Showing posts from February, 2014

Jim & Casper Go To Church: Book Review

In the early 2000's Jim Henderson, a former pastor and newly minted church consultant,"bought" an atheist off of E-Bay for $504, and put him to work.  The atheist, a young man named Hemant Mehta, had been looking for a fun way to show Christians that he could attend church with an open mind, and was willing to allow Christians to give him their best shot at converting him.  Henderson won the bid, and sent Mehta out to start visiting churches with the assignment of reporting what he experienced. The result spawned a website, discussion groups, stories by the Wall Street Journal and much more.

In 2006, Henderson met Matt Casper, a marketing copywriter and freelance writer and singer/songwriter, who lived in San Diego.  Casper also happened to be an atheist.  The two became friends and decided to write a book together as they visited churches all across America--documenting their dialogue and their experiences.  They agreed to be as open and honest with one another, and w…

One Way - Week One: "This, That, or The Other"

I've been serving in church ministry of one form or another for over sixteen years.  Over the course of that time I have had more people than I care to count approach me and offer the following statement:

"I have a friend who says that there's more than one way to get to heaven. Is that true?"  
Now the question might be framed a bit differently from person to person, but the idea is always the same.  Christians make the claim that a belief in Jesus is the only sure way to know that you will "go to heaven" when you die.  But in an increasingly diverse culture, those of us who call ourselves Christians often find ourselves in relationships with people of other faiths, or with people who may not have any particular faith at all. 
And in this increasingly diverse culture that we find ourselves a part of, our claims about Jesus being the only way to God often get challenged.  These claims might get challenged directly by relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbor…

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? A Book Review

Samuel Williamson is tired of children's Sunday school done the same old way. His weary feelings about Sunday school have little to do with styles, format or even space--they stem from what Williamson describes as a general neglect of the Gospel in favor or Moralism.

And he has a point.

First of all, Williamson believes that having good morals is important, but it's not more important than the Good News that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and offer them the chance for eternal life--life that begins here and now.  He asserts that from the earliest ages, Christians are taught that if they are simply good, obey, and do what is right that they will be happy, healthy and wise--and that God will be pleased with them.  He cites the simplified stories that are often taught in Sunday school as evidence:  stories about heroes such as David, Esther, Jonah, Daniel and the like.

But, according to Williamson, by simplifying the stories we find in the Bible and turning them into mere …

For All The Saints: N.T. Wright on What Happens When We Die

I just finished reading N.T. Wright's short treatise For All The Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed, which is a distilled version of his larger, academic work The Resurrection of the Son of God. Both works deal with what Wright believes is a "mismatch between what the earliest Christians believed about life after death--and what many ordinary Christians seem to believe on the subject today."

If you've got a week to kill, then by all means pick up the Resurrection of the Son of God and commence reading.  When Wright says it's "academic" he isn't kidding around.  But if you would like to visit his basic arguments about what the New Testament and early Christian tradition have to say about what happens to us when we die, then For All The Saints? is more than adequate.

For All The Saints? addresses particular controversies within the Anglican Communion surrounding the doctrine of Purgatory and also the inclusion of All Souls Day within the lit…

The Sermon - Week Four: "Perfect"

I have to confess that I haven't really watched the Winter Olympics.  I watch SportsCenter, which tells me everything I need to know about the Olympics without having to watch Bob Costas--or whoever is replacing Bob Costas since he got pink eye (probably from his hotel room--I hear the Russians really spared every expense this go round).  I do check to see if the U.S.A. is winning in the medal count, though.  THAT matters to me.  I like to win. I may not like to watch ice dancing, but I am glad that we won that event.  USA-USA-USA!

Speaking of ice dancing... ice skaters are pretty graceful, wouldn't you say?  On the rare occasions when I have watched skating, I have always thought the skaters to be graceful people.  I also get that it's extremely hard to do the things they do, balanced as they are on ice--held up by two little metal blades.  I saw the Will Ferrell movie Blades of Glory, too.  So I guess I'm kind of an expert on the gracefulness of ice skaters.

Which b…

Story of Stories: A Book Review

I read a lot of books about the Bible. It's kind of a requirement for pastors in Presbyterian world.  And because of this, I often find myself gazing with a jaundiced eye upon books that are imbued with the task of distilling down Biblical texts into easy-to-understand "sound bites."

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I read Karen Lee-Thorp's Story of Stories: A Guided Tour from Genesis to Revelation.  Far from distilling down the grand stories and themes of the Bible, Story of Stories takes those grand stories and themes and brings them into sharper focus.  I can't remember when I have read a book about the Bible that I have enjoyed more.

Reading through the Bible can be a daunting task for most of us in the best of circumstances, but it can be even more daunting if there is nothing to guide us as we read.  Story of Stories is the sort of guide that I would recommend wholeheartedly.  Whether you are simply wanting to learn more about the Bible,  …

Killing Jesus: Book Review

I know that I am a little late to the party when it comes to reviewing Bill O'Reilly's latest New York Times bestseller, Killing Jesus, but I have only just begun to read for pleasure again.  It has been a while--but I hope to be back in the "one-book-a-week" or more routine very soon.

At any rate, Killing Jesus spent several weeks on the top of the bestseller's list, and I am sure with the release of the new movie The Son of God, O'Reilly and company will find a way to cross market and draw more attention to the book, so a review at this juncture might be timely.

Bill O'Reilly is the highest rated, but often polarizing cable TV talk show host on the FOX News network, and has several NY Times bestsellers on his resume, including two other books written with Martin Dugard, a historian and bestselling author in his own right.

To begin, I have to confess that I haven't read O'Reilly's historical treatments of the assassinations of Presidents Li…

The Sermon Week Three - "The Raised Bar"

It's confession time this Sunday. From time to time, I just feel the need to share some of my deepest secrets and for some unknown reason I often feel compelled to share them publicly... at church... in front of hundreds of people. If you do this on a regular basis, you are either insane, or a pastor--or perhaps both, which appears to be the case with me.
So here's the thing... and I know that this may not be that much of a surprise to most of the people who know me even a little... but I am a rather huge Def Leppard fan. Def Leppard is a band. From the 80's. They sold like a zillion albums. Nothing? Some of you are feeling me, I know.
When I was fifteen years old, the thing I wanted most in life was to look like Joe Elliott, the lead singer of Def Leppard. I figured I could make this happen if I listened to their album Pyromania enough times, grew my hair, became better looking and learned how to sing. None of these things was going to happen, but a boy could dream... 


The Question (Why) That Never Goes Away: A Book Review

It's been quite a long time since I have been able to both read and reflect on books that I wasn't required to read for a seminar, my doctoral project or for other assorted higher learning purposes. But since that chapter is coming to a close, I want to renew that practice and share those thoughts here at presbymusings.

There is a reason why Philip Yancey sells so many books.  He writes about things that matter to people, and he does it extraordinarily well.  Yancey's classic book Where is God When It Hurts? was written over twenty years ago, and it is still relevant today.  But since Yancey wrote Where Is God When It Hurts? the world has endured a great deal of tragedy: 9/11, Tsunami's in Indonesia and Japan, school shootings in Newtown Connecticut, shootings in Aurora, CO and a host of other tragedies both naturally occurring and man-made.  In Yancey's estimation, the questions that he struggled with over twenty years ago, have not gone away.

In his latest book…