Favorite Books I Read This Year – Brother Lawrence, Biographies, Bible Studies and Bossy Pants

Over the years I am learning to love “the classics”.  There is a reason why a certain book or film has stood the test of time.  Case in point: Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God.  There is more spiritual substance in this small (80 page) book than in much of what you might find in the self-help or Christian living section of a bookstore today.  I have been working on some other spiritual classics this year (Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avila) but Brother Lawrence was my favorite.  To read more about Brother Lawrence, here is what I posted about his book back when I finished it: The Loving Presence of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the strongest German voices opposing the Nazis.  From the very beginning he saw their message as diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel.  Eventually he saw the only option in opposing the Nazis to be joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

Eric Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer is fantastic.  Metaxas goes into quite extensive detail, this book is at least twice as long as his biography of William Wilberforce.  I highly recommend this book, it may have been my favorite book all year.  It is a fascinating and encouraging story.  Metaxas provides some great quotes from Bonhoeffer, such as this from a sermon during Bonhoeffer’s 28th year:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross” (p. 241)

Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel challenges many evangelical understandings of the Gospel.  McKnight argues that what we call “gospel” is actually the plan of salvation.  The plan of salvation is important, but it is not the gospel.  Most “gospels” rely on the apostle Paul, specifically the book of Romans.  But if the gospel = the plan of salvation then why are the four biographies of Jesus called “gospels” when they do not include the plan of salvation?  Likewise, if the gospel = justification by faith then Jesus must not have been preaching the gospel, as Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom of God but not justification by faith.  McKnight is clear that the plan of salvation, and justification by faith, are not wrong…they are simply not the gospel.  The gospel includes them, but is more than them.  This book is vitally important.

My wife and I watch very little television.  We pretty much watch whatever is available streaming on Netflix along with The Office and 30 Rock.  Actually, I just learned a few weeks ago that my wife does not really like The Office, she only watches it because I like it.  She is so loving!  But she cracks up watching 30 Rock.
Not only is 30 Rock pretty much the only television show we have in common, Tina Fey’s Bossypants is the only book we both read in 2011.  It is a fun, laugh out loud, book.  If you want an enjoyable, random read, pick it up.


Favorite Books I Read this Year – Christian Vocation

I am going to reflect on a few of my favorite books from 2011.  But note that these are books I read in 2011, not necessarily ones that were new in 2011 .

One theme I harp on with the college students is calling.  Growing up I got the impression that God calls people (well, men) to be pastors and missionaries.  Being called into one of these fields was honorable, you had been set apart to do work in ministry.  If you were not called into one of these areas then you could do whatever work interested you and hopefully tell people you work with about Jesus.  But your work during the week was not really spiritual or holy.  It was just what you did to fill the time between church and church activities.

What I want my students to know is that this is the wrong way to look at work.  The truth is that God calls people into all sorts of work.  If you are not called to be a pastor or missionary you are not exempt from calling.  Your work done during the week is vitally important to the kingdom of God.

I’ve written about this before, here and here and here.

Two books I read this year illustrate this point.  First, Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” (2008).  Crouch diagnoses four ways evangelical Christians have related to culture: condemn, critique, copy, consume. Although each of these may be appropriate for particular things and at particular times (condemning pornography, for example), as a way of relating to culture as a whole they are unsatisfying. Instead Christians should be creating and cultivating culture. Crouch grounds this in the Bible story, from creation on through Jesus Christ and into new creation.

Here is one good quote to illustrate what Crouch is saying:

Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.  This is the original insight of the writer of Genesis when he says that human beings were made in God’s image: just like the original Creator, we are creators. God, of course, began with nothing, whereas we begin with something. But the difference is not as great as you might think. For every act of creation involves bringing something into being that was not there before-every creation is ex nihilo, from nothing, even when it takes the world as its starting point. Something is added in every act of making. This is clearest in the realm of art, where the raw materials of pigment and canvas become more than you ever could have predicted. Even a five-year-old’s finger painting is more than the sum of paper and paint. But creation, the marvelous making of more than was there before, also happens when a chef makes an omelet, when a carpenter makes a chair, when a toddler makes a snow angel.  Culture is all of these things: paintings (whether finger paintings or the Sistine Chapel), omelets, chairs, snow angels. It is what human beings make of the world. It always bears the stamp of our creativity, our God-given desire to make something more than we were given (23)

Crouch argues that we change culture by creating more of it.  Too often evangelical Christians have been content to copy culture, so if there is a popular style of music soon there is a “Christian” version.  Crouch would argue that Christian musicians should be creating the new styles of music.  He also spends time talking about how Francis Schaeffer and his disciples were very good at critiquing films, but this ended up being a mere academic philosophizing.  They may critique art, but they do not create art themselves.  Crouch would argue that Christians should be creating good art rather than just critiquing art.

This book calls Christians in all fields to set about creating and cultivating culture.  In this we find vocation:

The religious or secular nature of our cultural creativity is simply the wrong question. The right question is whether, when we undertake the work we believe to be our vocation, we experience the joy and humility that come only when God multiplies our work so that it bears thirty, sixty and a hundredfold beyond what we could expect from our feeble inputs. Vocation-calling-becomes another word for a continual process of discernment (256)

In 2010 James Davison Hunter released a book titled To Change The World: The Irony, Possibility and Tragedy of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Hunter demonstrates that while nearly every Christian institution seeks to “change the world” today, Christians have become largely irrelevant.  Why is this so?  The question becomes more intriguing when you realize that Christianity is still the dominant religion in America.  So if the majority hold to Christian beliefs, why does Christianity hold such little influence.

One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, Hunter diagnoses is that Christians have bought into the idea that the world is changed through politics.  The “Religious Right” seek to take American back to an idealized past.  Their method is to convert people individually, assuming that new beliefs will lead people to vote in new ways and thus to “change the world.”  Hunter shows how a growing “Religious Left”, while differing on what changing the world entails (as they focus on things like poverty, the environment, and war) also see the solution as political.  A third group, the “Neo-Anabaptists” may appear different as they find no hope in politics, but Hunter argues their identity is based on the state and political powers being corrupt, showing they too adhere to the idea that politics is where cultural change happens.

But converting more people to the correct belief system, assuming this will change how they vote and thus get more people with the right belief system into political power will not change the culture.

Hunter shows, historically, how cultural change occurs as the “elites” in a culture buy into an idea and this trickles down.  Change occurs from the top-down.  I don’t recall Hunter putting it this way, but the implication is that for change to occur we need Christians who are the best of the best at what they do, shaping and influencing culture in the highest spheres (one example he gives is that though the USA Today has a much large readership, the NY Times is much more influential in terms of influencing those in power).

In the end, this book is not a manifesto on how to change culture (which is why Hunter does not simply say the method to change culture is to get more Christians in elite positions).  Rather, the book is a challenge to Christians to be faithful in their calling, as individuals and on a local level, and beyond that to trust the Holy Spirit for the big change.  Or as Hunter says in an interview on Amazon: “A third thing that I would like for readers to take away is that there are alternative ways of thinking about the world we live in, and engaging it, that are constructive and draw upon resources within the Christian tradition. In the end, these strategies are not first and foremost about changing the world, but living toward the flourishing of others.”

Christians have approached culture with attitudes of “defensive against” (Christian Right), “relevance to” (Christian Left) and “purity from” (Neo-Anabaptist). Hunter offers a new way of engagement, which he calls “Faithful presence”.  Faithful presence sees Christians as fully present and committed in their spheres of social influence; it is a “constructive resistance that seeks new patterns of social organization that challenge, undermine, and otherwise diminish oppression, injustice, enmity, and corruption and, in turn, encourage harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy, security and well-being (247).”

You could almost say Hunter deconstructs his own work, as early on he shows how cultures do change, but by the end he does not put forth a program based on that on how to change the culture.  Cultural change is not the point, faithful presence is.

Interestingly, Hunter offers a brief critique of Crouch’s book.  Crouch responds, saying that he and Hunter agree though Hunter does not appear to realize it.

Both these books are profound and thought-provoking.  There is much more in each than I could possibly speak on in a brief post.  Thus, I urge you to check them out.

Favorite Books I Read This Year – Fiction

I am going to reflect on a few of my favorite books from 2011.  But note that these are books I read in 2011, not necessarily ones that were new in 2011 .

Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander

Both of these powerful female characters star in extremely popular trilogies:  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the final book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Being the father of a newborn baby girl, I wonder if I subconsciously am looking for books with strong female leads.  I doubt I should look too deeply into it, as both these book series have been on the bestseller list for months.

If you’re looking for exciting, engaging stories, check out either of these series.  They both also provide thought-provoking themes.  The Hunger Games confronts our entertainment driven society, in the process creating a story that combines two things we are obsessed with, war and reality television.  What is a world like where war becomes the reality tv?  The Millennium trilogy focuses on violence against women (the title of the first book in the original Swedish is Men Who Hate Women) in the forms of abuse, rape and human trafficking.

Dickens, Dostoyevskey, Austen and Tolkien

Thanks to the Kindle offering old books for free, I got into the classics this year.  Before I did that though, I reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings along with The Silmarillion which is a sort of “Old Testament” to the other stories.  Reading those stories got me fired up for The Hobbit, coming next year to the big screen.

As for other classics, some may say I should turn in my “man” card, but I have to say I enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When I was in 10th grade I was part of the cast for the fall play,  A Tale of Two Cities.  I have fond recollections of storming the Bastille.  Since then I always wanted to read the book, so I finally did this year.  The sacrifice of Sidney Carton is one of the most inspiring scenes in literature.  I also stuck with Dickens to read A Christmas Carol, which every person should read at least once in their life, preferably during the holiday season.

Finally, I left the British isles and moved over to Russia, reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and then (rereading) The Brothers Karamazov.  Simply amazing.  The Brothers Karamazov may be my favorite novel of all time.    If you don’t want to tackle it, at least read the chapters “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor”.  In the first chapter Dostoyevsky, a Christian by the way, puts forth one of the strongest arguments against God’s existence.  This argument is from the lips of Ivan, the atheist in the story.  He presents it to his brother, the devout monk Aloysha.  Aloysha’s only answer is to bring up the suffering servant, Jesus Christ.  This leads into the next chapter, a story written by Ivan set in Sevilla, Spain during the Inquisition.  Jesus shows up and the Grand Inquisitor puts him on trial.  Basically, Jesus and his message get in the way of the work the Church is doing.  Ivan may have some respect for Jesus, but like many people he sees a Church that has strayed far from Jesus’ message.  It drives me to ask the question, and should drive all of us who work in ministry to ask, if Jesus showed up today, would he be in the way as we go about our church activities?

Dreaming about what the Christian Community Could Do…(Part 2)

A couple weeks ago my wife and I sat down for a game of Settlers of Catan with my sister and brother-in-law.  It was Sunday, the end of a LONG holiday weekend in which we managed to take Junia to see all four sets of her grandparents.  We were tired and a relaxed game of Catan was the remedy.  Midway through the game my brother-in-law declared he would play a Knight card before rolling the dice.  Every time we play Catan there is one constant: you roll the dice first in your turn.  He argued the directions said he could play a knight.  We got the directions out and set out to interpret them.

We both insisted our reading was right.

My sister and wife sided with me and we moved on.  Hours later I went online and discovered my brother-in-law was right (we also neglected to miss a later page in the directions that explicitly said he was right).

Once I knew he was correct, I was able to interpret the game directions in a new way.

In our debate, we both approached the text believing we were right.  We both read the text in a way that supported our conclusions.  Even though it turns out he was right, the text of the directions is poorly worded.  Either interpretation could be accepted (again, until you turn to a later page where it is more explicit).

It kind of reminds me how Christians fight over Scripture.  There are so many topics Christians disagree on.  We approach the text assuming we are right, welcoming the passages that clearly support our view and working hard to squeeze ones that appear not to into our theology.

In a previous post I dreamed about what the Christian community on campus at Penn State Berks could do.  I also dreamed of what the church could do.  At the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, I recognize the local church already does much of this.

Yet sadly there is much division.  Diversity is not necessarily a problem and some degree of plurality within the church should be expected (read John Franke’s book Manifold Witness where he excellently argues for this).  It seems that the real problem is that the Christian church cannot agree at which points diversity of opinion is okay and when diversity place someone outside of the Christian tradition.

(As a sidenote, and good food for thought, read Roger Olsen’s blog post on the the difference between being “Christian” and being “saved”).

Last week I was baking cookies for the college students who are moving on after this semester to new places.  While baking I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast “The Truth is Out There…Isn’t it?“.  The basic theme was that the more we learn about a subject, the more we desire to socialize with those who agree with us.  In other words, we learn to gather information that conforms to what we already believe.

We do not want to change our minds easily.

That said, I suppose we need to agree to disagree on many things in order to get down to the work we have been called to, bringing hope to a hopeless world.  I think the world looks on at some of the debates we are having and asks, “who cares?”

CSF at Penn State Berks spends a lot of time studying the Bible.  But if all we do is sit around as a circle of Christians and talk about what the Bible means, we are not helping anybody outside of our little “in-group”.

I guess the best I can ask is what is more important:

Two Christians arguing about who is “right” about every little detail?

Two Christians laying aside their differences to go minister to those in need on campus?

Does Jesus Care if We Say Merry Christmas?

(via Stuff Christian Culture Likes)

What would Jesus say if he came to your house and had coffee with you?

That is the question asked at around 1:10 into this video.  It is a decent question.  What would Jesus say?

*“I miss hearing you say Merry Christmas”

*”And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

*”I  tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

*“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

*“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

*“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

*“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

*Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 

What would Jesus say to us?

Hint: all but the first choice are things Jesus actually did say to people (Matthew 5:41-42, 44; 6:19-21; 16:24; Luke 4:18-19; 18:21; Matthew 15:17-19).

When I read the gospels, I find Jesus’ words incredibly challenging.  What he calls people to do is uncomfortable, to say the least.  I am sure in the face of our insistence that people say “Merry Christmas” and our offense when people do not that he would challenge us Christians to sell our stuff or love our enemies or something we frankly would rather not do.

The ladies in the video say they are offended that people do not say Merry Christmas.  Offended?  By that?

Maybe we Christians should get offended by things that actually matter, things that are horrendous evils happening right now in the world, things like global poverty, human trafficking and modern-day slavery and so many others.

Maybe if instead of wasting money on billboards urging people to say “Merry Christmas” we used that money to help those who are really suffering, people would actually care to hear more about Jesus.

The prophet Amos also probably doesn’t care if you say “Merry Christmas”.  I’ll end with his powerful words (Amos 5):

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; 
   your assemblies are a stench to me. 
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, 
   I will not accept them. 
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, 
   I will have no regard for them. 
23 Away with the noise of your songs! 
   I will not listen to the music of your harps. 
24 But let justice roll on like a river, 
   righteousness like a never-failing stream!

The War on Christmas, 1600s Style!

Every year at this time we hear about the alleged “war on Christmas”.  Some governor calls the tree in the capitol building a “holiday tree” or some store requires employees to say “happy holidays”.  This, we are told, is an attack on Christmas.

I have trouble buying that.

Many of the same people who say there is a “war on Christmas” also believe “Jesus is the reason for the season“.  I doubt that what happens in retail stores across the country brings much honor to Jesus.  How does buying more and more things have anything to do with Jesus?  In some twisted logic, we honor Jesus by making sure the cashier says Merry Christmas as I buy my way to happiness.

For the record, I love the Christmas season.  I love singing Christmas carols, buying gifts for people, decorating my house with nativity scenes (though we leave one up all year) and trees, going to church, spending time with family.  It is fun.  I have no problem with buying and receiving gifts.

But I recognize that much of how we celebrate Christmas on a cultural level has more roots in paganism than Christianity.  The most obvious example: Christmas trees.  The evergreen trees reminded the pagans that, in the midst of winter, the sun god would return once again and summer would come.

It was reasons such as these that the Pilgrims, the early European settlers in America, waged a war on Christmas!  The Pilgrims were Puritans who took the Bible very literally: if it was not commanded in the Bible, they did not do it.  Well, Christmas celebration was nowhere to be found, so no Christmas!

In 1659 Massachusetts made it illegal to celebrate Christmas.  Attending a church service was okay, but any sort of decorations, feasting or taking off work was forbidden.  The law stated:

“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries to the great dishonor of God and offense of others, it is therefore ordered that whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, shall pay for every such offense five shillings to the county.”

The first continental congress was even in session on December 25, 1789, not taking a day off for Christmas!  Christmas did not become a national holiday until 1870.

Maybe we have something to learn from those Puritans.  I do not think the lesson is that we should refuse to celebrate Christmas.  Instead, when we Christians say “Jesus is the reason for the season” we should really mean it.  Perhaps give Jesus more than an hour on Christmas eve, as if to get him out of the way so we can move on to what we really care about.  Or we could just spend less and give more, as Advent Conspiracy has been reminding us.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the trees in capitol buildings are called.  It doesn’t matter if the cashier at Target or Wal-Mart says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”.  I would say what matters more, on that last one, is whether we treat people who work in retail with dignity.  Is saying “I say Merry Christmas” in a condescending voice to a tired cashier going to encourage that person to want to know Jesus?  Maybe we should give Christmas cookies to the staff at Target and Wal-Mart instead.  What matters most is how we represent that baby born in the manger, who we say is the reason for the season.

Dreaming about the the Christian Community Could Do…(Part 1)

A few days ago a student asked me if I thought the church today could be like the church in the Bible.  After dispensing my usual sarcastic response (“You mean like the church in Corinth where people have all kinds of sexual immorality and get drunk at the Lord’s Supper…yeah, we could probably do that“) I decided to get serious for a moment.  I knew he was asking about the church as reported in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35.  In those texts the church is described as being a place where everyone shares everything, no one has any needs, and lots of people are coming to know Jesus.

All of this probably lasted about five minutes (again, the cynical side of me which often works with the sarcastic side…).  But just because we consistently fail to reach the ideal does not mean we should quit.  I doubt I will ever fully conquer lust or greed or pride or, well, you get the idea.  That is no reason to dive headfirst into such things.  Rather, it is all the more reason to persevere, to seek to overcome with the help of the Holy Spirit.

So if Acts 2 and 4 present the ideal of what the church should be, can the church community today do those sorts of things?

Originally, I was going to post about how I don’t think I can vote for any of the presidential candidates.  Some of the reasons can be found in the following articles in articles like this one, this one, this one, and perhaps best in ones like this.   My point is, as a Christian, I see no hope in either political party.

The presidential election is often presented as: if you elect this person, he/she will fix all the problems.  If you place your hope for a better future in this person and his/her running of the government, you’ll be saved.  That may not be the explicit message, but it is right there under the surface.  It is almost like another gospel, parallel to the Biblical one.

One of the primary conservative mantras is that the government ought not be a “nanny state”, giving people all kinds of handouts.  The argument is that it is not the governments’ job to pay for your college or health care.  But I do wonder, for people who truly need help, why wouldn’t they look to the government?  Who else would they look to?

The church?

Of course not.

And maybe that’s the problem.

I am not here to figure out how all this works in the big picture.  I am also certain, to be fair, that lots of desperate people do seek help in their local church communities.  My bet is that the majority of people in our culture do not think “the church” as the first place to go when they are in need of help.

Perhaps it is best if I start with a place I know a little about: Penn State Berks in Reading, PA.  Sometimes I have a dream about what the Christians on campus could do.

What if anytime someone was sick, Christian students brought them chicken soup?

What if when people were depressed, in need of advice, they came to the Christians?

What if the Christians had a reputation for dispensing the best advice on relationships?

What if the Christians on campus simply met the basic needs of others?

What if the churches in the area helped students in need pay for their tuition?  Rather than going deep into debt with student loans, what if the churches helped?

College students do not have too many resources, financial that is.  Further, campus ministry is a limited community to one segment of society.  We could dream about what local churches could do:

What if the elderly, rather than relying on the state, received help from the church?

What if high school kids, rather than going into debt, got scholarships from the church?

What if the church, instead of waiting for the government to fix things, simply did it ourselves.

I know many of these things are already happening, both on campus and in church communities across the country.  That is awesome.   May we continue to do more.  Also, I think if we do it as the church we bring a certain humility to it.  Those in power, such as presidents and presidential candidates, are practically forced to sound optimistic.  Their message must be that we can do anything.  Christians realize, due to the reality of human fallenness, we can only do so much.  Without God’s help, we can do very little.

Christians may work to end poverty and human trafficking and other evils.  We may even experience some success.  But we also recognize there are limitations.  We recognize without God’s help we cannot make the world new.  By the power of the Spirit, it is our job to start moving that direction.  Just because we cannot reach the ideal does not mean we ought not strive.

Kind of like my own individual battles with lust, greed and pride.  We know the goal individually and communally, so let’s, with humility, move towards the dream.

Nicer People, Tech Wars, Who’s a Christian and More (Recent Reads)

Are we getting nicer? – “Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries.  War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer.  That’s the central theme of an astonishingly good book just published by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard. It’s called “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and it’s my bet to win the next Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.  “Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” Pinker writes, and he describes this decline in violence as possibly “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”

This is a great article on the coming tech war between Google, Amazon (also, see “Fathoming Amazon“), Apple and Facebook:

Over the next two years, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will increasingly collide in the markets for mobile phones and tablets, mobile apps, social networking, and more. This competition will be intense…There was a time, not long ago, when you could sum up each company quite neatly: Apple made consumer electronics, Google ran a search engine, Amazon was a web store, and Facebook was a social network. How quaint that assessment seems today.

Along similar lines, Ray Bradbury has finally allowed Farenheit 451 to be released as an e-book.  I recall reading that book years ago, and loving it as it was pro-books.  While it seems the future Bradbury predicted has to some degree come true, the growth of e-readers has not eliminated reading, as Bradbury feared technology would.  I am glad he has changed his mind.

Finally, Roger Olsen’s article on “Who is a Christian” is great:

This is why the distinction between “Christian” and “saved” is so important.  And I don’t just mean it in the sense of “Christian” as a nominal term to designate membership in a Christian church.  Almost everyone recognizes the distinction between “saved” and “Christian” when the latter term is used that way.  (Everyone has heard and agrees with the old adage that “Just because something’s in the garage doesn’t make it a car!”)

What’s more controversial (for reasons quite beyond my comprehension) is my distinction between “saved” and “Christian” in which I say a person can be saved but not be a Christian.

So what makes a person a Christian? What makes a person saved? As I said, the latter is God’s business but he has given us some guidelines in his Word. I believe anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, risen from the dead, and puts his or her trust in him for their salvation, and who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, is saved. (I don’t insist that a person call his or her spiritual life a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s what I’m calling a life of devotion to Jesus Christ.)

Having said that, I personally withdraw from making decisions about whether a person is saved or not; that’s God’s business and between the individual and God.

However, whether a person is a Christian is NOT just between the individual and God; churches and Christian parachurch organizations must make that decision about applicants for membership, for example. I propose that ANY Christian church would decline to accept into full membership a person it believes is not a Christian. So people must sometimes make that judgment call. As a Christian theologian I feel obligated to make such a judgment at times, but it is not a judgment about a person’s eternal destiny or current relationship with God as reconciled or not. That neither I nor anyone else can know with certainty.