Monday, July 30, 2007

Are You Reading C.S. Lewis?













I usually read some
C.S. Lewis during the summer, one of the best prescriptions for restoring mental health and vitality, and I realized with shock a few days ago that I may not have time to hang out with Lewis before school starts this fall.

Don't count me out for sure, but, it could happen. Possibly my mind will rise up in protest, screaming, Give me Lewis, preferably The Weight of Glory!--in which case I will have to cave, and start taking showers every other day in order to free up some reading time. Hard to say.

So what I'm wondering now is if any of you are currently reading Lewis or have read him in the last few weeks. If so, I want to negotiate a deal. Here's the situation. I need my Lewis. This blog needs its Lewis. If I don't have time to turn the pages myself, I'm willing to let some other people help me.

If you've recently been enjoying summer school with C.S., I'd like to invite you to post some quotes on BitterSweetLife. Commentary is optional, but you could feel free to weigh in on the excerpts you share. You'd introduce yourself and your blog briefly, then lead us into the Lewisphere. Interested? Post a comment or send me an email.



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Emerging... & Funny

Scot McKnight of Jesus Creed directs some self-effacing humor at those "emerging church type" people we've all heard about. Pretty funny for a professor!



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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Discuss Emerging Church Theology, Win Free Coffee

If only cause and effect was always this direct.

I'm reading Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches with a couple friends, Rob and Scott, and discussing it chapter by chapter. Today we convened in a Starbucks to tackle the opening salvo, penned with blunt accuracy by Mark Driscoll. So we walk in, order our drinks, and find the clerk and head barrista urging us to drink some free coffee from the "Asian Pacific region." Starbucks was about to throw a coffee tasting or "cupping" party right when we arrived.

We sat down and the barrista brought over plates of cookies and pastry to "enhance the taste palette" of the coffees, followed by three different varieties of coffee, made French press style. Through all of this, we were being thanked profusely for drinking free coffee and eating free baked goods, listening to free coffee commentary (which was fascinating for me; can't speak for the other guys).

I don't think anything like that has happened to me before. So the moral of the story is: buy this book, get a couple friends to discuss it with you, and head to the coffee shop. Who knows what might happen?

As far as the book itself. Based on Driscoll's chapter, in which he footnotes about 200 verses and outlines a tough biblical stance on the scriptures, the cross, and the trinity, I'd say it's eminently worth reading.

I'll hazard a guess and say that the strength of the book is keeping five "emerging" theologians focused on the three central points of Bible, the cross (atonement), and God's person and then having them cross-examine each other. I'm looking for a kind of winnowing effect, theologically.

How can we embrace strong, biblically-faithful theology that will help us to form the church in a way that's both culturally savvy and counter cultural? Both sympathetic and challenging? That's a question I think this book will speak to.



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The Dog Must Die

Our neighbors are pretty cool, but there is a little dog who lives on our floor who is a total jerk.

I'm not sure what he is. Part Chihuahua, maybe? I thought about taking a picture of him, but in order to do that I would have to immobilize him first. Every so often, this dog can be found cruising around the hallway in constant motion. He's wiry, yappy, and gets irritated when people walk on his carpet.

One time I stepped outside to leave for work and there was a brown and white blur moving around my feet, making quick darts toward my ankles. I thought, I think that's a dog. Is he really going to bite me? Should I kick him against the concrete wall? Just then the owners appeared and started screaming for their dog to behave, which, as you know, always works. I left.

Another time I was walking inside with Aidan in his stroller. I turned the corner and saw the rat-dog patrolling the far end of our hallway. At the same moment, he saw us. He barked fiercely and came streaking toward us. I thought, I need to keep my baby safe. We're only 20 feet from our door and the dog has to sprint 100 feet before he can reach us. Run! This calculation took place in microseconds, you understand.

Anyone watching would have seen a man and stroller sprinting down a hallway, the baby with a happy, excited expression, turning on a dime and wheeling inside an apartment, slamming the door in the face of a yapping, angry cur about a foot high. Somewhere, someone was definitely laughing. Once Aidan and I got inside, he turned around in his stroller and looked at me with an amused expression. "You're right," I said. "That was stupid. Next time, we'll just kill the sucker."

A couple days ago Lindsay opened our door to go shopping. I was a room away, but I heard her scream and the door slamming shut, followed by disappointed barking outside and hysterical laughter from Lindsay. "That dog scared me to DEATH!" She was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. "I opened the door and he was right there, staring at me. Then he went for my ankles and I slammed the door in his face."

"One of these days," I said, "I am going to kick that dog against the wall."

Aidan is trying to dissuade me because he wants to have a pit fight with the dog. They are roughly the same height. I'm not really going for that, though. Just because Aidan can roar like a lion and hit people with his popper does not mean he is ready for the big time. No, the dog is mine. And next time we meet, one of us is--

Hang on, I think I hear someone scratching at our door.



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Friday, July 27, 2007

"I hope you know how to frame a photo, Mom"

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

If I Am Cool, Why Has No One Heard of Me?

Caution: "Indie Blog" Label May Cause Existential Crises

Check out the
metaphysical uncertainty on display as John B. of Blog Meridian contemplates his "indie blog" status and hands out a few more trophies. The thread continues in the comments. This is vintage Meridian and, can I say it?...vintage indie. Hilarious. Getting slapped with the "cool unknown" label can open you up to all kinds of soul-searching.

**Update: Now Ched of Says Simpleton is under the impression that the indie label is a backhanded compliment! He doesn't realize that his blog is "small and poverty-stricken" only in comparison to, say, Hot Abercrombie Chick. It's a relative scale, you know. Oh well.



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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Books Are Better Than Your Books


Surely you heard about that $5 book sale over at Desiring God a few weeks ago, which allowed me to exponentially expand my library for the price of a large Chicago-style pizza? Oh. You didn't? Well, I'm sorry. I hope you ordered double pepperoni on the pizza.

Personally, my summer "break" will consist of reading (or thinking about reading) about some of my favorite topics, guided by John Piper, one of America's finest living theologians. Bittersweetness. Keepin' on. Fighting. And Sex. I think you would have to try really hard to beat this line-up.

The good news for you, if you missed the virtual book giveaway, is that, thanks to Desiring God's generous distribution policies, you can buy all of these titles at very affordable prices. Say, maybe for the cash it would take you to buy a couple deep dish pies. Too bad you missed that blow-out sale.

OK, I'm done gloating now.



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Monday, July 23, 2007

Church Planting, Lawn Mowing & Academics

When I come home from work these days, all I feel like doing is lying on the carpet groaning, drinking cold beer, playing with Aidan and smiling weakly at my girl. I know what you're thinking right now: That doesn't sound very productive. You are thinking that this fact has had an effect on my intention to do some strategic reading and research this summer. And you're right.

About a year ago, I read Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and found myself being pulled gravitationally toward church planting. Attending the 2006 Desiring God conference with some friends and reading another Driscoll book, The Radical Reformission, increased my suspicion that church planting was something Lindsay and I should pursue.

Since then, God has run me into some experienced people who have begun helping me fill in my vacuum of knowledge about how churches are born. There was even a promising connection with CP veteran Darrin Patrick that yielded a few weeks of adrenalin before the hype expired. Because of this, or despite this, depending how you see it, I'm looking forward to this fall back at school.

With a couple semesters left, I'm going to try and do a difficult thing, and switch my "Master of Divinity" major to a North American Church Planting emphasis. This will require a lot of schedule-juggling and some independent studies, and I'm not sure exactly how it will work out. However, I want to give it a shot, Lindsay has enough faith to give me the go-ahead, and we're trusting that God will continue to educate me and lead us this fall.

As hinted in the first paragraph, I had ambitious plans for this summer, as far as reading and research went. Things have been scaled back quite a bit, but I've been making my way slowly through Ed Stetzer's Breaking the Missional Code (mostly on weekends). Also, Lindsay and I've visited a couple of local church plants and are planning to visit a couple more. I'm soaking in some lectures on the iPod as well. Realistically, though, serious learning (and planning?) will have to wait for the fall.

Lately, I've been in the position of wanting to advance my pawn on the Church Planting board, but being incapacitated by, well, heat exhaustion. I guess part of the reason I'm writing this post, other than to beg my friends to pray for us, is to self-medicate a little. Essentially, I'm saying to myself: Stop beating yourself up because you're too worn out to study hard or make ingenious plans. If you're going to get in this game, it will be because God makes it happen.

So that's that.



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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jesus Knows Earth Like You Know Your Cubicle


We discover God is no stranger to this world and we end up looking like fools when we speak about "here" as a place about which we must relay to God second-hand information about what it's "really like."

Instead, we find Jesus entering earth and navigating with breath-taking precision this place we purportedly know so well, although we stagger like drunks. Unhesitatingly, Jesus traveled Galilee with more precision than the most astute historian, with more gravity than the grittiest realist. Eschewing the available streams of Jewish revolution, he became neither an Essene hermit, nor a Pharisee politician, nor a Zealot guerrilla--he did not idolize Caesar or swear by the temple--he invented his own way, disturbingly different.

Through the dust of the roadway, the deal-cutting of merchants, the acrid smell of the crowd--Christ unswervingly made his way, carrying a challenge to every affinity group, every geopolitical entity. He said precisely what he meant to say, nailed every intended nuance, pushed every spiritual and emotional and intellectual button, and walked the perfect path, direct to the cross. In his wake, he left a society shaking with the implications of HIM.

We, who feel the compulsive need to inform God of conditions on earth, could only watch in awe the life-dance of this wholly adept human. No one has laced his shoes with such a stunning grasp of world-reality ever since.



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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tag Your Favorite Indie Blogs




Thanks to the suggestion of cagey blog veteran John B., I'm going to give you readers the chance to travel the underground blog scene, IDing your favorite "indie blogs."

In case you're wondering, this is not a meme type of thing. This is more of a "I think your blog is small and poverty-stricken but very cool" type of thing. In other words, the indie blog label is an honor that many can only aspire to. If you are lucky dedicated, small, poor, and smart enough to earn the handle, I hope you'll play along and widen the indie blog circle!

Here's how this works. If you are tagged as an indie...

  1. Read the Traits of an Indie Blog (below)
  2. Choose 5 blogs that qualify and link 'em (ideally, they'll have all the traits, but don't sweat it)
  3. Use a button to make it official (if you don't like mine, feel free to make your own)
  4. Link back to this explanatory post

Traits of the Indie Blog
  1. Minimal overall influence. That's to say, you're not one of the net's heavy hitters. Your influence is limited to one geographical region or slice of society, i.e., those people who are "cool enough" to read it.
  2. Negligible financial impact. In other words, you are not paying your rent thanks to your blog. You aren't even buying groceries thanks to your blog. In all likelihood, your blog is buying you the occasional sleepless night, and that's it. You do it for the love.
  3. Fiercely unique. Your blog is dedicated to pursuits that most people view as peripheral to "serious" life. A few examples would be art, minor league hockey, photography, creative writing, rock climbing, theology that doesn't read like a musty encyclopedia entry, and God.
  4. Illogically dedicated. Seriously, you continue to write all these posts, month after month, for free? Don't you realize that hardly anyone reads them? Haven't you considered that you could invest your sweat and cogitation with higher dividends elsewhere? Yeah, yeah, yeah--and I'm not stopping. I need to be heard!
  5. Unapologetically eclectic. Your blog defies pigeon-holing. People say, "He writes about... He writes about...hmm," and you smile. That's because you like being a hybrid. You mix and match--art and spelunking, theology and basketball, philosophy and movies, etc.--because life is like that.
  6. Typically ignored. Your blog is not consistently (if ever) linked by any of the blogosphere's celebrities, those who provoke dozens of comments, are read by thousands of people, and could send waves of traffic to your blog if they deigned to notice your existence. But that's all right, it's the price of being indie.
OK, here are my nominations. Check these guys out, they're all marketably indie!
Blog Meridian
The Preacher
Says Simpleton
Six O'Clock Vintage
Relevintage
Semicolon
Luther at the Movies
Buzzard Blog
Iambic Admonit
Musings from the Hinterland

Yeah, yeah, I linked nine. But if you make up the rules, you should at least be able to break them to get things started! All right, let's see what happens. If all goes well, you should be able to discover new indie blogs by checking the back links to this post. Doesn't that make your pulse race?

For more on the origins of the indie blog, see my original post. :)



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Friday, July 20, 2007

Jubilant at having survived the wreck...

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Do You Own an Indie Blog?

And now for something frivolous.

Ever since I tagged this blog with the "indie blog" handle, I've eagerly monitored every corner and community on the internet, waiting to see how long it would take before my catch phrase exploded and become the new thang.

Incredibly, "indie blog" has only been put in play half a dozen times outside
BitterSweetLife--and four of those were atrocious misspellings. (Indieblogheaven--a pretty good blog focusing on indie bands, is indicative of the only way the phrase appears--tracking indie music rather than exploring exciting new analogies...)

Where are the other indie blogs? Apparently other people are more afraid of phrase-plagiarism than I am.

Of course, the alternative is that people simply haven't known what an "indie blog" is. I can see you now--hovering over your keyboards, looking for that perfect phrase to describe what it is you do online. You pour creativity and energy into various topics, often connected only by the most laborious (but interesting!) logic, and then about three people read it. Four if your mom is online that day. One of them posts a comment that says, "interesting post." Reading the comment, you scream and drink some more coffee. Is there a phrase to describe this weird, cyclic thing you're doing?

Possibly. Consider...

Traits of the Indie Blog (According to BitterSweetLife)

  1. Minimal overall influence. That's to say, you're not one of the net's heavy hitters. Your influence is limited to one geographical region or slice of society, i.e., those people who are "cool enough" to read it.
  2. Negligible financial impact. In other words, you are not paying your rent thanks to your blog. You aren't even buying groceries thanks to your blog. In all likelihood, your blog is buying you the occasional sleepless night, and that's it. You do it for the love.
  3. Fiercely unique. Your blog is dedicated to pursuits that most people view as peripheral to "serious" life. A few examples would be art, minor league hockey, photography, creative writing, rock climbing, theology that doesn't read like a musty encyclopedia entry, and God.
  4. Illogically dedicated. Seriously, you continue to write all these posts, month after month, for free? Don't you realize that hardly anyone reads them? Haven't you considered that you could invest your sweat and cogitation with higher dividends elsewhere? Yeah, yeah, yeah--and I'm not stopping. I need to be heard!
  5. Unapologetically eclectic. Your blog defies pigeon-holing. People say, "He writes about... He writes about...hmm," and you smile. That's because you like being a hybrid. You mix and match--art and spelunking, theology and basketball, philosophy and movies, etc.--because life is like that.
  6. Typically ignored. Your blog is not consistently (if ever) linked by any of the blogosphere's celebrities, those who provoke dozens of comments, are read by thousands of people, and could send waves of traffic to your blog if they deigned to notice your existence. But that's all right, it's the price of being indie.
Any of this sound familiar? Here's the breakdown.
  • Do three of these features apply to your blog? Sorry, you're still in the wanna-be indie stage. No points for being merely poor, uninfluential and ignored! But keep working at it.
  • If you can claim any four of these traits, your blog is marginally indie. Things are beginning to look up, so pour yourself another cup of coffee.
  • Got five? You are in the middle of the indie blog mix. People look at your blog and wonder, "When did she become so hip?"
  • Nail all six? You author a marketable indie blog!--and while this fact will probably never make you rich, you should wear the badge with pride and mention your status from time to time. In fact, I suggest you start now.
So how did you rank?



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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Book Winners Announced!

At last, the moment you've all been waiting for has arrived. Those of you who audaciously threw your names in the ring over the weekend have been nervously wringing your hands, wondering, "Will he choose me?" (By the way, this is diametrically unlike God, who is sovereign and knows in advance what every man and woman will eat for breakfast tomorrow, what they will wear, and who they will cuss out on the freeway next month, let alone whether they will "choose Him." But I was saying...)

At the same time, those of you who didn't throw your names in the ring have been plagued by private doubts, wondering, "What if? Why didn't I? Shouldn't I have? Could I really have won?" The answer, of course, is Now you'll never know, I have no clue, Yes, Yes. But it's too late to consider what might have been now. Onward to the victors.

At heart, I am a compassionate person. (That's right, go ahead and say it. I'm a good actor!) So this process was not an easy one for me. As the computer did its thing, crunching the numbers, I waited with a feeling of foreboding, knowing that not everyone would win... Nevertheless, it gives me great pleasure to present to you:

BitterSweetLife's First Book Deal Winners

Check 'em.


R. Sherman
Jamie
Brad Briscoe
Dan




Micah
Andy
Leslie
Brad Andrews




Here's the deal. To receive your Book Deal, you need to email me your mailing address by midnight on Thursday, July 19. That's a little over 48 hours from now. If you fail to complete this one final step, your Book Deal will be reallocated. Scary, eh.

Also, remember the conditions: "I hereby vow that upon receiving said book I will choose a sentence or theme (not from the preface!) and post my thoughts/reactions in at least 100 words. Upon doing this, I'll link back to this post/notify AJ via email."

And no worries about going over 100 words! In fact, I encourage it. Just get me your addresses ASAP. I plan to mail the books out together so you'll be able to receive them and post about them roughly at the same time. Best case scenario: a series of interlinked, interrelated posts and conversation cropping up at the same time.



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Monday, July 16, 2007

Book Deals Slowed by Water Inhalation

Yesterday my brother's birthday party involved a lot of basketball and a swim in the lake, during which I snorted green-gray algae-infused water out my nose. Fortunately, this didn't happen often--only each time I jumped or dove or was pushed off the dock in the course of a 40-minute period.

Since then, my mental processes have been running a little slower than usual, which is why I haven't yet posted the Book Deal recipients. But look for the names soon. The computer has been whirring and humming, crunching a huge array of numbers (using a complicated algorithm) to determine the winners.



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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sovereignty & Evil: Getting God Off the Hook

God doesn't want to be got off the hook.

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly takes "credit" for both blessing and calamity. "Your deliverance from Egypt?" he says. "I did that. And the fact that you are about to be brutally crushed by an invading nation? I am doing that as well. Are you enjoying life? Thank me. Are you hating life? Cry about it to me. Lay it all at my door."

In the New Testament, God repeatedly takes "credit" for both blessing and calamity. When the disciples finally begin to get a clue, and start healing a few people "on their own," it's because Jesus has authorized and empowered them to do it. And when Judas stabs his friend and master in the back, it's because God decreed that he would do that very thing.

God underwrites the greatest tragedy recorded in the New Testament, the horrific death of his own son, the only really innocent man to walk the earth.

Everything from storms at sea to the Roman occupation to a tower falling on bystanders and killing them--God underwrites it. And he underwrites the greatest tragedy recorded in the New Testament, the horrific death of his own son, the only really innocent man to walk the earth. Simultaneously, God takes credit for the well of freedom that springs up precisely because Christ was killed. He takes responsibility for both and doesn't blush.

As well, throughout all of this, God does not for a moment cease to maintain that "evil men" will have their comeuppance. Thus, even though Judas' servile disloyalty served God's eternal plan, it would have been better for him to never have been born. And at the same time, good men will be blessed for their involvement in divine drama: When Peter accurately IDs Jesus as "the Messiah," it's because the Father informed him--and Jesus still says that Peter is blessed.

All this goes to say that the uniform testimony of the Bible clearly establishes four startling truths regarding God's sovereignty and the bittersweet nature of his creation.
  1. God is ultimately responsible for all good things.
  2. God is ultimately responsible for all evil things.
  3. Human beings are ultimately held responsible for their involvement in good and evil.
  4. God is very, very, very good.
Since there are entire books written to unpack these truths, I don't have any hope of getting very far now, other than to point out a few implications for theology.

A lot of contemporary theology is formed with the idea of getting God "off the hook" where evil, pain and suffering are concerned. Problem is, God isn't concerned with limited liability. And as hard as people try to move God outside the realm of "blame" for evil, God crowns himself as the incontestable controlling authority. Consider:

Open Theism argues that God does not, actually, know the future, because he willingly limited his omniscience in order to give us kids room for "free will." However, if God is taken by surprise when awful things happen, it's still his fault. He chose to tie his own hands in this way.

Classic Arminianism argues that God cannot, actually, control all decisions and outcomes, because he willingly limited his omnipotence in order to give us kids room for "free will." However, if God is forced to watch in horror as we perpetrate terrible acts upon each other, it's still his fault. He chose to tie his hands in this way.

Are you getting my drift? Neither of these systems successfully remove God from his role of ultimate authority. If God is weak, or unknowing, or paralyzed, and he made himself that way so that we could tear the world apart at our own pace, it is STILL HIS "FAULT."

Describing God a self-made wuss does not remove from his hands the "awful" tincture of sovereignty. We can level the accusation, "God, why did you make yourself too weak to do us any good?! Why are you sitting there wringing your hands?!"

In the end, we need to stand under God's Word and humbly work to align our lives to what we find. Trying to create new categories that portray God more "favorably" than he portrays himself is not going to be a winning endeavor.

What I Am Not Saying

Secondary causes do not exist.
God personally perpetrates evil.
Human choice is an illusion.
God is a callous jokester.



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Friday, July 13, 2007

Rarely caught in the open, the Aidanus Jamesus moves swiftly from one pile of toys to another

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Book Giveaway Details


OK, here's how this will work.

I have a number of copies of two new Zondervan titles, 3 Seconds and Holy Discontent. Take a look at the blurbs and see if either of 'em grab you. I haven't yet read either of them myself, so I can't vouch for their content, but Zondervan doesn't typically publish fluff. Interested? If so, here's what to do.

1. Make sure you can live with
The Conditions: "I hereby vow that upon receiving said book I will choose a sentence or theme (not from the preface!) and post my thoughts/reactions in at least 100 words. Upon doing this, I'll link back to this post/notify AJ via email." Note that to participate, you'll need a blog. If you really, really want to play, but don't have a blog, shoot me an email.

2. Add a comment to this post stating which book you're hankering for. Do it soon. I'll be generous and make Sunday the 15th the cut off date.

3. Anxiously await the outcome, which I'll post early next week.

Once I see who's interested, I'll use a complicated algorithm to select the lucky people who will receive the Book Deal. Of course, if only a few people see this post, it's possible that you'll automatically be a winner--just by posting a comment here! So go for it. You can even send your friends over if you feel like sharing.

Now for the proverbial small print. I was hoping to open this up to everyone everywhere, but my research has revealed that S&H plus tax issues force me to limit participation to North America. I'm sorry, especially since I know that some of you live overseas... :(



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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Uncool Implications of Radical Free Will

Over at The Preacher, Charles is musing about the implications of radical "free will" and its effects regarding God's sovereignty. As it turns out, I've been thinking a little about this topic recently. (And when I say "a little," I mean it; you'll see that shortly.) So here's a brief, slight, small, observation regarding Arminianism and its accessory, radical or "libertarian" free will.

(Because of my need to preserve energy, I just Wikipediazed "Arminianism" - I apologize in advance for the mental energy you will need to exert if you're unfamiliar with this jargon. If it makes you feel better, you can just close the browser in frustration now. The blog will continue its slightly esoteric existence without you...)

So then.

It just so happens that other than prevenient grace**, radical free will is one of the aspects of Arminianism that strike me as strange, off-balance, and ridiculous. And now, to atone for merely linking, "Arminianism," I'll explain.

Radical (or libertarian or contra-causal) free will is the concept of human freedom that maintains that at any point we make a decision, we could also have made the opposite decision(s). Example: I choose to brew dark Ethiopian coffee; I could also have chosen not to, or to brew a medium Costa Rican blend.

At first glance, this idea of freedom seems intuitively true. Problem is, it deconstructs. We end up denying, effectively, that people have convincing reasons for what they do. I am forced to argue that I could choose to kiss Lindsay goodbye in the morning or kick her in the shins--within the same framework of motive. "Choice" becomes indifferent and random.

Policeman: Why did you follow that man for ten miles, corner him in a cul de sac, and taunt him into a round of fisticuffs?
Me
: Because I was having a great day and was enjoying a pleasant drive home, when all of a sudden, the idea came to me. I decided to go for it.

In the real world, we do have reasons for the things we do. Even the most nonsensical actions can be explained once you get the man to 'fess up. Ask my wife for stories. There was a reason I kicked a hole in the plywood door instead of delivering a strong uppercut to the brick wall.

What cannot be explained is how anyone could make either of two decisions when the choices in question were dramatically different. Like, say, giving your life to the Creator of the world or laughing in his face. The same rationale does not provide a suitable motive for both situations. In other words, if radical, libertarian, contra-causal free will is in operation, we may as well shut down our law courts and remove "motive" from the dictionary. This world is crazy, yes, but not that crazy. People who pop champagne corks and jump off bridges typically do so for different reasons.

So, that's what I think.
And now, the addendum.


** Prevenient grace

Simply stated, prevenient grace is the idea that God extended enough grace to everyone to be saved. He invited
everyone to join his Facebook account. Some people said yes. And then God, enjoying the benefit of eternal foresight, decided, "OK, these people who will accept my invitation to be friends--I would like them to be my friends. In fact, these people who will decide to be my friends I will 'predestine' to be my friends." In other words:
People who accept prevenient grace: We will be your friends, God.
God: Because I see that you will be my friends, I choose you to be my friends.

This strikes me as the kind of thing I made up in junior high to solve some of God's pr problems. Which is one reason I can't believe it now. It reminds me too much of myself when I was young and silly and thought you could fix the Bible like a crossword puzzle. Also, there are verses like John 15:16.



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Free Books...Coming Soon



Interested? :)



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Monday, July 09, 2007

Coming Soon: Book Deals for Yous

I'm not precisely sure who reads the blog these dog days, but some of you are about to strike it rich.

Relatively speaking.

I still remember the joy and excitement I felt when BitterSweetLife got its first book deal. My feelings were a little childish, maybe, considering that the book in question involved a spacey new age guru who talked to his wise dog, friendly birds, and some kind of mystic turtle. Needless to say, I didn't get around to writing a review. My ego was still pleasantly buffed, though. Getting a new book without having to pay for it has that effect.

Now, I'm about to offer to a handful of you a similar experience, except that it will involve a book that doesn't suck!

Coming soon...a brand new Zondervan title up for grabs to qualified readers (qualifying won't be difficult). Details to follow...just keep your eyes open over the next several days.



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Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Blog is Rated...

Free Online Dating

Of course it is. Aidan reads it.



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"So what's new with you these days?"

Sometimes, right after his nap, Aidan enjoys a leisurely conversation with his Aunt Sarah.



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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Organic God by Margaret Feinberg (Book Review)

In the interests of my masculinity, I'll be deliberately up front here. When my review copy arrived, I was put off by the tag line of Margaret Feinberg's, Organic God. It reads kind of like a shampoo ad: "Natural. Pure. Essential."

"Right," I thought. "Should we add something like, 'You've tried other brands, now try Jehovah? Guaranteed not to leave sticky residue?'"

As it turns out, though, the packaging/marketing is the biggest gripe I have with Feinberg's book, which is a sincere, confessional memoir of her faith journey. Feinberg was named one of the "Thirty Emerging Voices" who will supposedly lead the North American church into the next decade. Immediately, this put me in mind of Donald Miller (who failed to make the list, ironically--in fact, I could only identity two of these influential voices who will guide my faith in the next decade). However, Feinberg's measured, descriptive prose has little in common with Miller. Rather than clever, sarcastic, magical reality-type narrative, Feinberg's writing is more down to earth.

As I made my way through the chapters of Organic God (the title never stopped making me wince) I came to appreciate a couple trademark characteristics of Feinberg's story. First, her transparency, and second, her appreciation for the created order as evidence that points back to God's all-sufficiency. This excerpt from chapter .003, "Breathtakingly Beautiful," illustrates both:

Even today when I travel, I find myself lingering for the last moments of a sunset, hoping to get just one more glimpse of the green flash. The unusual beauty is mesmerizing, and like bioluminescence, I feel the same childlike awe whenever I see it.

Such glimpses are reflections of God's beauty. Yet all too often I find myself imbibing the beauty without recognizing God. I celebrate myself for seeing the green flash, and I fail to celebrate the One who created it.

Organic God works in a progressive way to point to various aspects of God's magnetic character. Throughout the book, Feinberg shares life stories and reflections, urging her readers toward personal encounter with the God of the Bible. She aims to kindle and strengthen a Psalmist-like hunger for Jesus. The fact that she grew up Jewish adds a fascinating strand to her narrative (think matzah ball soup, midrash, and Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism).

Overall, Feinberg achieves an admirable consistency of voice and direction. The book opens with musings about bioluminescence as a window into God's presence as quiet, brilliant, and often overlooked. As the story ends, she sits at the foot of a "luscious blue" glacier and contemplates God's mysterious ways, vital to our lives, and yet past finding out. I like the way she ultimately argues for God's greatness while sending the message that meditative talks with him are nonnegotiable.

Some faddish vocab sometimes detracts from this mission, but I'd recommend Organic God at a solid B- level--especially to women, and especially to those who need to remember that gratefully admiring his handiwork and talking with the Creator are intended to frame to our 80-some years down here.

Yeah, it's on the Master Book List.



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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Faith's Tangled Storylines

The way God saves people is unpredictable and inescapable and ridiculous. He uses circuses of events, seemingly random encounters, scraps of paper left on a bench, a piece of conversation overheard, aged preachers who convict with their presence.

Now and again we try to introduce sectors of rationality into this mad landscape of faith and God may or may not let us get away with this. We try to prepare ourselves for what comes next, but God throws open doors when we are still unready. We try to get educated, but God introduces us to desperate people who don't care if our favorite book of the Bible is Judges and we're still figuring out what sanctification means.

God uses people how he wants to. He saves people when he wants to. He uses the most non sequitur of means. So don't doubt him. Just learn all you can and dive into the work. He may use a sermon you labor over to save a hundred men. Or he may use your presence on a bus to convict and rescue a stranger you will never meet until doomsday.

Just understand that this life is a wild ride and we don't have a bird's eye view, but God is a sovereign, good, and smiling God. He has a love for justice, a passion for redemption, a superb sense of timing, a penchant for tangled story lines, and a glint in his eye.

So let go. There is little room in the kingdom for insistent control. Make plans, yes--but when God pulls a fast one and life spins you away, don't panic. Relax and feel the hidden rhythm of God's will and then go with it.



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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why Your Life Is Confusing

I just read this:

Every time Jesus sees that there is a possibility of giving us more than we know how to ask, He does so. And in order to do so He often has to deal with us in ways which are past finding out. - O. Hallesby

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Jesus must be piling it on, because my life often fails to make sense to me. I'm glad I got that figured out! Maybe.

I guess my problem is that Hallesby (whom I usually think is right on) implies that anytime my life seems be moving along with some stability and direction, Jesus is thinking, "Hmm, well he seems to have things pretty well mapped out at this point." As if there is nothing he can do at those stable, progressive times to improve on the situation. And of course we know that's not true.

However, I do like what Hallesby implies about the goodness and sovereignty of God. Any other takes?



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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Additional Thoughts on Working Really Hard to "Get Faith"

I want to increase my faith, and I have the plan to do it.

I just need to increase my ability to have a sustained hunger for God. This seems pretty clearly to be a dietary concern. To this end, I'm going organic and learning some transcendental meditation exercises, which should aid digestion. Also, I will eat more bran muffins.

As I carry out this simple plan, I will chart my progress at three hour intervals, recording the varying strength of faith I feel at each juncture. Measuring my faith in this way will help me to notice those times of the day, say, mid-afternoon or immediately after I wake up, when my faith levels may need to be jump-started with a few extra Bible verses. Also, it should be a real morale booster as I see my faith levels explode over time.

Whatever it takes to get my faith up and running at an optimal level.



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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife