the subject of his biography. He presents a faithful telling of Lloyd-Jones’ early life, upbringing, conversion, early medical genius, and sacrifice of that genius for the sake of God’s call to a pulpit ministry.

Lloyd-Jones loved the Word of God. God gave him a special gift to understand and teach the Scriptures to people. He also had a special gift for evangelism. God used his gifts many times to convict people of their sinfulness and need for a Savior: Jesus Christ. God used him to bring about a sweeping spiritual revival in England.

Murray includes excerpts from Lloyd-Jones’ sermons that really drive that point home. I wish I’d written down the passages in the book that impacted me most; he had such a clarity when it came to the Word of God.

And Murray is, in my opinion, the most talented Christian biographer of our generation. I was first introduced to his biographies when Cornerstone Bible Church‘s pastor James recommended his Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.

His account of Lloyd-Jones’ early ministry is a gripping read, and a testament to God’s faithfulness in the life of one man. One of my biggest takeaways from reading both of these biographies is that the same God who used Edwards to spark the Great Awakening of the 1700s and the same God who used Lloyd-Jones to bring revival to England in the 1900s can bring revival to us today.

I pray that this would start with Cornerstone Bible Church, and in my own heart.

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I Can Haz Response? Part I: lainiefig, Yossarian, Snuggiepants the Deathbringer, Andrew, dg, Marcus, Patty O’Green, & nigguh bob

Right, so, I promised I’d respond to the comments on my recent Pajiba Review, but I realized that there’s just too much on there to respond to everything in one comment. But I thought there were a lot of insightful and thought-provoking comments, and so I thought I’d single out some of my faves to respond to.

And then I started responding to my chosen comments and realized that there were even too many of those, so now I’m splitting my responses into two posts. Not that anyone besides me is even reading that thread anymore.

And I want to thank Nicole Fuscia and Dustin Rowles for putting the review on Pajiba in the first place. I think it really speaks to Pajiba’s integrity that the site’s policy of open-mindedness applies to Christians as well as atheists and Scientologists and Marxists.

Now, I do feel the need to address the lack of… well, reviewing in my review. I really honestly didn’t think that review was eligible for CBR. That’s why I marked the original post as a “Regular Read” and didn’t count it towards my CBR count.

And since I was only writing it to satisfy my own obsessive need to review every last book I read, I thought to myself that the only people who would ever read it were maybe Nicole and my three regular readers, who attend my church. I know that those girls are familiar with the contents of these so-called “pink books” (the covers of books for Christian women are so often pink and/or purple), so I didn’t feel the need to get into the details of what the book was teaching.

It was lazy and I’ll admit it. Yossarian, amongst others, was absolutely right when he pointed out that the review was heavy on the opinion and light on the review. BTW, Yoss, I really appreciate your willingness to defend my right to freely believe as I choose, even if you don’t agree with those beliefs. I would absolutely do the same for you, buddy.

I just don’t want you guys to think that I’m normally that lazy when reviewing a book.

But, now: the comments.

Natural 20 and Neodiogenes: Thanks for the book recs; I’ll defs check ’em out.

lainiefig: Madd propz to you. Being a full-time mom has to be the most difficult, but most rewarding job on earth. And thank you for your warm wishes. When I grow up, I wanna be just like lainiefig.

Yossarian: Once again, your assessment of my review was totally fair. I can appreciate that you’re (constructively) criticizing my review and not my beliefs. I really didn’t do a very good job of explaining what the actual book was about.

For clarification’s sake, the book’s stand on biblical womanhood is that women should be excellent workers in the home. This doesn’t mean that they can’t also be excellent workers outside the home, but it does mean that their priority ought to be in the home. So if a woman is the number one salesperson at her sales job, but her husband feels neglected and her children are out of control, then she’s remiss in her spiritual duties to her family.

I know that this might seem like “housewife s***” (as Brenton so eloquently put it). But, as lainiefig can probably tell you, it’s so much more than that. It’s not just keeping things clean and bringing your husband a beer while he watches the game with his friends. It’s being the rock around which the home is built. It’s training up one’s children in righteousness. It’s building a haven for family and friends, a place that exudes love and comfort.

Being this woman requires crazy organizational skills, diligence and discipline, as much intelligence as she can muster (because not even stupid people want their kids to grow up stupid), superhuman patience, a sharp instinct and intuition for understanding her children and her husband (not just to anticipate their every want, but also to sense when getting what they want is bad for them), a hero’s courage (because, as lainiefig can probably also tell you, it can be really, really discouraging and disheartening sometimes) — I could go on and on.

But what I will say is that, according to the Bible, all this hard work is not without reward. Proverbs 31 (that’s right, Snuggiepants’ theme song) says that “her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (verses 28-31).

Yossarian also wanted to know: I would be interested to know specific things that you found helpful.

There were a few practical things I found helpful. For example, they provided a table to help the reader organize her finances. They also suggested that the reader prioritize daily time to spend in reading the Bible and praying. With all of the things that a godly woman has to get done in a day, it’s easy to let personal time with God fall to the wayside. They suggest that the reader find an older, mature woman to mentor her and give her advice and simply listen to her when she needs a shoulder to cry on.

Was there anything that you disagreed with?

Actually, the reason that I didn’t this book very much was that there were so many tips that it was a little overwhelming, and, after a while, I couldn’t remember why I thought I ought to practice these things — I was too busy feeling guilty about all the things I wasn’t doing that this book was telling me I should do.

So I guess I disagreed with the insinuation that a godly woman ought to live by tables and flash cards with Bible verses written on them and schedules. I think those things are very helpful, and Lord knows I could use some more structure in my life. But I thought the direction of the book was a little rigid.

In trying to help women be more pleasing to God, I thought they actually obscured Him with all of these practical tips. Let’s not forget the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

Martha invited Jesus over and was getting ready for his visit. She was doing all the things a good hostess does, I’m sure. But, when He arrived, the Bible tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving” (verse 40). When she complained that she was doing all the work while Mary just sat and listened to Him talk, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (verses 41-42).

Jesus was saying that it’s more important to cultivate a relationship with Him than to get all the housekeeping done. And I did feel like this book actually cultivated more of Martha’s heart in me than Mary’s. That might be because I’m more prone to be like Martha than like Mary, but, then again, so are most people. I wish the authors had taken that into consideration a bit more.

If anyone has a problem with you making your own choices and living your own life as you choose we’ll smack them down for you.

I love you, Yoss. And not just because of that comment, either. You always have valuable insights to contribute to various threads all over Pajiba. Not to mention hilarious jabs galore — congrats on making EE this week, btw.

Snuggiepants said: I mean, actually living your life exactly according to Jesus’ teachings is NOT easy. No. Absolutely not. Radical, radical stuff, that is.

But having a relationship with God? Not difficult in the least. I don’t think it’s meant to be. So I haven’t found any sort of instructional materials (besides, again, the teachings of Jesus) to be necessary.

Amen to that. I mean, books are a nice shortcut, sometimes, and there are lots of books that have helped me to grow in my understanding of the Bible, but the Bible says that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (1 Peter 1:3). Ultimately, we’ll find all we need to please Him in the pages of Scripture.

Snuggie to Yossarian: The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck. And the neck can TURN the head.
–My Big Fat Greek Wedding

HA!! But so true. The woman is the ultimate influence in her family. There are so many examples in the Bible of women who influence their husbands for good (like Abigail) or also for evil (like Jezebel).

Andrew: I’m not trying to attack or deconvert you, but why would you worship a god who thinks that you are inferior? … Now, if you heard this from any other source, how would you respond? Would you say, “Yep, exactly right,” or would you call him out as a misogynist?

Andrew, I want to thank you for even throwing your hat in the ring. I thought your comments were clear and pointed without being disrespectful or disparaging. I know that these sorts of conversations can quickly veer from calm discussion into angry ranting, so I applaud you for having the courage to wade in and ask your honest questions. It requires courage to take a stand on either side of the discussion.

And, to answer your question, I don’t believe that God asks the woman to submit because He thinks she is inferior. In fact, Jesus Himself submitted to the Father, even though He is God (Philippians 2:5-8). God didn’t think Jesus was inferior. And He doesn’t think I’m inferior. In fact, because Jesus submitted to His Father in this, God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:9).

According to the Bible, He had to create her because man couldn’t cut it by himself (Genesis 2:18). He needed her, not t’other way around.

Now, about what you said from 1 Corinthians 11, that talks about women submitting to their husbands (“the woman” and “the man” — not all women and all men. Women are only to submit to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22)). I don’t take that as an insult to me or to my intelligence because God doesn’t mean it as an insult.

Back in those days, women were second-class citizens. They couldn’t inherit anything; everything they had was tied to their husbands. They couldn’t have an identity apart from their husbands. But, in the Bible, God calls women co-heirs. That was a pretty big deal for women back then. Their inheritance in heaven wasn’t tied to their husbands. It was only tied to their own personal, individual faith in Jesus.

God values women, and He doesn’t see them as second-class citizens any more than He sees His own Son as a second-class citizen. God elevated Jesus through His submission, and He elevates women through theirs — first to God, and then to their husbands.

1 Peter 3:15

You’re absolutely right. We are to be ready with an answer for our hope. This doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll be able to answer every single question that anyone has. The answer for my hope isn’t something like, “I know God is real because of all of these evidences.”

The answer for my hope is that I measured myself against the standard of God’s holiness and despaired because I couldn’t measure up. But God, through the Bible gave me this good news: the punishment for my sin was laid on Him and the reward for His perfect life was laid on me. And all I needed to do to make this promise mine was to believe that it was true.

And that was the answer I needed. And that’s why I am confident that, when I die, I will be in heaven, where I will see Jesus face-to-face for the first time.

So, I don’t think it’s meant to be an answer for every argument. According to the Bible, only God knows everything. It’s only meant to be an answer for the faith that we have. “Why do you believe what you believe?” I believe it because the Bible tells me so, and I see it proven true every day in my life.

Could atheists say the same? Absolutely. So why do I think I’m right and atheists are wrong? Because what I believe isn’t based on something I’ve deduced with my own reasoning. I’m a human, and nobody’s perfect, which means that I make mistakes. But God is perfect, and the Bible tells us that He doesn’t make mistakes.

That’s not meant to be a “I’m right because God is with me” sort of statement. Anyone who tries to manipulate the Bible to say what they want it to say is distorting the truth. I shouldn’t change the Bible to make it fit my pre-existing worldview. Instead, I should let the Bible form my worldview.

Sorry, I feel like I’m going on a lot of tangents, here. I’ll move on.

Throwing out clearly immoral concepts is fine with me.

But what constitutes a “clearly” immoral concept? Who defines what’s clearly immoral and what’s not? Society? Whose society? Is there really a clearly outline set of concepts that every human being in the world agrees is immoral?

If so, why? Because humanity is hard-wired to a certain level of morality? I believe it is. I believe that God created people with consciences. But consciences can be seared or dulled — my conscience was never meant to be my only measure of morality. The Bible says that this is why He gave us the Law (the Torah, to those of a Hebrew persuasion out there). The Law is meant to show us our shortcomings.

It is not, however, meant to save us. If we could be saved by the Law, then we’d essentially be able to save ourselves. This would mean that we’re capable of living perfectly, but the Bible (and experience) show us that this isn’t possible (Romans 3:10, 23).

So what kind of messed-up God gives His people a Law that’s impossible to follow? Well, He didn’t just leave them with the Law and say, “Good luck with that, suckas!!”

He gave them faith. Every person in the Old Testament who obeyed God did so out of faith and love, not out of fear and duty. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed God, and THAT’S what was counted to him as righteousness.

Sorry, another rabbit hole. All that just to say that, if you believe in absolute truth, you believe in absolute truth. And if you don’t believe in absolute truth, then you still believe in absolute truth because that statement is itself an absolute statement (hope that didn’t sound flippant. I just don’t have the time or space to get into all that right now. Maybe in another post).

Imagine a world where every Christian was happy and did good works and fed the poor and saved puppies while all atheists were depressed cynics who only cared about themselves. Even if that were true, it still would say nothing as to the existence of a god. A false belief (or one for which there is no evidence that it’s true) can still inspire people to do good things.

Andrew, seriously, I appreciate the way you think. These are great arguments and I hope my responses do them some sort of justice.

It’s absolutely true that the ends don’t speak to the truth of the means. If that were the case, then Christianity sucks because there are so many people who claim to be Christians whose lives totally fly in the face of everything the Bible teaches. That would be proof that Christianity is not true.

That said, I don’t think that the absence of this world of happy Christians and depressed atheists disproves the existence of God, either.

I agree with almost everything you say here. My only objection is that we should not respect people’s beliefs. We should respect their right to hold those beliefs and we should defend their right to have them, but the beliefs themselves do not automatically get respect just because people have them.

I actually agree with you here, too. One of the greatest things about America is the freedom to believe whatever ridiculous thing you want. That said, some of the things people believe are ridiculous. I mean, believing that you have little aliens living in you and you can pay your way to a higher plane of enlightenment? *eye roll*

(No disrespect to any Scientologists out there. But it does sound pretty far-fetched to me. And I believe that a man rose from the dead and is waiting to reward me in heaven after I die!)

Thanks again, Andrew, for your comments. I wish I could give more time to them, but I’ve already been working on this blog post for two days and I have to move on to everyone else eventually. But if you live in LA, I’d love to get together and chat more about it.

dg: is this book suggesting that all women are called to this role? Can men be called to this role?

The book doesn’t say that all women are called to this role — thanks for asking for that clarification, dg. Pat Ennis is actually single, as am I. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have homes or families. I live at home with my parents. My parents want me to live with them, so I submit to them by doing so. I help clean and cook, but since it’s really my mom’s house, I can attend to this duty and still hold down a full-time job (and spend plenty of time on Pajiba, to boot).

But if they wanted me to get out and live on my own, I’d happily do that, too. I’d take care of my own little home (or apartment, since I live in SoCal and there’s NO WAY I’d be able to afford a house), but since I don’t have a husband or kids, I’d probably have plenty of time to keep holdin’ down that (boring, low-paying) steady job.

As for men, the Bible is clear that their calling is to be the breadwinner in the home and to lead the family. The Bible says that a husband will have to answer to God for the way in which he led his wife and children. Yikes. I’d personally rather not have that responsibility. I’d rather blame our family’s shortcomings on El Hubbo. 😉

And, dg, about your responses to jen, Patty, and Andrew — I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I had to try, right? 😉

Marcus: Ummm, people, hate to piss on your god parade, but this is Pajiba, “Scathing Reviews, B*tchy People”, and you’ve just read the first review of 2010, hardly scathing, and hardly b*tchy, in fact, quite bible-womanly, which is to say, out of site and earshot, cleaning the home. So, now that you’ve been informed once again that you’re reading Pajiba, don’t you think you’ve been had? ;-P

Fair enough, Marcus; fair enough. That’s my latest New Year’s Resolution: to write a review of which even Marcus would approve.

Did I mention that I never meant for that review to make the site?

Patty O’Green: I have always been taught (conservative upbringing) that if the Bible says it, it is true – no debating.

Sadly, that’s how a lot of conservative upbringings go. Let’s be clear that “conservative” doesn’t always mean “Christian”. I was raised in pretty much the same way as you, Patty, but it’s certainly not how I plan to raise my kids (should I ever have them).

I’m planning to teach them that if the Bible says it, it is true. Now, debate away!

I agree to a point with what Patty said about there being no faith without doubt. We all have doubts; to deny that is pointless. But stuffing them deep down doesn’t get rid of them. Unless one works through those doubts, then they still exist and that faith isn’t anchored in truth, but in tradition.

However, I don’t think the genuineness of one’s faith is proven by overcoming past doubts or disproved by never having been tested. Theoretically, it’s possible to get it right the first time. If someone tells me and my friend a fact and she believes him, but I don’t and have to research the fact for myself to come to the same conclusion, does that mean that I believe the fact more? No, we believe the fact the same; I just took a little longer to come around.

I think, though, that the point is to work through one’s doubts and not around them. God created humans with intellect. It pleases Him when they use it.

nigguh bob: i have a question. if the bible is obviously skewed due to the social context of when it was written, then why was this book written as an interpretation for the purpose of teaching women (a societal roll which changes throughout history) about how to act “right?” Do the authors want women to act how they were told to act in the bible?

I wouldn’t say that it’s skewed because of the social and cultural context. The principles still hold. For example, back in the day, men would greet each other with a kiss on the cheek — something that they still do in some countries. But you generally don’t see that here in SoCal. So when the Bible says to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16), Christians don’t take that literally. It just means that they’re to greet one another with affection — however that manifests in their culture. In Kazakhstan, that’s cheek-kissing. Here in SoCal, it’s fist bumps and bro-hugs (that’s what I call it when guys go in for the handshake and then turn it into a one-armed hug).

But I digress. The authors never say that they’re trying to teach women how to act “right” in those words, but they do teach the principles behind the verses in the Bible about women. Some of those principles include nurturing one’s relationship with God, prioritizing the family (husband first and then children), and managing the home with excellence.

My biggest problem with the book was that it was awfully specific — in a way that the Bible really isn’t. I know that their intent is to give their readers ways to cultivate good habits and stuff, but giving a girl like me a list of things to do is a surefire way to make sure that I lose focus on the God I’m supposed to be pleasing and instead focus on checking tasks off that list.

***

Okay, that’s all I’ve got so far. alon said some really interesting things, too, and I’m still muddling through how to address them. But I promise I’m working on getting there, and whether it matters to anyone but me and God, I do want to get there.

Thanks for reading, Pajibans. You people are too cool. 🙂

Regular Read: Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God by Lisa Tatlock and Pat Ennis

Note to Pajibans:

Now, I know that any Pajibans who stumble upon this review of mine will most likely take umbrage at the view of biblical femininity that I hold so dear. I’d like to disclose here and now to all readers of my blog that I am a Christian. I’m not trying to make you one, but I’m not going to let the fact that you are part of my readership deter me from reading and reviewing the books I want to read. You are free to have your opinions and convictions about my opinions and convictions, but I’m free to have mine, too.

And I happen to believe that mankind was created to love God. We are happiest when we love Him and trust in Him. And, as a woman, I was created to love my home and the people in it. I will be happiest when I love it and them and find satisfaction in making it a place that reflects my love for God and for my family.

So I guess it’s safe to say that this review isn’t going to make it to the front page of Pajiba anytime soon. That’s okay with me. I understand that Pajiba attracts a certain kind of reader, and that girls like me are in the minority there. I love Pajiba because it provides funny, intelligent movie and book reviews, and I will continue to frequent its pages.

Yes, I enjoy well-written movie reviews. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m stupid (admit it. Some of you think that’s exactly what it means).

But I digress. Back to the book I should be reviewing.

Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God: A Guide to Developing Your Biblical Potential Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God: A Guide to Developing Your Biblical Potential by Lisa Tatlock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Confession: I’m a legalist at heart. Underneath my veneer of laziness and selfishness, there’s a secret part of me that longs to save myself instead of trusting in God to save me. I want to be the hero. I want to be the good guy. I want to stand before God on Judgment Day and hear Him say, “I had a lot of great servants who did a great job, but you — you are something special.”

That’s why a book like this is so dangerous for a legalist like me.

So this book was written to help Christian women to embody the biblical model of a godly woman. And, while I think it contains some great tips and helpful tools for a wife, mother, and even a single lady such as myself to achieve personal goals of discipline and organization, I also think there’s a dangerous, if unintentional, emphasis on the “doing” part of biblical womanhood.

The authors, Lisa Tatlock and Pat Ennis, cover twelve different areas in which we can specifically and uniquely please God as Christian women. The authors offer lots of good practical advice on how to be a better manager of one’s home, finances, children, and personal devotions.

For a book that was supposed to be about Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God, it did a rather lackluster job of explaining the heart and motivation behind the many practical areas it addressed. That, to me, is putting the cart before the horse. In my mind, wanting to become a woman who pleases God cannot start anywhere but the heart. It must begin with theology and the gospel – we have to know why we want to please God if we want to do things that please Him. He does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

The book doesn’t completely neglect the spiritual aspect of discipline. The authors end each chapter with a study guide that delves deeper into the scriptures pertaining to their topic. I tried to do the study guide for each chapter in order to get the full experience of the book. I had to give up after Chapter Seven because I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was exhausting, having to look up so many different passages and then trying to meditate on each of them – at the rate I was going, I was never going to finish. I’m convinced that the only reason I’m even ready to write this review today is because I finally stopped doing the study guides.

And that’s the thing with this book. Does it provide lots of good advice? Yes. Does it encourage women to be excellent workers in the home? I think so. But it also paints a pretty rigid picture of what a godly wife and mother should look like. Not everyone needs charts and spreadsheets and flash cards in order to please the Lord. And those things don’t necessarily help the women who use them, either. Sometimes, those things help. But they can also enslave and lure women into a false sense of rightness with God just because they’re sticking to the program.

You might be super-faithful to the flashcards and spreadsheets and still be shocked wake up one day feeling like you aren’t really walking with the Lord. This is because faithfulness to flashcards doesn’t lead to intimacy with God – faithfulness to God does.

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, here, so I’ll say again that I think that the authors provide some great tools and tips for those who need help to be more excellent in their home life. But let me warn you before you start that, if you’ve got legalistic tendencies like I do, you’re going to need to be extra-careful to spend good time at the feet of Jesus while you’re reading this book to make sure that you’re serving Him and not the charts.

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