Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
I think it’s fairly safe to say that few books in the Christian Fiction genre have had the level of anticipation associated with it that Ted Dekker’s latest book, Green, has enjoyed. As Dekker completes the “Circle” series with this prequel that’s mostly a conclusion, Thomas Nelson has ratcheted up the marketing, complete with a nice website and fantastic animated trailer. Fans who have taken the full ride Dekker provided with the series have been given bits of the world he created in the “Lost Books” series. Many, though, have clamored for a last piece of the story, waiting over 4 years for Dekker take them on one final ride into the world of Thomas Hunter.
With Green, Dekker manages to recapture the magic from the original trilogy (Black, Red, and White), and provide fans with a satisfying ending/beginning to the series. If you haven’t seen the promotional materials, Green is intended to serve both a prequel to Black and a sequel to White. They are billing this as the preferred starting point for new readers, and while Dekker does a great job of “completing a circle” with the series, I would have to disagree that it’s the best place to start, and I mean that for positive reasons.
Without giving away any plot points, let’s just say that readers who have taken the time to read Black, Red, White, the Lost Books, as well as Showdown and Sinner, in particular, are rewarded for their efforts in Green. While I have no doubt one could read Green without any prior knowledge and understand the plot, the level of depth would not be near what is attained from having the background knowledge obtained from those other books. I hate to think that many will miss out on the way Dekker has woven this gigantic, sweeping story together throughout all of the books and culminated in Green.
Either way, the action in Green is portrayed with Dekker’s signature layering of truth upon narrative. Nothing is ever exactly what it seems to be, and he manages to not only combine the two different realities within the story, but also combines those two realities with ours. Dekker says more about the gospel in his stories without ever actually talking about the gospel than most Christians ever do. Dekker has said, “Redemptive History is a heart-wrenching tale full of twists and fantastic romance. If put in the people’s language, the story is irresistible.” His ability to present truth within a fictional, allegorical plot is top-notch, but you are so enthralled by the story, the truths come out naturally, never forced. His thinly-veiled commentary on some aspects of the church in Green, for example, was powerful and needed.
Overall, Green succeeds at meeting its huge expectations and finishes out the Circle series in a very satisfying manner. The animated trailer on the book’s website compares the series to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” for its attempt to “peel back the layers of truth” using metaphor. While only time can possibly tell whether Dekker’s stories will reach the sustained level of interest those two have, Dekker’s Circle series has definitely succeeded at creating a world that enthralls readers and allows them to experience timeless truths within a captivating story.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Things are about to get a lot bigger for the guys from Needtobreathe. They successfully avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump” with their stellar, Dove-award-nominated album, The Heat, back in 2007. Songs from that album appeared in movies, TV shows, and even on ESPN. Now, their third studio release, The Outsiders, showcases a band that has found its identity: outsiders who don’t fit neatly into anyone’s boxes, but can connect with most. Masterfully blending earnest lyrics with elements of southern rock and a modern rock sound all their own, Needtobreathe has produced easily their finest work to date, and possibly the best rock record of the year thus far.
Fans of The Heat will recognize all the stylistic components that made that record fantastic, but production, musicianship, and song-writing have all improved here, the result being an extremely professional-sounding record that doesn’t lose the gritty, southern rock feel. The album leads off with the title track, and the acoustic-driven “Valley of Tomorrow,” both of which would have fit right in on The Heat.
“Through Smoke” follows and shows the improved and diverse song-writing skills of the band. Pounding drums, along with subtle guitars and piano support the glorious vocals of Bear Rinehart as he sings of seeing truth through confusion and doubt. Rinehart has one of the best rock voices I’ve ever heard, and his voice sounds spectacular here. The crescendo, with group vocals and even a harmonica, is simply beautiful and leads right into the current single, “Lay ‘Em Down.” This is straight-up southern rock, hand claps and foot stomps included.
The album hits its stride then slows things down with “Stones Under Rushing Water,” as Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins joins Rinehart on a gorgeous acoustic-based song about longing for the past (Note: the deluxe version includes a video of a live acoustic version of this song and makes the deluxe version completely worth it). Rinehart’s voice shines throughout the album, but even more so in this stripped down tune. The lush harmonies evoke powerful emotion and again showcase the amazing song-writing on The Outsiders.
There is honestly not a weak track on this 14-song album. Other highlights include “Prisoner,” which could be off a CCR or Skynyrd album with its straight southern rock and smoking guitar solo, and “Girl Named Tennessee,” an up-tempo, piano riff-driven gem. Just try to listen to either of these songs without tapping a toe or bobbing your head. “Garden” beautifully paints a picture of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the album closes with “Let Us Love,” which possesses one of the most beautiful verse structures I’ve heard. Subtle guitar picking and piano build to a driving, group-sung chorus.
The Outsiders is an interesting title for this collection. Without trying to be everything to everyone, Needtobreathe have refused to adhere to any kind of sacred/secular label for their music, choosing instead to let the music speak for itself. They’re not preaching, but they don’t hide the worldview from which the music springs.
Obvious spiritual aspects are present in the lyrics, and the music itself connects with the soul at times, but this is simply solid music that reflects the artists who produced it. It will connect with believers and cynics alike, taking each of them on a beautiful musical journey. Needtobreathe may still feel like outsiders, but this album is sure to convince many to let them in to stay.
HT : Jared Wilson
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Like most Christians, I have plenty of friends who aren’t believers. Also like most Christians, I would like very much for those friends to know Jesus Christ and become brothers and sisters in him. I want them to stop living their lives in sin, repent, and place their faith in Christ. On a larger scale, I look at our country and am saddened by many of the horrible things people do. The Bible says that, as believers, we should hate what God hates, and God hates sin. When we hear of someone raped or murdered, we are angered, and rightly so. Sin is not only egregious because of the impact on others; it is an offense against God.
I’ve struggled with how to reconcile this hatred of sin with my love for the lost who commit those sins. The teaching of the Bible affirms that we should do both, but this can be extremely difficult. Oftentimes, the sin blinds us from even seeing the person, causing us instead to work to rid our friends or even the world of the sin, giving no regards to the actual sinner. This is why many people staunchly oppose gay marriage, which they see as an offense against God, without ever considering the impact their words and actions have on gay people. To be clear, I’m not saying things like gay marriage shouldn’t necessarily be opposed, but many times, the tactics Christians use to address sin only give the watching world the first part of the gospel: you’re a sinful person deserving God’s wrath.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, though, tells us that unbelievers are “dead in their sins” and “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” So what should we expect from them? We should expect them to sin. They are “lost sheep,” and we should expect them to act as such. What does a dead person do when you tell them to do something (say, to stop sleeping around, stop practicing homosexuality, stop swearing, etc.)? Paul even goes so far as to say they are “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). So, essentially, we’re telling slaves to just stop being slaves (their master, sin, however, refuses to let this happen). Since they can’t change, or simply don’t want to because their eyes are still blinded, all they hear from those harping on their sins is judgment. We condemn without giving the rest of the story. At best, we inadvertently preach a false gospel that says if you clean your life up and stop sinning, God will be happy with you. This has the added “side benefit” of painting us as hypocrites because we, as believers, continue to sin ourselves. People aren’t stupid. They see that. They hear you say they need to stop sinning while they see you continue to sin. That’s why Jesus said he came to save sinners, not the righteous.
Behavior Modification or Gospel Reconciliation?
Let’s say for a moment, however, that that friend of yours stopped cussing, or stopped sleeping around, or that gay friend pretended to be straight to appease you. What’s been accomplished? Absolutely nothing. Sure, you may not have to see their sin anymore, but they are no safer from God’s wrath than before, and they are still separated from God and the love of Jesus Christ. You see, that’s why we aren’t commanded to go into all nations and make people straight and well-behaved. We’re told to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if your friend changes their behavior. It doesn’t even matter if they start coming to church and pretend to be good. We’re not called to modify behavior; we’re called to facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Only by encountering Jesus Christ and placing their faith in his death and resurrection can people have true reconciliation with God. Otherwise, any “good deeds” they might do are simply “polluted garments” to God (Isaiah 64:6). Is that really what we want to offer Him? Clearly, that’s not what Christians want, but when our entire goal is to correct behavior or legislate a Christian ethic, that’s all we’re really doing.
Now don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying that the first part I mentioned (sin and wrath) is not part of the equation. People with new hearts cannot continue to sin without repentance. However that shouldn’t be the headline of our story. The headline should be “JESUS CAME TO RECONCILE YOU TO GOD!” Obviously, it must be explained why they need reconciliation in the first place, but when “sin and wrath” is our headline, all people hear is that Christians hate sinners. We don’t need to condemn people through a bullhorn; we need to show people Christ. After the encounter, they need to hear “go and sin no more” (which is a command to obedience). True believers will be convicted of sin and work to change, but if all unbelievers hear is the condemnation, why would they even want to listen in the first place? Would you really want to come to church believing that everyone there hates you? Now I know some will argue that we need to stand up and fight sin so people know it’s wrong. Honestly, though, do we really think there are any people in this country who don’t know where the majority of Christians stand on the issue of homosexuality? Ask most gay people what they think of Christians. I bet they say something to the effect of, “Those are the people who hate me.” Christ died for that person. How can we let them associate the name Jesus with hatred of them?
You’re Really Not the Holy Spirit
So let’s not work so hard to modify the behavior of sinners and just let the Holy Spirit do what he does. After all, the good qualities we strive for – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – these are fruits of the Spirit, evidence that we have placed our faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit is working in us. We don’t create these in ourselves, and we can’t create them in our friends and family that don’t know Christ. We’re not the Holy Spirit.
When we condemn others without the good news of the gospel of grace, we’re not doing God any favors. Evangelism is about facilitating an encounter with Christ, who then gives people new hearts and the Holy Spirit. This is the “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). People can only receive this Spirit once they’ve been given a new heart that sees and loves the beauty of Christ.
I think most people mean well when they speak out against gay marriage or abortion or whatever moral issue you want to discuss. I think they believe they’re standing up for God, defending his character. I also don’t think we should cater to the desires of the world or be lacking in the Bible’s opinion of sin. We should hate sin. However, we shouldn’t be known for what we hate. We should be known for the gospel, for presenting a Christ who loves. We should be begging the question that Paul anticipates in Romans 6:1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The message of the gospel of grace should be so incredulous to people that they think that. It should sound too good to be true, as it is both good and true.
This is the message our friends, family, and the rest of the watching world needs to hear from us. They need to hear that Jesus died for them, not just for the people in church last Sunday. Jesus died for tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, rapists, homosexuals, self-righteous bigots, priests, pastors, missionaries, you, and me. We’re all sinners. We all need Jesus’ blood on the cross to wash us clean. Let’s not let any of those groups feel excluded from the opportunity to accept the gospel of grace by our words and actions. Let’s facilitate encounters with the Jesus who died for them, tell them how his death and resurrection reconciled them to God, then let the Holy Spirit be the one to convict them or sin and produce fruit in their lives.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Matt Redman needs no introduction. He’s been a mainstay in the worship music scene for so long, fans of his will be lining up for We Shall Not Be Shaken to hear the latest installment of his congregation-ready, God-exalting songs. At this point, most people have made up their mind about his music. You either enjoy this style of worship or you don’t. Some adore the modern hymns Redman produces; some find it shallow and musically uninteresting. Redman is unlikely to win over very many in the second category with this album, but he delivers what we expect: a Christ-centered album, full of praise to God, and U2-flavored music that can be sung corporately and doesn’t distract from the biblically-based lyrics.
The collection kicks off with “This Is How We Know,” a solid song on which Redman sings, “This is how we know what love is, just one look at your cross.” Vintage Redman. The more up-tempo title track follows, and the theme of faith in God’s character is explored against the backdrop of uncertainty that exists in the world today. Redman sings, “When everything’s tumbling down, You’re the solid ground. Nation’s could be quaking. Economy’s failing. When fear is found all around, You’re the solid ground.”
Another standout is the song, “Remembrance,” which was written specifically for the Lord’s Supper. This song will no doubt be used by churches everywhere. The song creates the perfect mood of contemplation on the sacrament with lyrics such as, “By Your mercy we come to Your table. By Your grace, You are making us faithful. Lord, we remember You.” The song crescendos with Redman begging, “Lord Jesus, come in glory!” This is a fantastic song, and it breaks the mold of most worship songs. The album closes with the reflective “My Hope,” combining some lyrics from “On Christ the Solid Rock” with new ones. Again, the theme is echoed that despite our conditions or circumstances, Christ is the foundation upon which believers can depend. That never changes.
The rest of the album is pretty typical worship, and there aren’t any songs at the level of “Better Is One Day” or “Blessed Be Your Name” here. Some will pick at the simplicity of the lyrics on some songs, and I certainly wish he would expand things little more musically on occasion, but Redman is clearly writing with the congregational setting of the Church in mind. His heart and love for the church is evident in this, and he recently moved his family to the U.S. from England to help plant a church with Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin in Atlanta. He’s not writing for critical acclaim. He’s writing for Christ’s bride.
These are songs that are easy to learn and each song focuses on one aspect of God’s character. Redman is adept at maintaining that balance, using the music to serve the lyrics, while allowing enough room in the songs for contemplation about the themes being sung. Repetition allows people to sing without having to focus too hard on where the melody is going or the next lyrics. Some may disagree with this philosophy of worship, but Redman does it better than most. As I said, he’s not going to win over those in the opposing camp in the “worship war,” but his fans will not be disappointed with this effort.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: August 11, 2009
The [expanded] Bibleisn’t really a study Bible, but it seeks to accomplish many of the same things as a study Bible by including alternate translations, literal renderings, comments, and traditional translations right within the text. Including just the New Testament and providing the base text (a modified version of the New Century Version) in bold and all other resources in plain text, this Bible seeks to help people “study the Bible as they read it.”
The Bible is set up nicely. It’s clean, simple, and the presentation is sharp. It’s a little difficult to read just the base text in bold, but that’s to be expected with the way they have the notes right within the text. I tried using it to follow along with one of my pastor’s sermons, and it was pretty difficult. You also wouldn’t want to use this as your Bible for daily reading, but it could function as a solid tool for in-depth study.
I applaud what the people behind this Bible are attempting to do. Any attempt to help people study the Bible in more depth is great in my opinion. My main problem with this Bible is the base text they decided to use: the modified New Century Version (NCV), which is a paraphrase version. Now I will utilize the New Living Translation (NLT) on occasion for devotional reading for its ease of use, but to actually study the Bible, it’s insufficient. The value of these types of “translations” to me, other than devotional reading, is to use it as a commentary, as it’s one person’s interpretation of the text and not really a translation.
You can see this when The [expanded] Bible includes notes with the literal translation. This is typically the way the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB) render the text. Sometimes, this shows you how much interpretation they’ve done in the paraphrase version. For example, in Romans 3:21, the NCV renders it, “But now God’s way to make people right with him without the law has been shown to us” when the literal meaning is simply, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (ESV). The emphasis in the literal is on an attribute of God (His righteousness), whereas the NCV makes it sound like Paul is simply referring to a single act. These subtle differences can be very important in places.
Now, like I said, these differences can help illuminate meaning in the text sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to rely on the commentary-type translation. The [expanded] Bible almost has it backwards for me. You should start with the literal rendering and use commentary or a paraphrase to help reveal meaning you may not get from the literal.
The other features (alternate wordings, comments, traditional translations mostly from the King James Version) are all helpful in much the same way. They are tools that can help, but I still think the best way to study the Bible is to use the translation closest to the original text and expand from there.
Overall, I would recommend this to people who prefer a paraphrase translation, but want to make sure their study moves beyond one interpreter’s paraphrase and want the convenience of having the notes right there. For more serious study, though, I think you’re probably better off just using the ESV, NASB, or another word-for-word translation and some good commentaries or Bible study software.
Friday, August 21, 2009
You can get a feel for that in this video, which shows pictures and video from this year's conference set to the song, "All I Have Is Christ" (probably my favorite song we did last year, too). I remember being powerfully moved by this song when we were there, and just watching this video brought that back as people pour their hearts out to God. Moving worship.
If you're interested, the song is on the Live CD from the conference (for only $5!) as well as the studio version on the CD produced by the NA Band, which they used to be called when the conference was still New Attitude. A little confusing, but you get it.
Here are the lyrics:
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose.
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You.
HT : Dan Price's Facebook (Ha!)
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication Date: July 1, 2009
As a reviewer of books and music that are mostly produced by Christians, I struggle with how to balance a critique of the quality of the art with the message it’s trying to convey. Clearly, we don’t want to give things positive reinforcement simply because it deals with Christian ideas or mentions Jesus. What role, then, does being a Christian play in influencing the art that’s produced? Is art simply another evangelistic tool, furthering an agenda, or is it an expression of the artist wherein their Christian worldview cannot help but emerge?
These are the types of issues and questions tackled by Manuel Luz in Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist. Luz has quite a background. He’s been a minor rock star, proficient on numerous instruments and having contributed to almost 50 albums. He’s been a rocket scientist (no kidding), and he’s now a creative arts pastor at a church in California. He draws liberally from this personal experience in the book as he wrestles with how to articulate a “theology of art.”
Luz begins this theology in chapter 1 exactly where he should, with the character of God. Since God is the master Creator and Artist, and since we bear His image, it should come as no surprise that we are drawn to create and experience art. As kids, we all have a creative impulse, but as we grow older, we suppress this as we determine we aren’t good enough or we’re “just not the creative type.” We are all, though, drawn to the transcendence of art at some level. It reflects God. Luz’s description of how music works, for example, which draws on both his creative and scientific sides, is staggering and will help you see God in music.
The strongest chapter in the book is chapter 2, where Luz discusses how art and faith intersect. Using a quote from Francis Schaeffer, Luz differentiates between art that is simply a vehicle for a particular message (such as Christianity), and art that honestly reflects the artist’s unique view of the world. Obviously these are not black and white categories and there will be some overlap. For the Christian, this will reflect themes of brokenness and redemption, but these come out honestly in the art and are not forced.
Luz states, “We are like the flowers of the field, each of which glorifies our God simply by being what He created it to be.” He also quotes Eric Liddle from the movie Chariots of Fire about how he feels God’s pleasure when he runs. Chapter 2 also includes a discussion of “Christian Music” and how many in the industry don’t take the above view. In the pursuit of “success,” what we tend to end up with is “religious platitudes wrapped in watered-down art.”
The other chapters on “the artist in community,” “art as a spiritual discipline,” and “the calling of the artist” are all solid as well, even though I feel like some momentum was lost after the first 2. Some will take issue with Luz’s claims about how art should function in the church at times, as he advocates a somewhat non-traditional approach, but for the most part, his theology is very biblical and accurate.
The arts have been somewhat pushed aside in the Church, which is a shame. Art, done well, can help us experience truth about God in new and profound ways. Luz has developed a solid, though not exhaustive, theology of art in which to operate and accomplish this. Imagine That should be required reading for all Christian artists and those of us who would critique it.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Following up on the success on their debut, Tonight The Stars Speak, The Glorious Unseen returns with a stellar follow-up in the form of The Hope That Lies in You. Technically classified as a worship album, lead singer Ben Crist and his band mates really defy the label, as this is not typical Chris Tomlin, Passion, or Hillsong United-type music. While the songs could, at times, fit into that general category of music stylistically, the lyrics here are far too poetic, far too honest, and lacking enough clichés to be thrust into the box people typically label “worship.” This is not really music designed to sing in church, nor is it necessarily evangelistic in nature; instead, taking a cue from the Psalms, it is simply the pouring out of a heart to God in prayer set to music.
Fans of The Glorious Unseen will recognize 3 tracks from the EP the band released back in July: “All Around,” “How He Loves,” and “Heavy Hearted.” The lyrics on “Heavy Hearted” are spectacular, as Crist sings, “What is the meaning of grace / When it speaks to my darkest place? / Why do I always feel like I’m Your disgrace / I’m sick of saving face.” The songs from the EP are also 3 of the best songs on the album, but they are not alone.
“Falling Into You” reveals Crist once again singing of struggling to accept the grace of God because of sin. He sings, “Why do I medicate? / Why do I go back to the things I hate? / You call me as Your friend / As I drop these nails again / I’m falling into You.” About halfway through the album, there’s a stop for meditation and communion with God on the solid instrumental song, “Come, Heaven,” before the standout track, “Sustain,” which flat out questions why God allows certain things to happen in this world. It balances these questions with reminders of God’s character and the hope we have because of that. The most upbeat song is the title track, which climbs to a soaring climax of hope.
Again, this is not really church music. For many churches, it’s simply too honest about the relationship we have with God sometimes. Like the Psalmist affirms, we don’t always feel God’s presence and understand our circumstances. Crist states, “I have to sing what’s honest to me, and that’s exactly how I write the lyrics. I’m not trying to write corporate worship songs – just my honest thoughts to God, and somehow when that comes out, it’s worshipful.”
This is not music to listen to casually; it’s experiential, lyrically-driven music. It’s for honest people struggling to accept the gift of God’s grace through Jesus amidst their failures and fears. The music really serves as a backdrop for that, creating the mood for the lyrics to be layered on top. Musically, the band may still have room for growth and diversity, but lyrically, I don’t know that it gets much more honest than this.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Release Date: July 14, 2009
Movie soundtracks are tricky. It’s difficult to separate a critique of the soundtrack from a critique of the movie itself and vice-versa. They really are just part of the same package, as the soundtrack would not exist had the movie not been made, and most people buy a soundtrack because they enjoyed or connected with the movie. The songs serve to help them relive moments in the movie. For example, every time I hear the theme from Jurassic Park, I picture the moment where we first see the landscape scattered with dinosaurs, and the little kid in me gets goose bumps again.
Clearly, the movie Fireproof was no Jurassic Park. Without getting into a full review of the movie, I’ll just say that while I felt the movie was still severely lacking in major quality areas as far as the art was concerned, I was very impressed by Sherwood’s Pictures’ handling of a very important issue. Yes, the dialogue was very stilted at times, and the general quality of the production wasn’t up to snuff, but the movie’s impact on marriages across the country cannot be discounted. An objective review would obviously find faults galore, but millions of people re-committed themselves to their spouses at least in part from the movie.
These people are the audience to which the Fireproof Official Soundtrack may appeal. Consisting of 6 songs from major artists (Leeland, Third Day, Casting Crowns, John Waller, Grey Holliday, and Warren Barfield) as well as the original score of the movie, the soundtrack is truly a soundtrack, including only songs directly from the movie (no “inspired by” tracks here). The album will no doubt connect with many who loved the film, but aside from a couple of the instrumental score tracks, there’s just nothing new here worth a purchase of the album.
The score really lacks a theme, a running melody throughout each of the songs that identifies the movie and re-conjures the associated feeling from the movie. Essentially, what you have is decent instrumental music, combined with 6 Christian pop songs. My thought is if you like the songs from the movie (and I did and actually think they did a good job of utilizing them in the movie), you can buy them individually for much cheaper. The original score just doesn’t add enough to make buying the whole soundtrack worth it.
Fireproof was a big step up from Facing the Giants in terms of filmmaking quality, but they still have a long way to go. I really hope the movie’s success continues to translate into improved quality in future Sherwood films so I can praise something other than the filmmakers’ intentions and message. For now, that’s all we really have.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
That's not the end of the story, however. After being confronted with Jesus Christ, Josh turned his life around, repenting of his past actions, determined to life his life for Christ. He made it to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds, who then traded him to the Texas Rangers. Last year, Josh participated in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium and put on an amazing display, capturing the hearts of the public due to his skill and story. Through it all, Josh continued to talk about Jesus Christ, how nothing he's accomplished would be possible without him, and not in your typical athlete-speak of "I want to thank God." Josh loves Christ and wants to live for him.
That's not the end of the story, either, however.
This also painted a target on his back. Many were just waiting for him to fail. And he did. Recently, some photos surfaced of Josh partying last January in a bar with multiple women. Nothing to the level of what you expect from professional athletes, but also not the actions you'd hope for from a follow of Christ.
The thing is, by the time the photos came out, they had already been dealt with. Josh had already told his wife about what he did, repented, and asked for forgiveness. He's already told his team, the Texas Rangers, what happened. He didn't wait for the evidence before admitting his sins. He came clean. He handled his sin like a Christian.
Some will judge and say he let Christians down by destroying his witness. On the contrary, I think he's enhanced it all the more. He's living out the gospel of grace in front of everyone. His sins just happen to end up on SportsCenter. As I was thinking through all this, I came across this open letter to Josh written by Ted Kluck at Christianity Today. Ted has written for numerous sports publications, and also co-wrote Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church with Kevin DeYoung. He also has a book called The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto coming out September 1.
From his letter:
What the Deadspin [website where the photos serviced] crowd fails to appreciate about your situation is that in its aftermath, you demonstrated Christian virtues of humility and repentance. Your willingness to atone publicly for your sins, acknowledging what you did wrong and a desire to change, sets a great example for sports fans everywhere—Christian or not. In an era when PR-department-generated "sports apologies" usually range from lying, at worst, to just sort of evasive and weak, at best, your apology is a bright light. And the way you've turned your life around—overcoming your addictions to drugs and alcohol while giving your life to Christ—is still an inspiration to millions.
A word to the evangelicals who feel somehow let down or ripped off by your mistake: Don't. To put it simply, there is a speck in your eye and a plank in mine. It's just that your speck ended up all over the Internet because of what you do for a living. As a young(ish) husband and father myself, I'm sad about what you did and the pain it caused your family, and my prayer is that God would honor your desire to remain clean and move forward. But far be it from me to cast the first stone. Our lives are more complicated than any glossy, 800-word Christian Athletes Are Great! puff piece could even begin to capture. I know because I've written some of those puff pieces. Your recent indiscretion is a reminder that even our best role models will sometimes stumble, but can remain role models nonetheless.
So keep hitting baseballs, cognizant of the fact that by the time this story runs there will be somebody else's blood in the Internet water. Some other bar fight, coke bust, failed class, or DUI. This isn't great but it's the world we live in. And know that there are Christians who are proud of you—proud of the courage it took to own up, and proud of your desire to live a holy life and grow in sanctification.
Read the whole letter at Christianity Today. Thanks for your witness, Josh.
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publication Date: June 18, 2009
He’s without doubt the most influential man who ever lived. Millions of people claim to follow his teachings. Some respect him as a philosopher, moral teacher, advocate for the poor, and even progressive revolutionary. So many writers and speakers have represented him in so many ways, it’s difficult sometimes to separate truth from fiction when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Some even claim it’s impossible to really know if Jesus existed, or, if he did, to really know any concrete truth about him.
We all, though, must answer Jesus’ own question to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” To help with this, Jared C. Wilson’s Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior examines twelve different characteristics or roles of the person of Jesus. Like a diamond, each angle of perspective unveils another aspect of Christ’s beauty, as Wilson unpacks the truth Jesus revealed about himself and who the early Church understood him to be. Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of a promise, a prophet, a shepherd, a redeemer, a king, lord, and savior, among others.
This is one of the better books I’ve read in a long time. Wilson is engaging and even humorous at times (his footnotes alone are almost worth the price and had me laughing out loud at times). He’s theologically deep while remaining very accessible, and thoroughly Jesus- and Gospel-centered. Comparisons to Mark Driscoll are inevitable due to the humor and never-ending focus on Jesus and the gospel, but I think Wilson is a better writer and refrains from distracting readers with the occasional crass remark (I enjoy Driscoll a ton; I’m just saying). To be sure, there is very little in the book in terms of information I didn’t already know, but Wilson’s straightforward, conversational style opened up truths in familiar passages I had never seen simply by the way he paraphrased what was said or done. This is great exposition.
Wilson’s goal is to blow up the false versions of Jesus so ingrained in our culture, and he does so by presenting an orthodox view of Jesus with, at times, unorthodox descriptions. He deftly moves between theological meat and practical application and experience. For example, in the chapter on “Jesus The Redeemer,” a story from Wilson’s cousin serves to show not only that Jesus can redeem, but also to show that he does redemptive work in peoples’ lives. When Wilson speaks of “Jesus The Shepherd” and shows Jesus’ heart for the lost, he connects that to our experiences with lost people and the similar response we should have for them. The teachings of Jesus and the work he accomplished on the cross are not just theoretical here, they are life-giving and real.
The effect of this encounter is equally damaging to the Jesus of both the “religious” and the “lukewarm.” You can control the “religious” Jesus by being good, and the “lukewarm” Jesus doesn’t demand anything from you. The true gospel doesn’t allow for either response, and you will get a clear picture of that gospel here. The self-righteous and those with a feel-good, buddy-Jesus are both confronted with the truth of that gospel. Wilson doesn’t allow you to get through this book without understanding the real Jesus and the real biblical gospel as Jesus himself taught.
Whether you are someone curious to know what Christians really believe about Jesus Christ or you’re someone who’s known him for years, read this book. As Wilson says, the gospel of Jesus isn’t some “entry-level information” from which you graduate and no longer need. The gospel of Jesus is Christianity, and this is one of the clearer pictures recently painted of that truth.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here's John's conclusion to that review:
Where this album will stand in the history of Christian music remains to be decided by the retrospective analysis of the next few years, and a number of other factors – the future of the church’s overall political lean and how it will consider its current heavyweights in hindsight, the acceptance (however reluctant) of Webb’s daring, and the industry’s artistic response to this experience: its advertising campaign, controversial content, and sonic textures. Even so, a few things can be said outright: Webb has crafted a near-perfect album that rivals anything avid listeners have ever come across, one that deserves comparisons to Ok Computer and Kid A and challenges preconceptions about the depth of art reflecting the Christian experience. Stockholm Syndrome is a dangerous, volatile, stunning masterwork of prophetic brilliance and insight – one of the most important albums of the last 10 years.
The whole interview over at Patrol is great, but I found this question and answer specifically fascinating:
Read the whole interview. Great work, John.
PATROL: You’re very critical of the church’s mistreatment of the gay community and other minority groups. You say in one track: “oppression is always oppression … by stares or by fists, it’s the same.” On the flip side of that, can you point out some of the ways in which you feel we as a religious culture have gotten it right in our interaction with those groups?
Webb: I would never want to say one thing at the expense of the other. Obviously, there are a lot of people who call themselves Christians who do great work with those groups. My main problem was, well, for example: a study done over the last few years identified a pretty outrageous statistic, with 15- to 35-year-olds who were asked, “What’s the main thing that comes to mind when you think of the word ‘Christian’?” 90-some-odd percent said, “Somebody who hates gay people.”
I have talked to a handful of people who, like you said, have told me “I’m a Christian, and I don’t hate gay people, and I think you’re exaggerating.” That all may be true, and I don’t doubt it—I know a lot of sensitive and nuanced, well meaning work that’s being done. What I’m concerned about is that perception about Christianity. In the world we live in, perception is as good as reality to some degree. So I think we need to work on that.
I know that none of that really answers your question, but I’m just saying that my main concern through this has been how, even those of us who have more nuanced or less-judgmental approaches concerning these issues, need to realize how our theology is coming out of our mouths. Which means for some people it’s just a matter of having better words. And for other people, it should be an examination of how their theology does turn itself into ethics—how they treat their neighbors, etc. Because, you know, that statistic? I don’t necessarily disagree with it, unfortunately.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the book, so I've already read it. I'm not allowed to post my review just yet, but let's just say fans aren't going to be disappointed. I'll post the full review closer to the actual release date for the book, September, 1 (it will actually be published over at The Christian Manifesto first).
For now, enjoy the trailer:
Note: If you're reading this in a feed reader, the embedded video above may not show. Click through to the site to see the video.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The vast majority never even consider the question. However, the results were very different when people were asked about the following question: "How can I find more meaning and purpose in my life?"
Ed's thoughts about these responses:
Why are we here? How can my life have meaning, value and significance? Explaining what the gospel says to these questions will more readily demonstrate just how relevant the gospel is to their lives. What happens after death is eternally important, but the world isn't always ready to see that. But they are somewhat prepared to consider that because we are made in God's image we have infinite value and dignity; that sin is what robs us of experiencing the reason for which we have been made - to glorify God and enjoy him forever; that Jesus alone is our only hope of redemption - that in him our sins are forgiven, the image of God is restored in us and by him we can glorify God and enjoy him now and forever.
You can read the full post at Ed's blog, which I highly recommend in general.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
When Between The Trees released their debut album, “The Story and The Song,” independently back in 2006, it was met with some critical acclaim, but the band has still managed to remain below the radar. Spain is their follow up release, and despite some turmoil with their record label and a couple lineup changes, the album is a collection of pop/rock gems. Borrowing some Fray-like, piano-driven sweeping melodies and earnestness while infusing enough diversity to satisfy throughout, Between The Trees offers up a very solid sophomore effort and will surely win over even more fans this time around.
The album leads off with the catchy “We Can Try,” which sets a very melodic tone and sets things up well for what’s to come. The earnestness I spoke of is present from the beginning as lead singer Ryan Kirkland sings about past mistakes and moving forward: “I know things aren’t quite like what they used to be / Different faces, different places, yeah. / We can try.” There’s almost a pleading quality to Kirkland’s voice that works well singing these types of lines.
The tempo is slowed slightly on “The One Thing,” then “One Last Time (Darlin’ II),” starts slow but kicks into a beautifully-powerful chorus about lost love. “Story of a Boy” follows, as Kirkland again sings of romantic love and a coming of age story, singing: “This is the story of boy who fell in love/ This is the story of a boy who grows up / This is the story of a boy who fell in love / And the man he becomes.”
My personal favorite track on the album, though, has to be “Scarecrow.” Here, Kirkland sings over a gorgeous, piano-driven background, utilizing his falsetto throughout, repeatedly stating, “Maybe I wasn’t made for this world.” I will say there are a few moments on the album where the falsetto was a little grating for me (most notably on the title track), but on “Scarecrow,” it works extremely well. There’s a weighty sense of hopeful longing for something more that captures the human experience extremely well. We aren’t where we were created to be. We exist here, but our soul longs passionately for something else. If you’ve ever felt this way, do yourself a favor: Get this album, put on some headphones, crank up the volume, and experience the emotion conveyed here. Beautiful.
Finally, the album closes with the “Changed By You,” easily my second favorite song. Kirkland’s voice sounds amazing here, with nothing but a piano accompanying him throughout the first verse and chorus as he sings a beautiful melody about the impact one individual can have on your life. Strings are added tactfully in the second half, adding power to the song without taking away from the vocals.
Simply put, Spain is a great album. There is honest emotion, exquisitely layered over music that hits the right tone as well. Fans of The Fray will no doubt enjoy what Between The Trees have delivered here, but I think anyone who appreciates a realness to what’s being communicated in song will enjoy this collection. I look forward to hearing more from these guys.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication Date: August 11, 2009
It’s trendy these days for Christians to claim to love Jesus and want community with other believers, and at the same time ridicule, insult, and abandon Christ’s bride, the church. In response to these inside attacks from the likes of Leonard Sweet, William P. Young, and George Barna, authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (of Why We’re Not Emergent fame) seek to defend the traditional ideas and practices of the church in their newest book, Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.
In the introduction to the book, we learn they are writing to 4 different groups: The Committed (those faithfully attending and involved in a church), The Disgruntled (those who are part of local church, but becoming increasingly frustrated), The Waffling (the uninvolved and quietly dissatisfied), and The Disconnected (Christians or ex-Christians who have already left the church). Obviously the message towards each of these groups is different. Ultimately, though, the book is intended to acknowledge the church’s faults while kindling a new love for our Savior’s bride. Yes, there are improvements that need to be made, and much can be learned from why some people are leaving the church, but ultimately, the church is where Christians exist. If you love Christ, you will love what Christ loves, and Christ loves the church.
As with Why We’re Not Emergent, the authors take turns writing chapters, DeYoung (the pastor) handling the more theological and historical chapters, and Kluck (the sports-writing layman) writing the more observational ones. Much of DeYoung’s chapters consist of summarizing the ideas of “leavers” like Barna and Young. I really appreciate DeYoung’s ability to remain irenic most of the time. He has an ability to disagree with his “opponents” in this book without taking cheap shots at them and gives ample space to communicating the opposing positions fully. He is also very skilled at articulating orthodox doctrine in a fresh way. I think his best chapter was the epilogue where he discusses original sin. The church has all kinds of problems, he argues, because it is full of sinners. Isn’t that kind of the point? How can we expect the church to be perfect when Christ hasn’t returned and we’re all still sinners? He quickly points out that this doesn’t excuse all the problems, but it should help explain some of them and help us be patient with the church’s flaws.
My favorite chapters from Kluck included chapter 8, where he discusses life in his church. I could see many characteristics of my own church, some good, some bad, but that’s life together in the body of Christ. Additionally, Kluck’s short letter to his son really hit me as a new father. It made me love my church and kindled a determination to communicate that love to my children.
Whichever of the 4 groups you currently find yourself in, you should read this book. It’s honest. It doesn’t gloss over the fact that churches mess up. Some do downright strange and ridiculous things sometimes. The book does, however, present biblical, historical, and practical evidence that the church is where the Christian life happens, for better or for worse. Christ loves his bride, and you will love her more after reading this book as well.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Granted, I think there are really only 2 options for how non-Christians should react if they come to church: 1) brokenness as the Spirit convicts them of their sin and opens their eyes to the beauty of the Christ on the cross for them or 2) disgust at the offense of Christ on the cross as their eyes are still blinded.
What happens though, if Christ isn't really preached that way? What if the weird Christian things happen without ever getting to Christ crucified for sinners and resurrected in victory? What if a mega-church puts on a concert of emotion, tells people that's the Spirit moving, but never tells them who the Spirit should point to and why? Well, I can't say for sure, but I think this article demonstrates what that might look like to non-believers...just strange and ridiculous.
As people yelled, "Yeah!", "Amen!" and ‘‘Awesome!" I wanted to yell, "I don’t get it". I love the way religion convinces people by making things deliberately incomprehensible and you feel too shy to say ‘‘I don’t understand’’ lest you reveal your stupidity...
...The crowd left believing they had been moved by God and touched by Jesus. They hadn’t. They had been seduced by slick video packages and had their emotional desire for love, community and certainty met by manipulation. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit; it was just people.
Read the whole article. I don't care if we get made fun of for doing weird things, as long as the strangest thing is worshiping a crucified and risen Christ.
Here's Michael Spencer's take on it:
It’s interesting to me that most evangelicals will read this, not see the probable absence of a clear Gospel proclamation and not see the potential dominance of technological manipulation in the place of dependence on the Holy Spirit and scripture. I believe many evangelicals actually like to be emotionally manipulated by technology and equate it with a spiritual experience. (Timothy Leary, your phone is ringing….somewhere.) Perhaps we’re only a few steps away from Christians creating virtual worlds into which they can enter and have “spiritual experiences” as they choose.
HT : iMonk
Thursday, August 6, 2009
(Oh, and in case you're wondering, "Irrefragable" means "impossible to refute." That D.A. likes his vocabulary.)
HT : Challies
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
That's why I found an email my wife passed along the other day so interesting. Now I'm not one for email forwards at all, but I found this pretty funny. Basically, it's just some observations on how strange the English language actually is. I pity people who have to learn it as a second language. Good luck.
Can you read these right the first time?
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce..
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture..
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Recently, I came across these 2 list of Piper's "witticisms." Great stuff. You can check out part 1 and part 2, but here's a taste:
- I would have a heart attack at the movies – just the trailers!
- You club people to death with the Log hanging out of your eye.
- I’m so thankful that Paul has memory lapses . . very comforting, Paul.
Happy checks! That’s all! Keep your burden checks!
- If you don't like being a sheep, get over it.
- I came to Christ when I was 6; I’m 64. I’m not optimistic about getting out of sin.
- I don’t want to live in this body for the rest of eternity. I can’t see. My wife thinks I can’t hear. I can hear, but my wife thinks I can’t. It’s the fan! It’s the fan!
- You don’t need to work to make Christianity controversial. Just read sentences from the Bible.
- He’s got about 120 people after 3 years of ministry and he’s the Son of God. That’s not a very impressive church plant.
- One of the curses of our modern day is that everything John Piper says is immortalized on the web.
- The problem is, it doesn’t do any good to nudge a corpse. If you do that, you can get a corpse to church, but you can’t make it alive.
- If you don’t have a bible, don’t be ashamed . . this Sunday.
- Do you want to go home right now and watch TV? Don’t say it out loud if you do! You will be so embarrassed. Because I will say bad things about you.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Best Night of Our Lives was my introduction to Everyday Sunday, as I missed out on their previous release with InPop Records, entitled, Wake Up! Wake Up! I was also not exposed to their offerings on Flicker Records or their independent release. They’ve already had quite a few changes in the band’s lineup at this point. Needless to say, I’m a little late to this party.
And it is a pretty entertaining party. I’ll admit that aside from a few tracks, I wasn’t blown away on my first listen. Subsequent listens, however, have increased in frequency, and I’ve found myself listening to this album on repeat quite a few times over the past week. It took a while to grow on me, but the songs are catchy, highly energetic, with enough diversity of style mixed in to keep you interested throughout.
The album kicks off full force with the title track, converting driving bass and drums with power chords into pure energy. This vibe continues into the next track, “Under Your Thumb,” which has become one of my favorites on the album. Trey Pearson’s slick yet edgy vocals sound great singing lines like these to those who blame others for the problems in their life: “You’ll be what you’re wanting to be / You’ll see what you’re wanting to see / Place blame for the things you’ll become / But the truth is action’s under your thumb.”
Lyrics like these are scattered throughout this album, moving it past many bands in this genre, as many artists have fairly shallow lyrics or only toss out vague imagery that lacks real coherency. The tunes here suffer from no such problem as they tackle some difficult issues. One of my favorites was “Come Around,” a beautifully written pop/rock gem that was written for a guy who lost his father as a teen. This song was followed by the best song on the album (and the one that departs from the energetic style the most), “Here With Me.” Acoustic guitars and strings are beautifully layered behind emotionally charged lyrics sung with gorgeous harmonies. When Pearson’s pleading voice sings these lines and trusting God through difficult times, you believe him: “You said that Your light would chase the dark / Your love for me was written in the scars / So if I’m feeling paralyzed with fear / I know that You’ll never leave me stranded here.”
If, like me, you’ve never heard Everyday Sunday, I would describe them on this album as having a sound somewhat similar to bands like Relient K, with little bits of Fall Out Boy thrown in here and there. You’re not going to hear anything entirely new here, and the album is pretty short (just over 38 minutes), but these are well constructed, lyrically-substantive songs that will grow on you with each listen. It definitely has for me.