One to One with Bill Goodman

I was very pleased to join host Bill Goodman for a conversation on “One to One,” Kentucky Educational Television’s interview program. Bill Goodman adds a great…

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“The Winds of Faith” and The Looming Tower

The emergence of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terror organizations is a story that demands far greater attention than most Americans have yet invested. Given the importance of this story — not only for understanding 9/11, but for understanding the present — this is a matter that demands a substantial education on the part of the American public.

Lawrence Wright, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, has written what I consider to be the definitive work on this narrative. The book is riveting and authoritative — as indicated by the Pulitzer Prize it both deserved and received. In The Looming Tower, Wright tells the story with a style and energy that makes the book hard to put down.

Consider this explanation of the allure of martyrdom to young men:

Martyrdom promised such young men an ideal alternative to a life that was so sparing in its rewards. A glorious death beckoned to the sinner, who would be forgiven, it is said, with the first spurt of blood, and he would behold his place in Paradise even before his death. Seventy members of his household might be spared the fires of hell because of his sacrifice. The martyr who is poor will be crowned in heaven with a jewel more valuable than the earth itself. And for those young men who came from cultures where women are shuttered away and rendered unattainable for someone without prospects, martyrdom offered the conjugal pleasures of seventy-two virgins–“the dark-eyed houris,” as the Quran describes them, “chaste as hidden pearls.” They awaited the martyr with feasts of meat and fruit and cups of the purest wine.

And this section dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 within Al Qaeda’s leadership:

While they waited for the mujahideen to rise up across Muslim lands and rush to Afghanistan, bin Laden and Zawahiri gloated over the success of the operation. “there is America, hit by God in one of its softest spots,” bin Laden boasted in a prerecorded videotape on al-Jazzera on October 7, the day after American and British bombers launched their first attacks on Taliban positions. “Its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that. There is America, full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that.” Then he issues his call. “These events have divided the whole world into two sides–the side of believers and the side of infidels. May God keep you away from them. Every Muslim has to rush to make his religion victorious. The winds of faith have come.”

Creation, Evil, and a Man Named Job

The Book of Job remains an enigma for many Christians. Beyond this, it has been misused as a text for protest atheism and as a pretext for much theological mischief. Robert S. Fyall offers a virtually unprecedented approach to Job in Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job [Apollos/InterVarsity Press].

Fyall does what so many other commentators and students of Job fail to do — he combines careful exegesis with faithful theology. Fyall is a professor of Old Testament at the University of Durham and a Church of Scotland minister. He looks closely at the literary imagery within the text of Job and offers keen insights.

Now My Eyes Have Seen You is released in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by D. A. Carson. The entire series is worthy of careful attention. I have found very few satisfactory books on Job. This one moves quickly into the top ranks.

Fyall writes:

Reading and studying Job can be an alarming and unpredictable experience. Many apparent certainties disappear and familiar landmarks seem few and far between. Yet to glimpse even a little of this book’s awesome picture of God’s providence, expressed in glorious and richly resonant language, is to undergo both a chastening and healing experience. To listen to this book is to listen to the Master’s voice.

What Happened to African-American Theology?

The history of African-American theology raises one key question — What happened? Thabiti M. Anyabwile, now senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, answers this question in The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [InterVarsity Press]. Anyabwile traces a road from biblical orthodoxy to theological liberalism in the mainstream of African-American theology.

Here are two paragraphs that tell the story very well, and in a very moving way:

Rather than denounce the Bible as fraudulent along with its white adherents, the slaves recognized that learning to read the Bible and to possess its contents for themselves was real spiritual power, whose potency was made all the more alluring by efforts to prohibit its access. So, slaves vowed to learn to read before they died so that they could read the Bible. They took advantage of every clandestine opportunity to secure lessons from favorable masters or their children, often risking legally sanctioned retribution, severe beatings and death.

By the end of slavery’s reign in America, African American doctrines of revelation were beginning to widen and make room for sources of revelation other then the Scriptures, including God continuing to reveal himself through supernatural means and interventions. This expansion of the doctrine of revelation would weaken the centrality of the Scriptures in the practice and thought of African American Christianity.

The Decline of African American Theology is a really important book — and for all evangelical Christians.

Readers will also want to know of Thabiti Anyabwile’s other book, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors [Crossway].

Thabiti Anyabwile was my guest on Monday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program [listen here].

Desiring the Discipline of Discernment

Spiritual discernment is an art, a science, and the responsibility of every disciple of Jesus Christ. At the same time, we live in a culture that rejects discernment and we see churches that have failed in the task of preparing Christian believers to practice spiritual discernment. A Christian without discernment is unable to see the difference between the truth and the lie, the artificial and the real, the orthodox and the heretical, even right and wrong.

The discipline of spiritual discernment will train the disciple to aim at the good, the beautiful, and the true and to be more faithful in every arena of life.

In this confused age, Tim Challies offers help in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment [Crossway]. Tim is a young writer and web designer who is one of the most recognized names in the Christian blogosphere. He is also a fine young evangelical thinker. The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment is a book with great promise that is both timely and substantial.

An excerpt:

Many who profess to believe in Christ affirm Christianity as a collection of truths, and even very important, life-altering truths, but not as Truth; not as a worldview that encompasses all of life. To be people of discernment, we must acknowledge the existence of both truth and error. And, just as there will always be counterfeit currency, where there is truth, there will be counterfeits of the truth. Our task as people of discernment is to separate what is truth from what is error. It is to ensure that we think of God and believe in God in ways that are consistent with how he has revealed himself to us in the Bible. Our confidence is not in ourselves, but that God has made his truth clear to us. We have confidence that God is capable of communicating to us in a way that we will be able to understand.

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Boys Adrift

“What’s troubling about so many of the boys I see in my practice, or the boys I hear about from parents and teachers, is that they don’t have much passion for any real-world activity,” writes Leonard Sax, a family physician and author. Sax is also a researcher who is very concerned about the way that boys are falling behind in school and in so many other arenas of life.

In Boys Adrift, Sax identifies five factors he believes are contributing to this problem. After offering a chilling description of the problem, he moves to argue that these factors include changes in the educational system (many almost appear to be calculated to cause a disinterest in learning among boys), video games (encouraging boys to disengage from the real world), medications for ADHD (blame a syndrome and give the boy a stimulant), endocrine disruptors (leading to a shortfall of testosterone in boys), and a lack of good male role models in the culture (leading to a devaluation of masculinity).

All this adds up to a “failure to launch” among many boys. Sax offers some hard words of analysis here. He argues that, in the past, boys eventually decided to grow up and become men because they wanted money and sex — and would have to earn their way to both through hard work and adult responsibility. Now, the larger culture (and many parents) allow boys access to both without the expense of growing up. So . . . why grow up?

Christian readers — especially parents and those who work with youth — will bring additional concerns and ideas to Dr. Sax’s proposals. Nevertheless, Boys Adrift is now essential reading for those concerned about our boys.

Culture Shift is Released Today

I would not normally list my own writings here, but my new book, Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth, is released today by Multnomah Books. The book deals with the big landscape of Christian cultural engagement and looks at several of the most controversial and difficult issues of the era.

My hope is that you will find this book helpful in thinking about our Christian responsibility to engage the culture in a manner that is faithful and true to the Christian worldview. If you find it helpful, please recommend it to others. The book is available through your local book store, or here.

Culture Shift is the first of three books I have written to be released in this series. The other books will be released over twelve months or so.

Portait of the Tyrant as a Young Man

The twentieth century has rightly been described as the century of “mega-death” — death on a scale unprecedented in human history. The century was also an era of “mega-murderers,” with tyrants such as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot perfecting the machinery of death. Tyrants in the past may have had similar visions of massive murder, but the machinery of modernity made death on this scale possible in the last century.

For Americans, the most morally awkward of these murderous tyrants is Joseph Stalin. The awkwardness is rooted in the fact that he, alone among these tyrants, was for some time a crucial ally of the United States during World War II and the effort to defeat Hitler’s Third Reich. At least some American leaders knew the reality about “Uncle Joe,” but this truth was largely hidden from public view during the war.

In Young Stalin, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore looks to the childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of Joseph Stalin. The work is massive, authoritative, and captivating. Montefiore leads his readers to see the emergence of a murderous dictator — even in his youngest years.

Montefiore is an established historian and biographer of Stalin. His earlier work, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, looked at the career of Stalin — especially his years as the dictator of the Soviet Union. This book is, if anything, more interesting because it covers less-known territory.

The book reveals Stalin’s questionable paternity — a big issue in his troubled boyhood. He was abused by the man he called father and spoiled by an indulgent mother. He was surprisingly intellectual, passionate about reading books — especially forbidden books. He attended a Russian Orthodox seminary for boys as a candidate for the priesthood and was known there as “Soso,” the lead chorister.

Nevertheless, the violence and poisonous personality traits that would later be visited upon the world were visible early. Soso lost his faith and joined radical movements, eventually becoming part of the inner circle around Lenin, whose successor he became through more violence and murder.

Young Stalin is richly detailed. We read, for example, that the young Stalin, still a young boy, wavered in his faith after reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. All this leads to Stalin’s tyrannical rule. As Montefiore explains, the character of the young Stalin is important precisely “because the nature of his rule was so personal.”

In the end:

Soso was old, sclerotic and forgetful, yet until his death aged seventy-four, on 5 March 1953, the ageing choirboy remained the peerless politician, paranoid megalomaniac and aberrant master of human misery on a scale only paralleled by Hitlerite Germany. Responsible for the deaths of around 20 to 25 million people, Stalin imagined he was a political, military, scientific and literary genius, a people’s monarch, a red Tsar.

Getting Personal about Personal Evangelism

Just yesterday, a pastor told me of a candidate for ordination to the Gospel ministry who told the examining council that he had never shared the Gospel with another person one-on-one. That was shocking enough. But the real shock came when the pastor reported that the ordination council nevertheless recommended the man for ordination — to the Gospel ministry, no less.

Perhaps this is not so shocking in light of the fact that so many Christians never share their faith in Christ with others. In his important new book, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism [Crossway Books], Mark Dever writes of his hope that this reality can be reversed. “We want evangelism to be normal — in our lives and in our churches,” he writes.

Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC — a church that practices what Dever preaches. In The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, Dever defines the Gospel, reminds us that all Christians are to share Christ with others, and rejects the idea that this is just too much to expect of most Christians. He grounds evangelism and the Gospel in God’s passion to save sinners through faith in Christ and argues — persuasively — that personal evangelism should be normal for Christians.

Along the way, he also offers several correctives. He helpfully insists that social action and apologetics, for example, are ministry but not evangelism. In his words:

Evangelism is not an imposition of our ideas upon others. It is not merely personal testimony. It is not merely social action. It may not involve apologetics, and it is not the same thing as the results of evangelism. Evangelism is telling the wonderful truth about God, the great news about Jesus Christ. When we understand this, then obedience to the call to evangelize can become certain and joyful. Understanding this increases evangelism as it moves from being a guilt-driven burden to a joyful privilege.


The Christian call to evangelize is not simply a call to persuade people to make decisions, but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God glory for regeneration and conversion.

We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not subsequently converted; we fail only if we do not faithfully tell the gospel at all.

That failure is writ large across the church today. The Gospel & Personal Evangelism is a much-needed corrective.

Understanding Barack Obama — “A Bound Man”

Sen. Barack Obama has quickly emerged as a major political force in America, and if predictions and polling projections hold, he will emerge the big winner of today’s New Hampshire primary. This means that many Americans are trying to understand this man and the meaning of his candidacy. Few persons can match Shelby Steele in terms of cultural analysis. A research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Steele is one of the nation’s most insightful analysts on a host of issues, including race. His earlier book, The Content of our Character: A New Vision of Race in America is one of the most significant works on race to emerge in this generation. That book was brave, insightful, and deservedly influential.

In A Bound Man [The Free Press], Steele looks at the meaning of Barack Obama and his political career. Shelby Steele writes from a unique perspective, as he is also the son of a black father and a white mother. Steele writes with deep insight, arguing that Obama stands between two worlds, and between two stereotyped roles in the black community. Steele clearly respects Obama’s obvious political talent and personal achievements, but he also registers significant concerns about Obama and his quest for the presidency.

Shelby Steele helped me to think about the phenomenon of Barack Obama in a new light in this insightful book — but, as always, he helped me to think about much more as well. Few books are as timely as A Bound Man.

An excerpt:

The point is that Obama has separated himself from the deadly stigmas of black inferiority and white paternalism. He is seen as untainted by the former and in no need of the latter. This does not mean that people won’t consider his race in some way as they ponder his candidacy. It only means that they can consider his candidacy without feeling guilted, intimidated, or otherwise manipulated by his race. And this is what makes him the first plausible black candidate in American history.

Eyes to See

Bret Lott, a Charleston-based author of best-selling novels, has edited a wonderful collection of Christian fiction in Eyes to See [Thomas Nelson]. Lott has chosen stories from masters such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Flannery O’Connor — joined by eleven other writers whose stories will make the Christian think and reflect . . . and enjoy reading.

This kind of anthology is a good way to introduce these stories and these authors to readers who may never have dared open The Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace. Lott offers brief introductions to the authors (I wish the introductions were a bit more extensive) and has chosen well for Eyes to See.

Lott is right, “A good story can change the way we think, the way we live and love and make our way through this world.”

The Twilight of the Books?

Years ago, Walter Ong argued that our civilization is returning to a condition of “orality” in which the text gives way to the tongue. Specifically,…

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