A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.
Lambert, Heath. The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 220 pp. $17.99.
The author is an appropriate candidate for this subject. He met Jay Adams and studied under Eric L. Johnson who previously evaluated the biblical (nouthetic) counseling movement. Heath Lambert has a unique perspective on the subject. Further, he is both a practicing biblical counseling professor and pastor. It is good to have someone address the situation from both a practical and professional mindset.
As the title states, the book is about the biblical counseling movement after Jay Adams. The book begins with a forward from David Powlison. Powlison says, “We ought to be good at counseling, the very best at both receiving and giving. No one else’s explanation of human misery goes as wide and long or as high and deep as the Christian explanation” (12). The author shows that he is in wholehearted agreement. That is what this book is mainly about, evaluating and analyzing the movement to be “the very best at both receiving and giving” counsel.
In the first chapter, it is shown that biblical counseling has existed, in a sense, for a very long time (for example the Puritans, 25). However, it suffered a long period of neglect. Many things affected this decline, nine of the most important are listed (26-34). There was over a hundred year gap in which there was no substantive biblical book put out to help people with their problems, until 1970, when Adams’ published Competent to Counsel (26, 35).
The next chapter talks about “Advances in How Biblical Counselors Think about Counseling.” Adams had a focus on sin which is necessary, and especially for what he was facing in his context at the time. However, suffering was not addressed as it should have been. This fault is presently being worked on; this is a clear advancement in the biblical counseling world. Another advancement is in regards to motivation. Instead of mainly regarding behavior there has been an emphasis from where those behaviors flow from, the heart. This has led to much healthy talk about “idols of the heart.”
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.”
Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking.
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). Read More…
[Kuhn, Mike. Fresh Vision for the Muslim World. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.]
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).
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).
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)