Tag Archives: theology

Reaching Across the Great Divide

31 May

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Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about our heated political AND Church environment. While those of us who are followers of Christ should allow our faith to inform the full spectrum of our lives, we must accept that our individual walks don’t always lead us to the same places or conclusions. It’s part of the reason there are so many denominations, isn’t it?

For example, I don’t agree with baby baptism because I believe in believer’s baptism, which means that after a person chooses to acknowledge and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior erasing our sinful record because of His perfect sacrifice (and Resurrection), a person becomes publicly baptized to celebrate this holy moment. I wholeheartedly support child dedication.

There are people who will disagree with me on baptism, the beliefs of the Christian faith, and many other important issues. But I’m ok with that. I am working out my faith and living it out as I see best, though I often do so imperfectly.

As with all things, there are many who disagree with my political leanings. I used to be a good evangelical Republican and proudly pro-life. The only question I’d ask of candidates was this—is he/she against abortion?

Yes, I was a single issue voter.

I am still proudly pro-life, but I’ve expanded that view to include the lives of the unborn (not just in the womb, but beyond that), the lives of their mothers, the immigrant children who would die or be trafficked or forced to live in inhuman conditions we can only imagine in our nightmares. I care about the lives of the poor and hungry, the sick and disabled, those facing injustice and hatred due to sexuality and skin color and all those social divides. Life, in all its shape, color, width and breadth matters to me.

Let’s not forget the life of our dear planet, entrusted to us by the very God who created it. Yes, I care about the trees and the honeybees, and the dogs who don’t have homes. I care about our oceans and ozone layer and the huge amount of waste with bury in the deep wounds we dig into that earth.

To me, that’s what pro-life really means—a fight for life for all.  Not just life, but a better life for all with full bellies, adequate healthcare, shelter—a life that is filled with the basic tenets to actually live. I believe in life and that it should reflect and bring glory to God.

Just because my fight for life may be different than yours, it doesn’t make me wrong. I’ve been accused of deserting my faith in God for my criticism of Trump. I haven’t gone as far as to personally indict his ardent supporters of deserting their faith—selling out to elect a morally corrupt man heralded as the “Christian” choice for America. There is always the option to vote for a third party candidate. Yes, you all had a decision and we are all living it. Despite that, most of you are trying to live our your faith as best you can, too.

All these words to communicate this simple message: I am done with my faith being questioned because I don’t agree with you and your politics. Maybe I quietly contemplate your heart and pray it will be changed, too. I will continue to stand up to Trump and his policies, Twitter bullying, and the other things he does to make our nation look foolish and hurt its people. When you read the Bible, you can see what foolish leaders with control did to devastate the nation of Israel. The faithful praying remnant can do great things—don’t assume the person praying on the liberal or conservative side is an enemy, just a friend who doesn’t get it yet.

And be love. That’s what the world really needs to heal its gaping, infected wounds—the light and love of God to saturate all of us so we can find healing.

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FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

30 Jun

Amy’s Take

Joshua Harris’ first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, impacted me when I was a teenager trying to figure out the opposite sex and how to date guys while honoring my promise to remain pure until marriage.  While some of Harris’ ideas seemed a little archaic and laughable to naysayers, his book helped me set in place a strong foundation for dating (even though he recommends courtship) that has allowed me not to compromise my beliefs to this day.  And, no, I don’t blame Harris for the fact I’m still single.

Similarly, Dug Down Deep, Harris’ latest book does what I Kissed Dating Goodbye did for me as a teenager—it helps 20 and 30-somethings build a strong foundation for faith and belief.  Yes, there is absolute truth, Harris argues, as he argues that theology and biblical doctrine DO matter.  In Dug Down Deep, Harris shares how he came to understand the importance of theology under the guidance of pastor and author C.J. Mahaney (an author and speaker I also respect). 

In an age where younger Christians shrug off the important of accountability, church history, and doctrine, Joshua Harris makes an appeal to my generation—his generation—to hold fast to absolute truth and challenges them to a crack at theology (“the study of God”).  Dig a little deeper before the shallowly surface of the prosperity gospel, and become rooted in the truth of God’s Word with Dug Down Deep. (I really enjoyed this book! Read on to discover if this book is for you, too.)

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Dug Down Deep

Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Associate, Image Books/ / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of local churches. He is the author of Why Church Matters and several books on relationships, including the run-away bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Dug Down Deep shows a new generation of Christians why words like theology and doctrine are the “pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of knowing the living Jesus Christ.” Joshua Harris enthusiastically reminds readers that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars. It is for anyone who longs to know and love God.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601423713
ISBN-13: 978-1601423719

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

MY RUMSPRINGA

“We’re all theologians. The question is

whether what we know about God is true.”

IT’S STRANGE TO SEE an Amish girl drunk. The pairing of a bonnet and a can of beer is awkward. If she were stumbling along with a jug of moonshine, it would at least match her long, dowdy dress. But right now she can’t worry about that. She is flat-out wasted. Welcome to rumspringa.

The Amish, people who belong to a Christian religious sect with roots in

Europe, practice a radical form of separation from the modern world. They live and dress with simplicity. Amish women wear bonnets and long, old fashioned dresses and never touch makeup. The men wear wide-rimmed straw hats, sport bowl cuts, and grow chin curtains—full beards with the mustaches shaved off.

My wife, Shannon, sometimes says she wants to be Amish, but I know this isn’t true. Shannon entertains her Amish fantasy when life feels too complicated or when she’s tired of doing laundry. She thinks life would be easier if she had only two dresses to choose from and both looked the same. I tell her that if she ever tried to be Amish, she would buy a pair of jeans and ditch her head covering about ten minutes into the experiment. Besides, she would never let me grow a beard like that.

Once Shannon and her girlfriend Shelley drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a weekend of furniture and quilt shopping in Amish country. They stayed at a bed-and-breakfast located next door to an Amish farm. One morning Shannon struck up a conversation with the inn’s owner, who had lived among the Amish his entire life. She asked him questions, hoping for romantic details about the simple, buggy-driven life. But instead he complained about having to pick up beer cans every weekend.

Beer cans?

“Yes,” he said, “the Amish kids leave them everywhere. ”That’s when he told her about rumspringa. The Amish believe that before a young person chooses to commit to the Amish church as an adult, he or she should have the chance to freely explore the forbidden delights of the outside world. So at age sixteen everything changes for Amish teenagers. They go from milking cows and singing hymns to living like debauched rock stars.

In the Pennsylvania Dutch language, rumspringa literally means “running around.” It’s a season of doing anything and everything you want with zero rules. During this time—which can last from a few months to several years—all the restrictions of the Amish church are lifted. Teens are free to shop at malls, have sex, wear makeup, play video games, do drugs, use cell phones, dress however they want, and buy and drive cars. But what they seem to enjoy most during rumspringa is gathering at someone’s barn, blasting music, and then drinking themselves into the ground. Every weekend, the man told Shannon, he had to clean up beer cans littered around his property following the raucous, all-night Amish parties.

When Shannon came home from her Lancaster weekend, her Amish aspirations had diminished considerably. The picture of cute little Amish girls binge drinking took the sheen off her idealistic vision of Amish life. We completed her disillusionment when we rented a documentary about the rite of rumspringa called Devil’s Playground. Filmmaker Lucy Walker spent three years befriending, interviewing, and filming Amish teens as they explored the outside world. That’s where we saw the drunk Amish girl tripping along at a barn party. We learned that most girls continue to dress Amish even as they party—as though their clothes are a lifeline back to safety while they explore life on the wild side.

In the documentary Faron, an outgoing, skinny eighteen-year-old sells and is addicted to the drug crystal meth. After Faron is busted by the cops, he turns in rival drug dealers. When his life is threatened, Faron moves back to his parents’ home and tries to start over. The Amish faith is a good religion, he says. He wants to be Amish, but his old habits keep tugging on him.

A girl named Velda struggles with depression. During rumspringa she finds the partying empty, but after joining the church she can’t imagine living the rest of her life as an Amish woman. “God talks to me in one ear, Satan in the other,” Velda says. “Part of me wants to be like my parents, but the other part wants the jeans, the haircut, to do what I want to do.”1When she fails to convince her Amish fiancé to leave the church with her, she breaks off her engagement a month before the wedding and leaves the Amish faith for good. As a result Velda is shunned by her family and the entire community. Alone but determined, she begins to attend college.

Velda’s story is the exception. Eighty to 90 percent of Amish teens decide to return to the Amish church after rumspringa.2 At one point in the film, Faron insightfully comments that rumspringa is like a vaccination for Amish teens. They binge on all the worst aspects of the modern world long enough to make themselves sick of it. Then, weary and disgusted, they turn back to the comforting, familiar, and safe world of Amish life.

But as I watched, I wondered, What are they really going back to? Are they choosing God or just a safe and simple way of life?

I know what it means to wrestle with questions of faith. I know what it’s like for faith to be so mixed up with family tradition that it’s hard to distinguish between a genuine knowledge of God and comfort in a familiar way of life.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. One that was on the more conservative end of the spectrum. I’m the oldest of seven children. Our parents homeschooled us, raised us without television, and believed that old fashioned courtship was better than modern dating. Friends in our neighborhood probably thought our family was Amish, but that’s only because they didn’t know some of the really conservative Christian homeschool families. The truth was that our family was more culturally liberal than many homeschoolers. We watched movies, could listen to rock music (as long as it was Christian or the Beatles), and were allowed to have Star Wars and Transformers toys.

But even so, during high school I bucked my parents’ restrictions. That’s not to say my spiritual waywardness was very shocking. I doubt Amish kids would be impressed by my teenage dabbling in worldly pleasure. I never did drugs. Never got drunk. The worst things I ever did were to steal porn magazines, sneak out of the house at night with a kid from church, and date various girls behind my parents’ backs. Although my rebellion was tame in comparison, it was never virtue that held me back from sin. It was lack of opportunity. I shudder to think what I would have done with a parent sanctioned season of rumspringa.

The bottom line is that my parents’ faith wasn’t really my faith. I knew how to work the system, I knew the Christian lingo, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was set on enjoying the moment.

Recently a friend of mine met someone who knew me in early high school. “What did she remember about me?” I asked.

“She said you were girl crazy, full of yourself, and immature,” my friend told me.

Yeah, she knew me, I thought. It wasn’t nice to hear, but I couldn’t argue.

I didn’t know or fear God. I didn’t have any driving desire to know him.

For me, the Christian faith was more about a set of moral standards than belief and trust in Jesus Christ.

During my early twenties I went through a phase of blaming the church I had attended in high school for all my spiritual deficiencies. Evangelical mega churches make good punching bags.

My reasoning went something like this: I was spiritually shallow because the pastors’ teaching had been shallow. I wasn’t fully engaged because they hadn’t done enough to grab my attention. I was a hypocrite because everyone else had been a hypocrite. I didn’t know God because they hadn’t provided enough programs. Or they hadn’t provided the right programs. Or maybe they’d had too many programs.

All I knew was that it was someone else’s fault.

Blaming the church for our problems is second only to the popular and easy course of blaming our parents for everything that’s wrong with us. But the older I get, the less I do of both. I hope that’s partly due to the wisdom that comes with age. But I’m sure it’s also because I am now both a parent and a pastor. Suddenly I have a lot more sympathy for my dad and mom and the pastors at my old church. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

At the church where I now pastor (which I love), some young adults remind me of myself when I was in high school. They are church kids who know so much about Christian religion and yet so little about God. Some are passive, completely ambivalent toward spiritual things. Others are actively straying from their faith—ticked off about their parents’ authority, bitter over a rule or guideline, and counting the minutes until they turn eighteen and can disappear. Others aren’t going anywhere, but they stay just to go through the motions. For them, church is a social group.

It’s strange being on the other side now. When I pray for specific young men and women who are wandering from God, when I stand to preach and feel powerless to change a single heart, when I sit and counsel people and it seems nothing I can say will draw them away from sin, I remember the pastors from my teenage years. I realize they must have felt like this too. They must have prayed and cried over me. They must have labored over sermons with students like me in mind.

I see now that they were doing the best they knew how. But a lot of the time, I wasn’t listening.

During high school I spent most Sunday sermons doodling, passing notes, checking out girls, and wishing I were two years older and five inches taller so a redhead named Jenny would stop thinking of me as her “little brother.” That never happened.

I mostly floated through grown-up church. Like a lot of teenagers in evangelical churches, I found my sense of identity and community in the parallel universe of the youth ministry. Our youth group was geared to being loud, fast paced, and fun. It was modeled on the massive and influential, seeker-sensitive Willow Creek Community Church located outside Chicago. The goal was simple: put on a show, get kids in the building, and let them see that Christians are cool, thus Jesus is cool. We had to prove that being a Christian is, contrary to popular opinion and even a few annoying passages of the Bible, loads of fun. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as partying and having sex but pretty fun nonetheless.

Every Wednesday night our group of four-hundred-plus students divided into teams. We competed against each other in games and won points by bringing guests. As a homeschooler, of course I was completely worthless in the “bring friends from school” category. So I tried to make up for that by working on the drama and video team. My buddy Matt and I wrote, performed, and directed skits to complement our youth pastor’s messages. Unfortunately, our idea of complementing was to deliver skits that were not even remotely connected to the message. The fact that Matt was a Brad Pitt look-alike assured that our skits were well received (at least by the girls).

The high point of my youth-group performing career came when the pastor found out I could dance and asked me to do a Michael Jackson impersonation.

The album Bad had just come out. I bought it, learned all the dance moves, and then when I performed—how do I say this humbly?—I blew everyone away. I was bad (and I mean that in the good sense of the word bad ). The crowd went absolutely nuts. The music pulsed, and girls were screaming and grabbing at me in mock adulation as I moon walked and lip-synced my way through one of the most inane pop songs ever written. I loved every minute of it.

Looking back, I’m not real proud of that performance. I would feel better about my bad moment if the sermon that night had been about the depravity of man or something else that was even slightly related. But there was no connection. It had nothing to do with anything.

For me, dancing like Michael Jackson that night has come to embody my experience in a big, evangelical, seeker-oriented youth group. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was culturally savvy (at the time), and it had very little to do with God. Sad to say, I spent more time studying Michael’s dance moves for that drama assignment than I was ever asked to invest in studying about God.

Of course, this was primarily my own fault. I was doing what I wanted to do. There were other kids in the youth group who were more mature and who grew more spiritually during their youth-group stint. And I don’t doubt the good intentions of my youth pastor. He was trying to strike the balance between getting kids to attend and teaching them.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been interested in youth group if it hadn’t been packaged in fun and games and a good band. But I still wish someone had expected more of me—of all of us.

Would I have listened? I can’t know. But I do know that a clear vision of God and the power of his Word and the purpose of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were lost on me in the midst of all the flash and fun.

There’s a story in the Bible of a young king named Josiah, who lived about 640 years before Christ. I think Josiah could have related tome—being religious but ignorant of God. Josiah’s generation had lost God’s Word. And I don’t mean that figuratively. They literally lost God’s Word. It sounds ridiculous, but they essentially misplaced the Bible.

If you think about it, this was a pretty big deal. We’re not talking about a pair of sunglasses or a set of keys. The Creator of the universe had communicated with mankind through the prophet Moses. He gave his law. He revealed what he was like and what he wanted. He told his people what it meant for them to be his people and how they were to live. All this was dutifully recorded on a scroll. Then this scroll, which was precious beyond measure, was stored in the holy temple. But later it was misplaced. No one knows how. Maybe a clumsy priest dropped it and it rolled into a dark corner.

But here’s the really sad thing: nobody noticed it was missing. No search was made. Nobody checked under the couch. It was gone and no one cared. For decades those who wore the label “God’s people” actually had no communication with him.

They wore their priestly robes, they carried on their traditions in their beautiful temple, and they taught their messages that were so wise, so insightful, so inspirational.

But it was all a bunch of hot air—nothing but their own opinions. Empty ritual. Their robes were costumes, and their temple was an empty shell.

This story scares me because it shows that it’s possible for a whole generation to go happily about the business of religion, all the while having lost a true knowledge of God.

When we talk about knowledge of God, we’re talking about theology. Simply put, theology is the study of the nature of God—who he is and how he thinks and acts. But theology isn’t high on many people’s list of daily concerns.

My friend Curtis says that most people today think only of themselves. He calls this “me-ology.” I guess that’s true. I know it was true of me and still can be. It’s a lot easier to be an expert on what I think and feel and want than to give myself to knowing an invisible, universe-creating God.

Others view theology as something only scholars or pastors should worry about. I used to think that way. I viewed theology as an excuse for all the intellectual types in the world to add homework to Christianity.

But I’ve learned that this isn’t the case. Theology isn’t for a certain group of people. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to escape theology. It’s everywhere. All of us are constantly “doing” theology. In other words, all of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like. Oprah does theology. The person who says, “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to hell” is doing theology.

We all have some level of knowledge. This knowledge can be much or little, informed or uninformed, true or false, but we all have some concept of God (even if it’s that he doesn’t exist). And we all base our lives on what we think God is like.

So when I was spinning around like Michael Jackson at youth group, I was a theologian. Even though I wasn’t paying attention in church. Even though I wasn’t very concerned with Jesus or pleasing him. Even though I was more preoccupied with my girlfriend and with being popular. Granted I was a really bad theologian—my thoughts about God were unclear and often ignorant. But I had a concept of God that directed how I lived.

I’ve come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature—what he is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him—affects every part of your life.

Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.

I know the idea of “studying” God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab or a set of ideas that we memorize like math proofs.

But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?

Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood?

We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions.

We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

In the days of King Josiah, theology was completely messed up. This isn’t really surprising. People had lost God’s words and then quickly forgot what the true God was like.

King Josiah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. People call Jeremiah the weeping prophet, and there was a lot to weep about in those days. “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land,” Jeremiah said. “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:30–31, NIV).

As people learned to love their lies about God, they lost their ability to recognize his voice. “To whom can I speak and give warning?” God asked. “Who will listen tome? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it” (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV).

People forgot God. They lost their taste for his words. They forgot what he had done for them, what he commanded of them, and what he threatened if they disobeyed. So they started inventing gods for themselves. They started borrowing ideas about God from the pagan cults. Their made-up gods let them live however they wanted. It was “me-ology” masquerading as theology.

The results were not pretty.

Messed-up theology leads to messed-up living. The nation of Judah resembled one of those skanky reality television shows where a houseful of barely dressed singles sleep around, stab each other in the back, and try to win cash. Immorality and injustice were everywhere. The rich trampled the poor. People replaced the worship of God with the worship of pagan deities that demanded religious orgies and child sacrifice. Every level of society, from marriage and the legal system to religion and politics, was corrupt.

The surprising part of Josiah’s story is that in the midst of all the distortion and corruption, he chose to seek and obey God. And he did this as a young man (probably no older than his late teens or early twenties). Scripture gives this description of Josiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, NIV).

The prophet Jeremiah called people to the same straight path of true theology and humble obedience:

Thus says the LORD:

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

In Jeremiah’s words you see a description of King Josiah’s life. His generation was rushing past him, flooding down the easy paths of man-made religion, injustice, and immorality.

They didn’t stop to look for a different path.

They didn’t pause to consider where the easy path ended.

They didn’t ask if there was a better way.

But Josiah stopped. He stood at a crossroads, and he looked. And then he asked for something that an entire generation had neglected, even completely forgotten. He asked for the ancient paths.

What are the ancient paths? When the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah used the phrase, he was describing obedience to the Law of Moses. But today the ancient paths have been transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ. Now we see that those ancient paths ultimately led to Jesus. We have not only truth to obey but a person to trust in—a person who perfectly obeyed the Law and who died on the cross in our place.

But just as in the days of Jeremiah, the ancient paths still represent life based on a true knowledge of God—a God who is holy, a God who is just, a God who is full of mercy toward sinners. Walking in the ancient paths still means relating to God on his terms. It still means receiving and obeying his self-revelation with humility and awe.

Just as he did with Josiah and Jeremiah and every generation after them, God calls us to the ancient paths. He beckons us to return to theology that is true. He calls us, as Jeremiah called God’s people, to recommit ourselves to orthodoxy.

The word orthodoxy literally means “right opinion.” In the context of Christian faith, orthodoxy is shorthand for getting your opinion or thoughts about God right. It is teaching and beliefs based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don’t budge. They’re clearly taught in Scripture and affirmed in the historic creeds of the Christian faith:
There is one God who created all things.

God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Bible is God’s inerrant word to humanity.

Jesus is the virgin-born, eternal Son of God.

Jesus died as a substitute for sinners so they could be forgiven.

Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus will one day return to judge the world.

Orthodox beliefs are ones that genuine followers of Jesus have acknowledged From the beginning and then handed down through the ages. Take one of them away, and you’re left with something less than historic Christian belief.

When I watched the documentary about the Amish rite of rumspringa, what stood out to me was the way the Amish teenagers processed the decision of whether or not to join the Amish church. With few exceptions the decision seemed to have very little to do with God. They weren’t searching Scripture to see if what their church taught about the world, the human heart, and salvation was true. They weren’t wrestling with theology. I’m not implying that the Amish don’t have a genuine faith and trust in Jesus. But for the teens in the documentary, the decision was mostly a matter of choosing a culture and a lifestyle. It gave them a sense of belonging. In some cases it gave them a steady job or allowed them to marry the person they wanted.

I wonder how many evangelical church kids are like the Amish in this regard. Many of us are not theologically informed. Truth about God doesn’t define us and shape us. We have grown up in our own religious culture. And often this culture, with its own rituals and music and moral values, comes to represent Christianity far more than specific beliefs about God do.

Every new generation of Christians has to ask the question, what are we actually choosing when we choose to be Christians? Watching the stories of the Amish teenagers helped me realize that a return to orthodoxy has to be more than a return to a way of life or to cherished traditions. Of course the Christian faith leads to living in specific ways. And it does join us to a specific community. And it does involve tradition. All this is good. It’s important. But it has to be more than tradition. It has to be about a person—the historical and living person of Jesus Christ.

Orthodoxy matters because the Christian faith is not just a cultural tradition or moral code. Orthodoxy is the irreducible truths about God and his work in the world. Our faith is not just a state of mind, a mystical experience, or concepts on a page. Theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity.

For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.

Theology sounds stuffy.

Doctrine is something unkind people fight over.

And orthodoxy? Many Christians would have trouble saying what it is other than it calls to mind images of musty churches guarded by old men with comb-overs who hush and scold.

I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my “theology allergy,” was unfounded.

This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.

The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

They told the story of the Person I longed to know.

3 Questions Meme

7 Aug

OK, so Roger Mugs sent me this Meme and since I complain about never getting tagged, here I go.
Q1. If you were to be in ministry 10 years from now (whether you’re in ministry now or not) what would you like to be doing and where?

I’d be published author and speaker with my own radio show (which would be chock full of cool bands and other interesting tidbits on Christian culture, but it wouldn’t be lame and it wouldn’t try so hard not to be lame that it would be in turn, kind of lame or trendy).  Oh, and I’d have a really great camera.  I’d like to be not in Pennsylvania.  However, I want to be where God wants me, and it’s hard to even imagine what He’s going to do next.

Q2. If you could wake up tomorrow with a degree and all the learning that would have gone with it from any seminary which one would you pick and why?

Well, I already got my M.A. from Biblical Theological Seminary…so…  I’d want to go back there and do it again because it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Q3. What’s your poison: donuts, beer, wine, pizza, chocolate, twinkies, key-lime pie?

Ice cream! 🙂

So I tag–Tracy (UltraSpy), Gman, Brian, Alyssa, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand Todd.

Chris Taylor: Take Me Anywhere

10 Jun

By Amy Sondova Take Me Anywhere is more than the title of Chris Taylor’s debut album; it’s the motto of his life, which has been anything but typical. He surrendered his life to God in a car, not at an altar. He went to England to become a great worship leader and came back a man who wondered if he should sing at all. Once he stopped seeking fame, Chris Taylor became an artist that was found.

“I’ve got no problem telling people that I was one of those kids singing worship songs over and over because I thought it was cool,” he admits. A year after he got saved, Chris, who has been playing guitar since he was 13, started leading worship as his youth group never hearing artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, DC Talk, or Newsboys. But as time went on, Chris says he continued leading worship, not because he had a heart for it, but because it made him popular.

After high school, Chris earned a music degree and then decided to travel to England to intern at Soul Survivor, a now-international church started in England most known for their music festivals and their famous worship leader, Matt Redman. “I went there for all the wrong reasons—to get a pat on the back and have people tell me that I was really good at leading worship, which was really stupid looking back on it” shares Chris. “I came home humbled by what it means to lead people in worship.”

“God saved me from that mess. I got to see Matt Redman’s heart. For him, it has nothing to do with fame or fortune or the fact that his songs are unbelievable. He’s just a real Christian,” says Chris, who was amazed to learn about Redman’s difficult past. “Matt was abused for a couple of years by his stepfather when he was a teenager, which left him completely broken, beyond repair. Somehow God lifted him up to write songs that only he could write.”

Upon returning from England, Chris began to pen new songs, “When I sat in my room and wrote these songs, I know that God was doing something in my life. There were times I questioned it. God was teaching me to shut up, listen, be humbled, and to not covet other songwriter’s songs because I had no idea what God’s done in them.” Chris also had no idea these songs would lead to a record deal with BEC Recordings or his debut album, Take Me Anywhere, which was released in April. He describes the album as “kind of rock, folksy, kind of poppy,” inspired by the music of Sting and Radiohead, among others.

Most importantly, Chris’ main inspiration is from his study of the Bible and from reading theology books. Personal spiritual edification and spending time with God are the keys to Chris’ song writing, “We’re all called to do something real and great, which transcends the record. The record serves a purpose for sure, but it should come out of who I am.” Take Me Anywhere’s songs range from the very personal to the very worshipful, with plenty of material in-between.


The album’s title track is climbing up radio charts and is even available as a ring tone (check Chris Taylor’s MySpace for details). But Chris takes the song’s success in stride laughing, “I’ve always wanted a ring tone, and now I have one.” The song was written about two men who encounter Jesus after His resurrection as they travel to the town of Emmaus (see video explanation above).

Perhaps this is most beautifully orchestrated in “Symphony,” which lyrically implores God, who holds the “melody of creation” to “teach the harmony to all [He] loves”. “Melody is the chief movement of the song, whether instrumental or vocal,” explains Chris. “The harmony is any register that’s above or below. It adds to the melody, especially when you stack a few parts above or below it.” The song conjures up the image from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia—one of the lion Aslan, singing the world of Narnia into creation though melody, and having the created echo back the harmony.

One of the most personal songs on the album, “Come Around,” was written one afternoon after Chris had an argument with his older brother. “I sat down and wrote this song straight through—no pen or paper,” says Chris. The brothers, four years apart in age, never had a close relationship. As they grew into adults their fighting seemed silly, especially after Chris’s big brother was diagnosed with an illness that limits the blood flow to certain areas of his body causing these areas to weaken. Only 30 years old, Chris’ brother has already had one hip replacement and may soon undergo a procedure on his other hip.

Tenderly speaking, Chris then says, “It’s about getting closer after something that’s ridiculously horrible. The part that says, ‘You’re my bone, my blood’—I can’t sing that without thinking about his bones failing.” Though horrible, the illness has caused the brothers to reconcile their differences and come around to a renewed relationship with one another.

Other songs on the album include “Made for You” a vertical song that’s a hybrid between a song for his wife and a song for God, “Speak to Me in Mysteries” erupts into a chorus praising God, and Chris’ favorite song on the album, “Atmosphere.” “It’s about God’s expansive wonder in creating everything, but He’s not bound to creation. He can step through space and time and those boundaries that we have and communicates not only with us as people, but as individuals,” he shares, and then adds, “Actually, the whole record is a conversation about me talking to God and having Him reveal Himself to me.”

The interesting thing about Chris is that he’s almost more excited to talk about God and His work, than his album. Getting to know others, especially to his audience, is a crucial part of Chris’ life as a musician. “I really enjoy connecting with people and trying to be more vulnerable. I definitely don’t want to be the kind of artist that sits backstage and isn’t accessible,” he says. On his recent tour with Kutless, Chris would often befriend audience members and enjoy the concert by sitting with them.

He also loves to respond to people who leave comments on his MySpace page. Yet he’s stricken by the disclaimer that often comes at the beginning of many of his messages and e-mails, “Here’s how people write to me, ‘I know you’re not going to read this but…’ and then they wrote two pages about what’s happening in their lives. It’s sad because they have no one to talk to.” Seeing these as sacred moments of vulnerability and ministry, Chris prays that God allows him to draft a worthy response.

Dismayed that other artists don’t take time to get to know their audience, Chris laments, “There’s no connection between the people and the artists, but it shouldn’t be that way. Before I’m an artist, I’m a Christian. There should be a level of accountability. Christian musicians are different than secular artists. We’re ministering and encouraging others in God, and it’s a model that that world doesn’t know.” He adds that artists are afraid to be accountable to their fans and each other, “Artists can’t afford not to be accountable. We see what happens when they aren’t.”

Accountability is important to this 27 year-old husband and father, who planned to take two year-old Clara swimming at the conclusion of the interview. “I’m still trying to figure out how to do what I love without the expense of losing my family,” he shares. “I’m convinced you don’t have to choose one over the other and that God works it out.”

Chris Taylor’s life and his album, Take Me Anywhere are proof that God works it out, in spite of our own desires. “I’m fascinated daily with the idea that God started a dialogue in my life when I was completely without Him,” he shares with wonder. “You learn how to wander and actually be found.”

Print copy of article.

Updated:: Our First Poll Ever!

9 May

It’s the South Pole…get it? Pole and poll? Yeah, it’s a terrible pun.

The time has come for me to ask you, the readers, what you want to see on Backseat Writer. Or if you don’t like any of these options or have another idea, feel free to leave a comment (or leave a comment anyway. I love comments). You can always e-mail me your ideas as well. Remember, I’m looking for guest bloggers and artists (maybe poets) to contribute to the site, so feel free drop me a line about that as well. Thanks for your participation!

The poll I put in wasn’t actually registering votes…doh!  So I’m just gonna throw the question out, and you can respond in the lovely “comments” section.  And I’ll feel really silly if NO ONE responds, so please take a few minutes and give your input.  Thanks!

What do you want to see (more of)  on Backseat Writer?

A. How to use the Bible for counseling/life

B.  God/Bible Musings

C.  Music Reviews/Interviews

D.  Photography/Art

E.  Culture/Youth Culture

F. Other Reviews/Interviews

G. Random Scribblings/Musings

Thanks!

The Yellow Brick Road of Pregnancy & Loss

8 Feb

Tonight I watched “The Celebrity Apprentice” with my best friend, Sarah. Each and every week, I am strangely fascinated by the celebrities running advertising campaigns. Since this is the first season I’ve ever watched, I can’t say how it compares to other seasons. But Stephen Baldwin is one of the contestants! (Note: Out of respect for the emotional content being discussed, I have put my comments about my love of Stephen Baldwin at the end of the post. Scratch that. I accidentally deleted them when I was trying to copy/paste them to the end of the post. So, we’ll talk about Stephen Baldwin and his icy blue eyes another time, I promise.)

So, anyway…”Celebrity Apprentice”. We watch it every week, and each episode continues into the next, so if you miss a week then you miss each action-packed moment. When the teaser plays for the next episode, I want to watch it right then and there. Do not make me wait! At least when my favorite show “Psych” is over, I feel like I’ve had a complete viewing experience having seen one full-length episode. I’m not that into cliff-hangers, which is why I put off reading Jonalyn Fincher’s blog until tonight.

Jonalyn and her husband, Dale, run a ministry called Soulation. Having received Dale’s book, Living with Questions, as a freebie at NYWC (and in the mail again today to do a review–it must be a sign from God), I was pleased to discover that Dale also has a blog and a really cool ministry. Dale also has a really beautiful wife named Jonalyn.

While Dale is a write and post it kind of blogger; Jonalyn is not. She likes to leave you hanging waiting for her next fantastic installment. Because of this, I never really had a chance to dig into Jonalyn’s personal blog like I did this evening. You know, if I read one I’d have to wait for Part 2 and then there were so many old posts that I wanted to read, and this led to that…but I finally devoured Jonalyn’s blog.

Jonalyn Fincher is a fantastic writer.

Especially of interest to many women are Jonalyn’s two series of posts called “A Theology of Female Embodiment I & II”. Part I is composed of five posts that talk about Jonalyn’s recent pregnancy, and Part II is the heart-wrenching details of her “prenatal fetal death”. Clear, honest, and straight forward, Jonalyn doesn’t drown you in her sorrows, nor does she cover her thoughts with Christian catch-phrases.

Start with “A Theology of Female Embodiment I: One Month of Pregnancy”, by clicking here. And because some of you (like my mom) make get lost, I’m gonna post links to each post (and make the pingbacks on her blog go crazy). If you can manage to safely navigate your way though Jonalyn’s blog, just keep reading from Jan. 4 until you get to the end of “A Theology of Female Embodiment II. ”

Oh, and get Jonalyn Fincher’s book, The Ruby Slippers. If her blog posts are this good, imagine how wonderful her book must be!

The only real problem I have with the Finchers is this–they seem to be die-hard Welsh Corgi enthusiasts, while I, on the other hand, am inclined towards Shih Tzus. At least they’re not cat people, right? (Just kidding…I really do like cats.)

Jonalyn Fincher’s Theology of Female Embodiment Links–

I. One Month of Pregnancy :: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

II. One Week of Miscarriage :: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

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