Epistle To The Romans by Karl Barth: Five Books That Changed My Life–Part 4

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.

There is nothing more frustrating then being told by another person what you meant by your actions or words. Especially, when someone is reading far more into those actions than what you actually meant—a common problem when attempting to understand introverts. In fact, what they were reading into your actions was the furthest from your imagination. In most situations like this, you can talk it out with someone, explain yourself, and then the issue is resolved. But some people aren’t easily convinced of anything but their own interpretation. So, they’ll try to manipulate you into believing that your actions meant what they say they meant.

That’s what was happening to me. It came by way of a misinterpreted view of post-conversion anthropology. The idea is that we are still slaves to sin after conversion—though they will never say it like that. It goes something like this: All of our actions are tainted with sin. Therefore, everything we do is laced with sin. You did X, therefore your intention must have been sinful (and a particular sin at that).

These ideas stack the deck against the Christian. The Christian has a reasonable explanation for acting a certain way. He explains his reasoning, but others aren’t buying it. They mistrust the very thing being said to them.When evidence is offered in defense, it is given no credence. Of course, in this scenario, none of the accusers motives can be questioned in the same way. No real evidence is ever brought forth against the accuser other than feelings.

The above paragraph sounds preposterous, I know but it is what happened (or perhaps you are already assuming I was actually in the wrong and don’t see it). These types of situations are intense for me. I’m an INFJ so I feel within myself what people feel about me. It’s great when those are good feelings, bad when they are not, and horrible when those feelings are based on falsehood. It left me with a lot of self-doubt and those closest to me had to remind me of my words and actions with them behind closed doors that demonstrated that my intentions were different than what was being accused of me.

Enter Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. 

I was beat down; down for the count; I felt unworthy; doubted everything about how I understood myself and my intentions; buoyed by my friends cheering me in the audience. I laid, busted and bleeding on the mat—down for the count. Into the ring jumped Karl Barth and took a giant swing against my opponent. His punch so jarring I felt it lying on the mat. In reference to Romans 6:18, “Being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness,” he said:

Their bondage to sin has been broken, and they have become servants of righteousness. The power of the resurrection, the knowledge of God who quickeneth the dead, has converted them—yes! has converted THEM!, since their conversion was no mechanical process…To the man under grace, righteousness is not a possibility, but a necessity; not a disposition subject to change, but the inexorable meaning of life; not a condition possessing varying degrees of healthiness, but the condition by which existence is itself determined; not that which he possesses, but that which possess him. (p. 219–220)

I looked up, there stood Barth over my opponent like Ali over Liston. That day Barth became my champion.

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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.

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!