Category Archives: reading

Addiction and Virtue

I really appreciated Kent J. Dunnington’s book, Addiction and Virtue. Here are a few quotes that I found especially helpful:

“Because recovery as conceived by A.A. is a technology of habit reformation, it demands vigilant attention to both the external and internal dimensions of sober action” (79).

“Addiction is a complex habit” (88).

“The scope of recovery is therefore radically extended within a Christian view of addiction. Indeed ‘recovery’ does not sufficiently name the Christian hope in the face of addiction. Instead the Christian hopes for ‘discovery’ and ‘new creation’—not a return to some maintainable equilibrium between who we are and what we want but rather a transformation of the self that brings who we are and what we want… into perfect coordination and harmony” (183).

“In claiming the identity of ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic,’ we deny that addiction is a habit and assert instead that it is an entity” ( 184).

“Worship is… a totalizing activity; it demands that everything in a person’s life be put in the dock before God, interrogated by one standard and consequently renounced or reordered” (170).

“If the church is to provide a genuine alternative to addicted persons seeking recovery, it must provide daily, rather than once-weekly opportunities for communal worship, testimony and prayer, and it must challenge its parishioners to treat the church as their primary social community” (191).

“The wisdom of the twelve-step program lies in the recognition that the habit of addiction can only be supplanted through the development of another habit that is as pervasive and compelling as the habit of addiction” (165).

“The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it” (158-59).

“The pull of addiction is this pull toward ecstasy, the expression of a deep discontent with the life of ‘just so’ happiness, and the pursuit of an all-consuming love” (159).

“Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection” (159).


The War of Art

I appreciate this from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art

“The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program of spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity who aim is tighter abdominals.

6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7) Education of every kind.

8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

9) The Undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

11) The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.” 

Continue reading


Thoughts On Leadership (#1)

These thoughts are taken from John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of A Leader

“The world has never seen a great leader who lacked commitment” (18).

“Effective communicators focus on the people with whom they’re communicating… Who is my audience? What are their questions? What needs to be accomplished?” (26).

“If you follow your passion–instead of others’ perceptions–you can’t help becoming a more dedicated, productive person. And that increases your ability to impact others” (85). 

“If you want to grow your organization, you have to remain teachable” (144). 

Quoting Gilbert Amelio,

“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiam to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate other to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter” (23).


Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (a book review)

Nabeel Qureshi, once a devout Ahmadiyya Muslim, is now a Christian apologist. Qureshi holds an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University as well as an MA in religion from Duke University. So, Qureshi is qualified to write on the subject. He is personally knowledgeable not only about the academic aspects of Islam but also the relational and experiential aspects as well.
Importance of the Book
It was enlightening to see how difficult it is for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Qureshi at one point questions whether or not Christians understood what an impact their message would have on him (p. 120). He even said, “My battle against the lordship of Jesus was an organic outgrowth of everything that defined me” (p. 172). Qureshi knew that if he decided to become a Christian he would shame his family with incredible dishonor. He was not sure if he could do that to his family after they had done so much for him (p. 252).

Hearing about Qureshi’ struggle as he thought about what it would mean to convert to Christianity was helpful. It will help me to be appropriately empathetic will discussing Christianity with Muslims. It is helpful to realize that “Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross” (p. 253). I appreciated hearing his prayer: “O God! Give me time to mourn. More time to mourn the upcoming loss of my family, more time to mourn the life I’ve always lived” (p. 275). I also appreciated what he said about the cost of discipleship: “I had to give my life in order to receive His life. This was not some cliché. The gospel was calling me to die” (p. 278). Continue reading


The Importance of Correct Hermeneutics

Reading girl

If we don’t understand things in their proper context there will be grave results. Let’s look at a few verses as an example and apply a skewed hermeneutical approach and see what the result is.

John 3:16 says, “God sent His Son” and we see that Jesus as God’s son is confirmed in other Scriptures. Take for example Romans 8:32. Or Hebrews 5:8 tells us that although Jesus “was a son, He learned obedience.” Luke 2:42 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

So, it could be argued that Jesus, as God’s Son, was created and had to learn. After all, doesn’t “son” mean “son”?! Isn’t that the clear reading of the text? If the Bible says that Jesus is a “son” and “the firstborn of all creation” does that mean that Jesus is not eternal? Does it mean that He is a created being?

If we just look at the word “son” and extrapolate its meaning without understanding the context and the sense in which the author is using the word we can make very dangerous and false conclusions. Is Jesus a son in the sense of being a created being? No! That is the Arian heresy. We must understand what the author meant and we must use clear texts to help us interpret the less clear. A bad hermeneutical approach will lead to all sorts of false and destructive doctrines.

When looking at any doctrine it is important to understand a number of things. When looking at the sonship of Jesus for example, it is important to know the Old Testament and cultural importance of sonship. It is also important that other Scriptures are factored in. For example, John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-17 show us that Jesus is not created but instead Creator.

So, “the obscure passage must yield to the clear passage. That is, on a given doctrine we should take our primary guidance from those passages which are clear rather from those which are obscure.”[1] Charles Hodge said in his Systematic Theology that

“If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture. If a passage admits of different interpretations, that only can be the true one which agrees with what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject.”[2]

Here are some important affirmations for biblical hermeneutics: 

  1. We should affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.[3]
  2. We should affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.[4]
  3. We should affirm that our personal zeal and experiences should never be elevated above Scripture (see Rom. 10:2-3).
  4. We should affirm that texts of Scripture must be interpreted in context (both the immediate and broad context).
  5. We should affirm that we must only base normative theological doctrine on clear didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. So, we should affirm that we must never use implicit teaching to contradict explicit teaching.

______________________

[1] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 37.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Chapter VI, The Protestant Rule of Faith.

[3] See “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics,” Article XVII.

[4] See Ibid., Article XIX.


Mike Kuhn, Fresh Vision for the Muslim World (a book review)

[Kuhn, Mike. Fresh Vision for the Muslim World. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.]

Author Background
Mike Kuhn is uniquely qualified to write on this subject as he has many years of experience in living closely with Muslims in both the Middle East and North Africa. He holds master’s degrees in both Arabic and theology. Kuhn is well positioned to speak on the subject because he understands well Muslim culture after twenty-two years serving overseas he also knows American culture as he was born in America and recently pastored in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kuhn currently serves as a professor at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.
Importance of the Book
This book is important because Kuhn brings wisdom grounded in the Bible and infused with the gospel and love for Jesus and people who need to know Him. This book is important because it is true to its title, it gives fresh vision for the Muslim world. The reader will put the book down with a better understanding not only of Islam but also of the people that follow its teachings. The reader will be moved to compassion, stirred to action, and guided by practical direction.
Overview
Kuhn says that his premise is that we as Christian must incarnate ourselves (16). We must be with people. We must laugh at their jokes, wait in their traffic jams, weep at their funerals, and cry for joy at their weddings (2). We must also understand them and part of understanding them is understanding their history and past Christian interaction with them (thus, ch. 2-4). “We need some sense of the complex history of the Muslim world and the involvement of the ‘Christian’ West in it” (58). That is a necessary first step in good communication and incarnation (59).

Kuhn proceeds then to talk about the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. For instance, “the essence of the Christian faith—God became human being in Christ—is diametrically opposed to Islamic faith” (69). There is also a vast difference in the view of what constitutes humanities problem and thus our view of salvation is different. Islam teaches that “individuals are neither dead in sin nor in need of redemption; rather, they are weak, forgetful, and in need of guidance” (78). The heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity is how man is put right with their Creator (81).

In chapters seven through nine, Kuhn reminds us that Jesus’ concern was not with “the geopolitical state of Israel during his earthly ministry. His concern is with his kingdom—the kingdom of heaven” (120). The place of the state of Israel is a subject filled with tension for many Muslims and Christians alike but it is also a very important and practical subject. So, we must seek God and His Scripture for wisdom, we must understand Jesus’ words (130, 171). Kuhn points out that the need of the entire world is to see “the manifestation of the kingdom of Jesus in his people” (158, italics mine), not in an earthly nation. As we have seen, we are to love our neighbors and part of loving someone is understanding them, their history, their perspective, their past hurts.

Chapter ten talks about jihad and explains that not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way, some have a spiritualized understanding of jihad (e.g. 199). So, it is important to understand that Muslims, like Christians, are not all the same. In fact, “the primary concerns of most Muslims are similar to ours—raising their children, providing for their children’s education, saving for that new car or outfit… We must exercise care not to be monofocal in our understanding of Islam” (187). Chapter eleven challenges us to faithfully speak for Jesus and live for His Kingdom and not our own. In part 5, chapters twelve through thirteen, we see steps to incarnation and what it means to live missionally (see esp. 225).

Evaluation
I appreciate Kuhn’s humble honesty. Kuhn says that in his early years of encountering Muslims it worked on him like sandpaper. Kuhn realized “the reality and depth of the Islamic faith and worldview” (64). He came to understand John 6:44 more fully (64). Muslims will not come to Christ through “persuasive philosophical arguments, or governmental prestige and influence. It is the gospel that must go out in human form through people” (85).

I believe Kuhn could have had more Scriptural argumentation at places but I realize his book was not meant to be exhaustive. However, I agree with most of what he wrote and believe it is truthful. That is, I believe Kuhn made a cogent case in what he said. I also appreciate that he gave a recap of each chapter, it helped give the book clarity.

Stylistically, I appreciate that Kuhn covered many different topics yet did not lose the focus of the book. For example, he introduced incarnation at the beginning (8) and then weaved it through the rest of the book (see e.g. 13, 16, 75, 85. 242). What is needed Kuhn pointed out, though sadly rare, “is an extended hand, a caring smile, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need” (259) (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Jn. 13:35; 1 Cor. 10:33).

I appreciate Kuhn’s reminder that “The kingdom of Jesus as opposed to empire is not concerned in the least about the political boundaries of a country. It is a reality that overlays the political boundaries” (256). We must remember that the Roman Empire came and went, but Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal (254) (cf. Jn. 18:36). Kuhn’s challenge is timely, he says, “if Western Christians are able to bid farewell to our fortress mentality, we will find that our countries have already become exceedingly accessible and potentially fruitful mission fields” (244). Kuhn further points out that if American Christians are overly aligned with their governments’ policies then their missional impact will likely be impacted (241). Instead, as Christians, Jesus should be our King and His policies should hold ultimate sway. The real hope of the Muslim world, and the Western world for that matter, is not democracy, it the diffusion of the good news of Jesus the Christ and the establishment of His reign (218).

Conclusion
I conclude with a pungent quote from Kuhn:

As Muslims grow increasingly suspicious and fed up with the violent response of Islamists, they are beginning to look for alternatives. Some are finding their alternative in secularism. Others are turning to materialistic pleasure. Will we as Christ-followers have anything to offer them? (214-15)


C.S. Lewis on the Importance of Reading Old Books

Reading girl

As part of our book diet, C.S. Lewis reminds us to not leave out old books. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).

Lewis is wise to also say that,

“People were no clever then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).


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