the god who is there

The God Who is There (The Schaeffer Trilogy): Books That Changed My Life Part 3

This series is contextual in nature. I’m not writing this to highlight my five favorite books. I’m not even sure that any of these would make that list anyways. But, these are five books have affected my life significantly enough over the last several years. Situations in my life magnified their impact. They come in no particular order of importance.

I was at a spiritual crossroads in 2007. I had a reaction to a set of beliefs that I saw in current evangelicalism that bothered me. Whether it was an accurate understanding of the evangelical culture at large or a misunderstanding you will have to be the judge. I was having a reaction against what I thought was normative Christianity. As everything else in life goes…when you are reacting to something you see it everywhere and in everything–sometimes when it may not be there fully.

Either way, I had a bone to pick with modern evangelicalism (popular evangelicalism….not textbook). It was the idea that our faith was somehow separate from the real world. Science could prove our faith wrong, but it wouldn’t shake our faith. I took issue with this because I thought that if God existed then he was the best explanation for our world. If science “disproved God” (good luck!) then I would have to abandon the faith.

This idea that our faith was something that could not be proved in this world was irksome to me. Not only was this concept’s relation to the real world bothersome, but also the way it played out in decision making. From private interpretations of scripture (a big problem for the early church fathers) or divine calls and secret wills; God was used and abused by people right before my eyes. All the while God seemed like a chameleon changing his will as if with the seasons. Basically, people could do whatever they wanted as long as they had their secret knowledge of God’s will. Gnostics! Diviners! Bleh!

I had one foot out the door moving away from Christianity (or at least the evangelical church) when a friend grabbed me and recommended reading Francis Schaeffer. I began with Escape From Reason (not realizing it was the second book in the trilogy) and then moved to The God Who is There. In these books I would find another Christian who believed as I did (as I thought scripture taught) that the belief in God was the best explanation of the world we live in. And just like Michael Corleone, I was pulled back in….though still standing by the door, perhaps.

Since then, I have found I am not alone in my understanding of the evangelical world. And, I probably don’t agree with Schaeffer’s interpretation of philosophy anymore (especially his views on Aquinas). But as I said at the beginning of this series: This isn’t about the books that are my favorite. It is about the books that changed my life. Hats of to Schaeffer for keeping me a Christian, at least in name.

Confessions of a Perfectionist Ph.D. Student: Love and Scholarship

Confession: Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. I thought scholarship was only about my whit and intelligence–not my love for others.

At the heart of perfectionism lay both fear and pride. On the one hand, there is fear that you will make a mistake, lead people astray, or look bad. It is the last one that reveals the pride in perfectionism. In hoping not to look bad you want others to look well upon you and your work. In fact, at least for me, I wanted people to see a great body of work that settled many issues. You want to write the perfect paper, express the right ideas, in a way where everyone will be persuaded by your whit or logic–maybe even think that you have put to rest all other arguments.

Displaying our whit should not be a goal of our scholarship. Avoiding this is one of the goals I have for my “2nd Chance Ph.D.” In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine says this:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

The goal of any work done by the scholar is to express love for God and love for man. If the work of a Christian scholar does not center around this love then they have missed the whole point of why they do what they do. In fact, if the Christian scholar who desires for people to marvel at their intellectual musings actually proves that they are ignorant of the true purpose of the scriptures; if Augustine is correct in his statement.

Even if we don’t agree with Augustine that we must have this love to interpret scripture (for what do we do with non-Christian interpretation…is there any merit to it?) we can at least say for the Christian scholar that this love of God and man should be present in his/her work.

That, was something I did not do well before. I hope to be better about it this time around. Bear with me as it will be a process.


Does the book of Esther mention God at all? Depends on the version you read.

In my Ph.D. seminar last week we began talking about the theology of the book of Esther. It seems odd to speak of the theology of a book that doesn’t mention the name of God. However, there are some manuscripts of the Old Greek versions of Esther which do mention God in the book. They are found in the additions referred to as texts C, D, and the Alpha Text. In Esther C verse 8 (an addition made after the Masoretic Text [MT] 4:17) Esther appeals to God to act on behalf of the people of Abraham (see the picture above). In addition D verse 8, which occurs right after C, God changes the heart of the king. Both of these references to God are mentioned in the Alpha Text. So, some manuscripts contain a reference to God in the book of Esther. For more information and a side-by-side comparison of these texts in English go here.

There are two questions that come up for me again and again in relation to these “additions”:

  1. The Early Church Fathers seemed to prefer the LXX (including references to the additions). If their versions included the additions, why aren’t we reading their versions instead of the MT?
  2. Should we prefer Early Christian OT canons over MT canon? The latter representing a Jewish (non-Christian) community.

I don’t have answers here for these questions. But I’m throwing them out there for a little discussion.

Confessions of a Perfectionist Ph.D. Student: Desiring the Comfortable

As I stated in my blog post about my return to the Ph.D. program, the perfectionist in me must die. But I think that is a bit of an oversimplification of what overwhelmed me the first time around. To be completely candid, there are many other emotions, misconceptions, and thoughts that go into perfectionism. This series will go on as long as I need it to. I do have a plan for more than one.

Confession: Forgive me readers, for I thought research and writing should be free from anxiety.

Let’s face it, we all think that experienced authors are in a class of their own. The muses love them more than us.They wake up in the morning and beautifully constructed prose just flow from their pens. It’s almost effortless. All they need is pen an paper.They know what they are going to say and they say it perfectly. Our writing feels more like Odysseus trying to get home–full of difficulties.

But, talk to an experienced author about some new project they are writing and you’ll find out the real difference between you and them (that is, if you struggle with this….or even care about writing). They feel anxiety every time they begin a new writing project. Maybe not crippling anxiety like I did. But, anxiety in some form. They learned to manage it and work through it.

The anxiety for some, like myself, can be overwhelming.  We have a desire to write, but we don’t write anything because we are anxious. Even if it concerns subjects that we have studied for years. We are ultimately afraid of being wrong, not expressing things well, being disagreed with, or being called a bad writer.

Now, how do we manage that anxiety?

Use your anxiety to improve…not perfect: Go ahead and set aside the unreachable goal of being perfect in writing. However, our anxiety may not be completely without warrant. If we are worried about our grammatical correctness, or flow of prose, we may have a good reason for being anxious. So use that anxiety to improve! Pick up a book, or read a blog post about writing well. Pick one or two achievable goals and work on it during the next writing project. Work to become better, not perfect. Becoming a good writer is about becoming. It is a process.

Write in Community: I’m telling you this now, if you want to be successful in anything, bring the right people along with you. Most people who are labelled as successful usually aren’t alone. They have a good team. Your friends, family, or professors/colleagues, can give you good constructive feedback. If you are writing a book for a publisher, the editor will give you good feedback (please understand the editor wants the book to be a success so it will sell…therefore he is on your side). For example, I am a blunt man. But when writing a review of a book my bluntness may not be received well, especially for those authors I am critiquing. I will always bounce my writing off of someone else to help me express what I want to say in a way that won’t be off-putting. Bluntness between friends is a gift. But between strangers….its usually considered rude.

Write all the time: If we want to manage the anxiety of writing, we’ve got to work it in often. I keep a reading journal now, reviewing everything I’ve read and organizing my reactions to the reading.  It puts me in the habit of writing. It also gives me the chance to write in an atmosphere free from anyone’s evaluation except my own. Placing my thoughts about what I am reading helps my ideas mature and weakens some of the anxiety. When I go to officially write, my ideas have already had some written expression before the first draft. This removes some of the anxiety and speeds up the process of writing (which helps with the pressure of a deadline).

Until next time…


Christ the Educator: Five Books That Changed My Life–Part 2

This series is contextual in nature. I’m not writing this to highlight my five favorite books. I’m not even sure that any of these would make that list anyways. But, these are five books have affected my life significantly enough over the last several years. Situations in my life magnified their impact. They come in no particular order of importance.

Christ the Educator, by Clement of Alexandria, goes by a few different names. The original title is in Greek and therefore sometimes gets translated differently. Clement’s work focuses on how Christ sanctifies the Christian (though they didn’t use the word “sanctification” the same way we do). The book can be broken up into two main sections. The first, would be a theological explanation of how Christ sanctifies us. The second, would be how to apply it in Clement’s context. So, if you decide to read his work don’t call Clement legalistic when he says, “Don’t salt your food.” Salt was expensive back in those days and it was seen as very luxuriant. We can carry that sentiment over however, just not the ban on salt.

For me, this book has forever changed the way I disciple people (whether formally or informally). Heck, it has become the method for almost every relationship in my life. Why? Because Clement hits on how Christ disciples me. Its a slow process and Christ is pleased every step of the way–even when I fail.

Clement provides three overarching examples of Christians at varying levels in the sanctification process. The first type of Christian is the one who resists sin for a little while and then stumbles. Christ is teaching him and is pleased with his progress. The second, is the one who can resist for some time and then stumbles. Christ is teaching him and is pleased with his progress. The third, can resist temptation for long periods of time. He has learned to depend on Christ for help through temptation (thus, he is not proud). Christ is still teaching him and he is pleased with him. (FYI-his work is not attempting to answer whether Christian can live a sinless life after conversion-lets not go there).

In this understanding of our sanctification condemnation is removed and replaced with Christ’s love. I was sharing this summary with a friend over lunch. We’ll call him Graham. At the time his twin girls had started walking. He related Clement’s view back to me like this:

“You know, when my girls are trying to walk, I don’t count how many times they fall. I count how many steps they take and I’m proud of them for each one.”

I think this picture captures what Clement of Alexandria is getting at perfectly. Christ lovingly teaches us how to walk in his ways. We, like toddlers, may stumble every few steps. But as we grow into mature Christians we begin to stumble less. We don’t do this in our own power, Christ helps us with every step. He’s already walked this path. This idea has changed my relationship with God and with others. That’s why its here.


No More Christian Nice Guy: Five Books That Changed My Life–Part 1

This series is contextual in nature. I’m not writing this to highlight my five favorite books. I’m not even sure that any of these would make that list anyways. But, these are five books have affected my life significantly enough over the last several years. Situations in my life magnified their impact. They come in no particular order of importance.

One day while visiting the Art of Manliness website I ran across a book list for someone who wanted to read up on contemporary manhood. One of the books that captured my eye on that list was a book entitled No More Christian Nice GuyAside from it conjuring up memories of Alice Cooper, the book drew my interest more because I was transitioning into a managerial position. Little did I know, that adhering to some of the principles in this book would take me down some not so friendly roads years later.

Let me first say, I don’t agree with everything in the book, nor am I prepared to make a scholarly argument on the feminization of Christ by the church, which Coughlin does in his book. I did agree with him that men in the church were asked to be silent door mats far too often, which in turn led to a frustrating and unhealthy life. I felt this pressure for myself and I was eager to apply whatever advice Coughlin offered. If anything, Coughlin’s book was helping me out in my own situation, even if his work was not an accurate description of masculinity in Christendom at that time.

One piece of advice from the book that I kept returning to was to speak my mind, politely, respectfully, and firmly. For Coughlin, not speaking up for himself (or others) led to a lot of frustrating, sleepless nights. I too suffered from sleepless nights over events that I did not feel (important word is feel) the right to speak to, even though I was involved. Because of my frustration in these situations when I did speak up for myself or others I generally did so in a way that was not productive or respectful. This type of behavior would reinforce the idea that I shouldn’t have spoken up at all. I would feel pressure to return to the not so serene internally, but outwardly submissive posture. After reading Coughlin, I decided that I too wanted to sleep better at night. So I set out to start expressing myself respectfully but firmly. There is an old Latin proverb that goes along with this; qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. It means, “he who is silent consents when he ought to have spoken and was able.” This became my mantra during this time in my life.

Four to five years later, I still practice speaking my mind when necessary, maybe not always when I ought to. I mentioned earlier it has led me down some interesting roads. I wish I could tell about them here, but I can’t. Some people have not enjoyed when I speak up about certain things. This is mainly because I am offering a contrary opinion and they wish I just submitted without opposition. I’ve found that speaking my mind, especially when I have had to stand up against some inappropriate decisions/events has led me to be able to state things more rationally and not be as frustrated with events…even if what I said didn’t carry the day.

This has also put me in some pretty tense altercations. Sometimes, stating your opinion firmly will frustrate some people who wish to control a situation. Taking a firm stand against certain behaviors has made me lose a few friends. But, I have gained more loyal friends in the process. Because most of the time that I’ve implemented this advice, its been for those in a position of lesser power.

I don’t always deliver my opinion in a right spirit. But, because I speak my mind, I find myself ready to apologize for that type of behavior. You see, speaking my mind, I found, didn’t just deal with things that frustrated me. It spilled over into all areas of my life–at least I hope it does.

I still get frustrated from time to time, but now at least I handle it better than bottling it up. I try to communicate my opposition well. As a result,  I’ve been transformed, I think, from being a mouse to being a man. I enjoy being a man. I get far more beauty sleep!