Monday, November 30, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Contrasted with Romans 1:20-22:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . .

Al Mohler:

They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Clearly, honoring God as God leads us naturally into thankfulness. To honor Him as God is to honor His limitless love, His benevolence and care, His provision and uncountable gifts. To fail in thankfulness is to fail to honor God -- and this is the biblical description of fallen and sinful humanity. We are a thankless lot.

Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God know a thankfulness that exceeds any merely human thankfulness. How do we express thankfulness for the provision the Father has made for us in Christ, the riches that are made ours in Him, the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift" [2 Corinthians 9:15].

So, observe a wonderful Thanksgiving -- but realize that a proper Christian Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act that requires an active mind as well as a thankful heart. We need to think deeply, widely, carefully, and faithfully about the countless reasons for our thankfulness to God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review: Leland Ryken - Understanding English Bible Translation

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Crossway Books
Publication Date: September 30, 2009

Do you know how you ended up with the Bible you use? Do you know the principles that guided the translators that determined how the original words written by the biblical authors would be presented? Does it matter to whether you have the English words that correspond to the actual words used in the original, or are you content with the translators’ best presentation of the surmised meaning of the text? Are you comfortable with the removal of metaphors, ambiguity, and some poetic imagery from the text in an effort to “modernize” the text, or do you want to see exactly what the biblical writers actually wrote?

If you’ve never given any thought to these types of questions, you should. They are important. If you don’t know the answers, but would like to, Leland Ryken’s Understanding English Bible Translation is a good place to start. Ryken makes the attempt throughout the book to make the case that an essentially-literal translation (the ESV, for example) is the best translation because of its adherence to providing readers with the actual corresponding English text to what the original said. While doing this, Ryken points out what he considers major flaws in dynamic equivalent translations (paraphrases like The Message, and The New Living Translation). He demonstrates how these types of translations hinder modern audiences from seeing the fullness of the original texts and remove confidence that what readers have is an accurate representation of the original.

I fall gladly into the essentially-literal camp. I utilize an ESV for most of my biblical reading and studying. I also occasionally use an NLT for devotional reading or as a commentary. Whatever your current preference, however, this book would be useful. While Ryken clearly disapproves of dynamic equivalent Bibles, the principles he sets forth are a great introduction to help readers understand the differences and what’s at stake. Most people simply don’t know. Whatever translation you use, you should at least know what you have (and don’t have) in front of you.

I think Ryken makes a strong case for essentially literal translations. I can see some people arguing with some of his points (for example, what does “essentially-literal” really mean?), and I think there are many great uses for dynamic equivalent texts, but overall, I think many would be convinced of the advantages of a translation like the ESV. I’ve been curious about the real differences in the translations for a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book as a great introduction to the issues involved. I knew paraphrase translations just didn’t sound right to me, but now I understand the principles that were underlying my apprehensions.

- Recommended.

*This book was provided for review by Crossway Books.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

10 Things To Remember When Your Child Is Disobedient

My son is almost a year old. He's just starting to show moments of disobedience (I know, hard to imagine that cute little guy there disobeying). He probably doesn't know what he's really doing, but it's given me glimpses of what it's going to be like to have to deal with his disobedience and sin-nature. I want so badly to be a good father and raise him to love God.

With that in mind, I found this post by Ruth Simons particularly helpful:

Here are 10 Things I had to remind myself today when the job of correcting my children felt especially difficult…

1. You disobey the Lord…and He is the perfect Father.

2. His kindness leads us to repentance.

3. God disciplines those He loves.

4. Your child’s disobedience does not measure your value any more than his obedience showcases your achievement.

5. Your child’s disobedience teaches you dependence on God.

6. And sometimes it’s more than dependence He’s after, it’s complete desperation for Him.

7. Your child is clearly a sinner, and needs to hear the truth of the Gospel, and see it lived out through you.

8. Times of correction serve to remind, or establish within your child, his own sense of need for a Savior.

9. It’s not good behavior you really desire…you want his heart.

10. Your child is a person, not a project.

HT: Zack Nielsen

Music Review: Creed - Full Circle

Genre: Rock
Label: Wind-Up Records
Release Date: October 27, 2009

Rating: 3.5/5

Do you have that one band that happened to come along at just the right time in your life that they ended up having a huge impact on you? Their songs really connected with you in that moment, allowing them to take on meanings not necessarily there for others. Sure, you enjoyed the music, but it was about much more than the music itself for you.

For me, that band was Creed.

Ok, done with the snickering yet? No? Ok, go ahead, get it out.

You got a joke that involves the phrase “arms wide open?” Something about getting “higher?” Believe me; I agree a lot of the mocking is deserved by Mr. Stapp. But hear me out.

Creed’s My Own Prison, released back in 1997, was a fantastic album that a lot of people have never heard. Songs like “My Own Prison,” “What’s This Life For,” and “Torn” hit me like a ton of bricks. Stapp used to be able to write amazing lyrics that explored spiritual struggles piercingly. The subsequent Human Clay and Weathered were trashed by many critics despite the vast commercial success. I maintained a soft spot for the guys, but it was mostly sentimental, as I didn’t really connect with those albums.

Fast forward 6 years. Stapp released a pretty pathetic solo album, while the other three band members joined with Myles Kennedy to form Alter Bridge, which revealed some pretty stellar musicians had been backing Stapp all that time. Mark Tremonti’s guitar chops shone on AB’s two albums (One Day Remains and Blackbird). On top of that, Kennedy was a welcomed respite from Stapp’s self-importance and increasingly-annoying vocals. Not to mention he’s a much better singer.

Now, Tremonti, Scott Phillips (drums), and Brian Marshall (bass) have teamed back up with Stapp on Full Circle, Creed’s “comeback” album. The guys have clearly progressed as musicians and are given a little more room to shine this time by Stapp, but it’s just not enough to overcome Stapp’s bombastic tone and increasingly simplistic lyrics. The spiritual struggle apparently satisfied, Stapp is left with little poetic imagery to draw from.

Not that the album is without highlights. In fact, I’d say it’s their best album since MOP. “Overcome” is a solid opener that gives Tremonti plenty of room to shine on his solo. He’s given similar opportunities on “A Thousand Faces” and “The Song You Sing.” He doesn’t have the amount of freedom clearly there with AB, but his ability to write solid hard rock guitar riffs that fit within verses is also well done on this album. His technical skill is fantastic. Other favorites I had on the album were the second single “Rain,” “On My Sleeve,” “Full Circle,” and “Time.”

Musically, some of these songs would have fit well on an Alter Bridge album, and I really think the problem is Stapp’s voice. While he’s toned down his over-the-top style on some of the tunes, which I appreciate, I just would have loved to hear Kennedy singing them instead (the guys are going into the studio to complete Alter Bridge’s third album very soon as they intend to keep both bands going). I just can’t take some of the strained, pretentious vocalizations Stapp produces.

Bottom line is this: This is a very talented band of musicians that suffered a backlash from their own success. It doesn’t matter what they do now to some. There are lifetime condescending haters at this point. Stapp’s just annoying, and this album isn’t going to convince many people otherwise. This is a shame, because Mark Tremonti is one of the better rock guitarists of our generation (check out AB’s two albums and their live DVD – amazing).

If you liked Stapp before, you’ll probably find this album very good. If not, at least you’ll get to use some more of your jokes again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interview With Jared Wilson at TCM

Speaking of Jared Wilson, my co-interview with him has been posted over at The Christian Manifesto. Really enjoyed the conversation and loved Jared's insights on things. You can listen to the 48-minute audio here.

A summary:

This edition of the Profess Interview Series brings to you an exclusive conversation between C.E. Moore, Matthew Robbins, and Jared C. Wilson, author of “Your Jesus Is Too Safe. In our interview Jared talks about his book, the least talked about aspects of Jesus as well as false versions, the spiritual landscape of his environment, and the dangers of idolizing Christian pastors.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Jared Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont, and a writer of articles, essay, and short stories appearing in various publications. His book Your Jesus is Too Safe is now available from Kregel Publications. Wilson's Bible study resource titled Abide: Practicing the Rhythms of the Kingdom in a Consumer Culture releases from Threads Media in Spring 2010.

You can also read my review of Jared's book, Your Jesus Is Too Safe at TCM and on this blog.

Jared Wilson on the "Essential" Gospel

Jared Wilson has a great post over at the Evangel blog called, "Dude, Where's My Gospel?" I've been hit with my neglect of the basic gospel this week, so I found it particularly convicting and helpful.

He writes:

Gospel deficiency is the major crisis of the evangelical church. The good news has been replaced by many things, most often a therapeutic, self-help approach to biblical application. The result is a Church that, ironically enough, preaches works, not grace, and a growing number of Christians who neither understand the gospel nor revel in its scandal.

There are lots of good reasons to reclaim the centrality of the good news of Jesus in our preaching and teaching and writing and blogging, and I’ve come up with four basic arguments for (what I’m calling) The Gospel Imperative, but perhaps defining our terms is in order. It’s no good going on about making the gospel the center of our worship and discipleship if we are not on the same page for what the gospel actually is...

...While acknowledging that the gospel is about the inbreaking kingdom of God setting a fallen world back to rights, the gospel I am speaking about here is the “essential” gospel, which is the news that Jesus has died to make atonement and risen bodily to establish his Lordship and has thereby murdered sin and conquered death.

Pretty powerful stuff, ain’t it? And yet many of our churches consider this news, which eternal angels still long to gaze into, merely introductory stuff.

Here are four basic reasons for evangelicalism’s reclamation of the gospel:

His 4 reasons:

1. Because we are forgettful.
2. Because it is the power to save.
3. Because it is of first importance.
4. Because it glorifies God.

Go see these fleshed out in his post that ends with this conclusion:

The gospel is the hope of the world. It is my hope and it is yours. It should be our prayer and our humble insistence, then, that the people named for the gospel live and preach true to their name once again.

Powerful stuff. Thanks for the reminder, Jared.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Of First Importance - The Gospel

I've had this posted at the bottom of this blog for a while, but it was a good reminder for me today. Amidst so much of the controversy that exists even within the body of Christ (over theological differences, missional and worship philosophies, labels, etc.), it's good to step back and remember the truth of the gospel.

The gospel is beautiful. Christ is beautiful. May we continually hold onto these truths and cherish Jesus Christ above all else.

*I hate I even feel the need to write this: Please realize that the t-shirt is in no way intended to mock Jesus. Mark used to wear shirts like that to mock people's views of Jesus. His preaching always pointed out how the conceptions of Jesus were wrong. Not sure if he just got tired of being misunderstood, but I haven't seen him wear a shirt like that in a long time.

I wish he wouldn't have worn it in this sermon since people get distracted easily, but that doesn't change the fact that this is one of the clearer gospel presentations I've heard.

Mass: We Pray

This is pretty hysterical. Gotta get those "grace points!"

HT: Challies

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Music Review: Jeremy Camp - Jeremy Camp Live

Genre: Live Pop/Rock/Worship
Label: BEC Recordings
Release Date: November 17, 2009

Rating: 3/5

Back in 2002, Jeremy Camp burst on the CCM scene with his debut album, Stay, which boasted several hits for Camp, including “Walk By Faith,” “I Still Believe,” and “Take My Life.” With a moving personal story, an intense focus on Jesus, and a penchant for writing moving (albeit musically simplistic) tunes, Camp has followed the success of Stay with 5 albums (3 studio albums, a worship album, and a live acoustic show). With the possible exception of the live acoustic album, none has managed to achieve the level of Stay, in my opinion; this doesn’t change with Camp’s latest effort, Jeremy Camp Live.

Like most live albums, this collection functions as a sort of greatest hits, with Camp performing the hits from all of his albums. If you’re a big Jeremy Camp fan, you’ll no doubt enjoy hearing these live versions of hits like “This Man,” “Tonight,” “There Will Be A Day,” and “Take You Back.” While not much different than the album versions in most cases, I always enjoy hearing my favorite artists perform live.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Camp doesn’t fall in this category for me, and the album just confirmed for me that Camp doesn’t plan on changing his formulaic song-writing anytime soon. The songs aren’t bad, but I just keep waiting for him to realize the artistic potential that was seemingly there on Stay. I thoroughly enjoyed his live acoustic album where he played around with song arrangements and showed some creativity and versatility, and I was hoping that was a sign of things to come.

Instead, Camp has stayed musically somewhere between CCM and worship, producing songs that are so simple they could be sung corporately, while not really fitting into the worship category. I love Camp’s unending focus on Christ (and I love that he ends with a stirring rendition of “Give Me Jesus”), but musically, I continue to come away somewhat disappointed by his efforts. Jeremy Camp Live, then, is pretty much what I’ve come to expect: Christ-centered imagery and themes accompanied by predictable melodies and chord progressions. There’s definitely a huge audience for what Camp’s putting out, and I’m glad for his ministry and message (particularly to young people), but I just wish he would broaden himself musically and push himself as an artist more.

*This album was provided for review by BEC Recordings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Andrew Marin - Love is an Orientation

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
Publication Date: March 25, 2009

It’s become one of the main issues of our time. It’s a spiritual issue, a relational issue, and, in past decades, a highly politicized one. You’ll find extremely strong opinions on both sides, and these polarized opinions can lead to confrontation, heated argument, broken relationships, even violence.

The issue: homosexuality.

The complexity of the issue is sometimes hidden beneath the same old rhetoric from both sides. One side tends to boil it down to a simple injunction to stop, often in very insensitive ways. The other side, defensive and angry, has its own tendencies to resort to inflammatory language and hate of its own. How can a bridge be built between these two communities?

Enter Andrew Marin and his book, Love is an Orientation.

Let me be clear about something up front. As a conservative (both theologically and politically), bible-believing Christian, I found a decent amount in this book that I disagreed with. I even found myself answering some of Marin’s statements out loud. For the most part, however, I found myself challenged to take on a quality that the Christian community claims to value: empathy.

That’s really the strength of this book. You might not agree with all that Marin says (I certainly didn’t), but his ability to put you in the shoes of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community is powerful. This is a quality missing from much of the discussion Christians have regarding the issue of homosexuality. It’s easy to look at the passages in the bible that condemn homosexuality and think things are clear-cut; don’t do it. The issue isn’t really that simple, however, for GLBT people who desire to walk with God, but struggle to reconcile their sexual desires with God’s revelations in scripture. Others who don’t want anything to do with God simply hear a condemnation of their identity from Christians, which only confirms they want nothing to do with the God of those people.

Andrew Marin has learned empathy by immersing himself in Boystown, the GLBT neighborhood in Chicago, and forming The Marin Foundation, which works to build bridges between the GLBT community and the Christian community. Marin draws from this experience throughout the book, sharing stories of GLBT people he’s encountered, detailing their stories and struggles. Some are powerful. Some give hope. Some of downright depressing. The same can be said of people from any group. Marin successfully and powerfully puts a human face on the issue, which is sorely needed for many to see.

There are a few problems with the book, though. For one, Marin never really articulates accurately what the gospel is and how it applies to the GLBT community. He talks about them having an “authentic relationship with God,” but there’s no discussion of specifically how Jesus’ death on the cross saves people from God’s wrath against their sin, enabling that relationship to happen. I’m certain Marin understands this, but I would have loved to hear a discussion of this in the context of the GLBT community. He’s just a little too vague on the gospel for me.

He also refuses to really answer the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin. I understand why he does this for the purposes of the book, but it just left me thinking that it eventually has to be answered for GLBT people at some point. He seems content leaving that decision up to the individuals and letting the Holy Spirit speak to them on the validity of their sexuality. I agree the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, but we’re also called to help each other identify sin in our lives.

These issues aside, I think this is an important book for furthering (and elevating, as Marin puts it) the discussion. There are still many questions that beg for answers, and I believe those answers are there, but the discussion needs to be re-framed. I believe that happens when Christians really put themselves in the shoes of GLBT people, really love them regardless of whether or not they ever change their lifestyle. We don’t have to water-down the truth, but love for the people that truth is affecting needs a more prominent place. That’s the main thrust of the book, and it’s an important message.

- Recommended.

*This book was provided for review by IVP.

Matt Chandler at Southern Seminary

Matt can bring it, man. Totally worth the 40 minutes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The First Decade of the 2000's in 7 Minutes

From Newsweek

Music Review: Phil Wickham - Heaven & Earth

Genre: Worship
Label: INO Records
Release Date: November 17, 2009

Rating: 4.5/5

“I wanna see you face to face
Where being in your arms is the permanent state
I want it like it was back then
I wanna be in Eden”

Phil Wickham’s new album, Heaven and Earth (due out November 17) kicks off with “Eden,” which sports the above chorus. The song really sets the tone for this beautiful album, as Wickham sings of our true home with God. The entire album has a truly transcendent feel to it, moving listeners towards worship and stirring a longing for that home.

I haven’t listened to Wickham too much in the past, but this album will likely change that. Simply put, these are great songs. The melodies are moving in and of themselves, but also work extremely well with the lyrical content, which is fairly connected throughout the album. The title of the album doesn’t feel as though it was tacked on at the end of the recording process. Wickham seems to have consciously crafted a moving collection of songs to make believers long for heaven and remember where their true home is.

Similar stylistically to some of U2 (when U2 sneaks in some worshipful music), the album has very few weak songs, but a few really stood out to me. “Eden,” the title track, “Because of Your Love,” “Cielo,” and “Heaven Song” are all fantastic songs of worship to God. The best song on the album, however, was clearly “In Your City,” in my opinion. The song builds perfectly as Wickham sings of the anticipation of entering heaven. A pulsating drumbeat sits beneath gorgeous guitar riffs on a chorus that will move you emotionally if you’re actually paying attention. It also has a incredible chorus that incorporates some lines from “Amazing Grace.” Great stuff.

Worship music has suffered much in recent years from a lack of originality, shallow lyrics, un-focused passion towards generic concepts, and poor musicianship. Because of this, Heaven & Earth really stands out to me as a triumph in the genre. Some of the songs may be difficult to pull off in a corporate worship setting, but I think talented musicians could make it work. For personal worship that points you to God and keeps your eyes on an eternal perspective, this album is nearly-perfect.

*This album was provided for review by INO Records.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Technology, Social Networks, and Social Isolation

From the new Pew Internet & American Life Project study on how cell phones and the internet affects the ways people interact in their social networks. Some very interesting finds here (the bold parts are what I found particularly interesting).

» Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then. Only 6% of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.

» We confirm that Americans’ discussion networks have shrunk by about a third since 1985 and have become less diverse because they contain fewer non-family members. However, contrary to the considerable concern that people’s use of the internet and cell phones could be tied to the trend towards smaller networks, we find that ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are a key measure of people’s most important social ties.)

» Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

» When we examine people’s full personal network – their strong ties and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. Again, this flies against the notion that technology pulls people away from social engagement.

» Some have worried that internet use limits people’s participation in their local communities, but we find that most internet activities have little or a positive relationship to local activity. For instance, internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbors in person. Cell phone users, those who use the internet frequently at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary association, such as a youth group or a charitable organization. However, we find some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.

» Internet use does not pull people away from public places. Rather, it is associated with engagement in places such as parks, cafes, and restaurants, the kinds of locales where research shows that people are likely to encounter a wider array of people and diverse points of view. Indeed, internet access has become a common component of people’s experiences within many public spaces. For instance, of those Americans who have been in a library within the past month, 38% logged on to the internet while they were there, 18% have done so in a café or coffee shop.

» People’s mobile phone use outpaces their use of landline phones as a primary method of staying in touch with their closest family and friends, but face-to-face contact still trumps all other methods. On average in a typical year, people have in-person contact with their core network ties on about 210 days; they have mobile-phone contact on 195 days of the year; landline phone contact on 125 days; text-messaging contact on the mobile phone 125 days; email contact 72 days; instant messaging contact 55 days; contact via social networking websites 39 days; and contact via letters or cards on 8 days.

» Challenging the assumption that internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, we find that many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication.

Read the whole report on the Pew Internet website.

HT: Justin Buzzard via JT

Monday, November 9, 2009

Music Review: Jadon Lavik - The Road: Acoustic

Genre: Acoustic Pop
Label: BEC Recordings
Release Date: October 20, 2009

Rating: 4/5

My familiarity with Jadon Lavik extended no further than recognizing his song “What If,” which I enjoyed for its exploration of works versus grace a few years back. Lavik has released 2 full-length studio albums (2005’s Moving on Faith and 2006’s Life on the Inside) as well as a collection of hymns on Roots Run Deep (2008). His acoustic pop sound, combined with a solid theological grounding, has gained him a modest following. Now, he’s stripped things completely down on The Road: Acoustic, capturing a truly intimate sound with just his voice, some sparse backup vocals, and a couple guitars.

When I first started listening to this album, I was in my car on the way somewhere, not exactly fully engaged in the music. I wasn’t hugely impressed based on that listen. In fact, I thought it was somewhat boring. The problem, I discovered, wasn’t the music so much as it was me. This is simply music you need to be prepared to listen to, or least you have to be in the mood to slow down and contemplate a little. As I said, there are no bells and whistles here; it’s just acoustic guitars, a couple voices, and the content of the songs. It really does an admirable job capturing that elusive “coffeehouse” feel. It’s not a live show recording, but it sure feels like one at times.

As I said, I hadn’t heard Lavik’s earlier stuff which makes up a lot of this collection. Two of my favorites, however, were from Roots Run Deep: “Come Thou Fount” and “Wonderous Love.” His takes on these classics are fantastic, adding enough acoustic pop flair without trampling on the reverence present in the hymns. He’s just bringing them to a new generation. Another standout was clearly “Father.” The emotion is weighty in this song, as Lavik sings a prayer to God, pouring out his heart in thankfulness against a beautiful acoustic backdrop. Extremely powerful.

Things are picked up a little bit on songs like “Come To Me” and a good version of the aforementioned “What If.” These work well to change things up a bit, but I really think the main strength of this album is the transparency of emotion and performance of the toned down songs. There’s simply no hiding when you have nothing but your acoustic guitar. The songs have to stand on their own when you have nothing with which to distract listeners.

As I said, you’ll have to be in the right mood to appreciate this album. I’d put it in the category with Shawn McDonald’s Live in Seattle in terms of good contemplative acoustic albums (but not quite as good – I love McDonald and Lavik is not at that level in my opinion). Numerous times while listening to this album, I encountered emotions that turned me towards God. That’s the essence of worship, and Lavik is able to take listeners to that place, provided you’re ready to be taken there.

*This album was provided for review by BEC Recordings.

Music Video of the Week

Flyleaf - "Again"

FLYLEAF:: AGAIN from Adamson.TV on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sexual Detox E-Book

Tim Challies' series on Sexual Detox (which I posted about last week) sparked some good conversations on his blog, and many people suggested the series of posts would function well as an E-Book. Tim has taken that advice, and he's produced a couple PDFs. You can download them from Tim's blog or below:
Thanks, Tim, for taking on this topic and providing this resource free of charge for young men working through (or struggling with) these issues.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Music Review: Thousand Foot Krutch - Welcome To The Masquerade

Genre: Rock
Label: Tooth & Nail
Release Date: September 8, 2009

Rating: 4/5

Thousand Foot Krutch is one of those bands where you pretty know what you’re going to get when you pop in their CD. Crunchy guitar riffs, pounding drums, a combination of singing and rapping, and vocals that won’t challenge your intellect a lot, but will surely succeed in sufficiently pumping up fans (“Rawkfist,” anyone?). That being said, I was pleasantly surprise with their latest album, Welcome to the Masquerade. Now they’re not suddenly lyrical masters, but this album shows increased maturity, both musically and even lyrically, to a lesser extent. The guys have cemented themselves as stalwarts in the Christian rock scene, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Standouts here include “Fire It Up,” which is sure to be used as introduction music at a sporting event near you soon, “Bring Me To Life,” with a verse structure that sounds similar to Disturbed, “E For Extinction,” and “Smack Down,” a stellar pre-game song as well that was my favorite song on the album (and even includes some Queen influences). Mostly what you have here are songs with solid riffs and vocals, themes of Us-Against-The-World, and testosterone-infused beats. There’s not a huge secret to TFK’s appeal. Some will continue to criticize the lyrical content, but the guys know who they are and what their fans want. They continue to give it to them. For me, they’re growing enough to keep me interested as well.

They do attempt some deeper ballads, but I don’t really think they work all that well. “Watching Over Me” sports some decent harmonies and a driving, rock ballad chorus, but the lyrics are just a little too clichéd and cheesy for me. “Look Away” is similar in its effectiveness. Musically, the guys prove they can write these types of songs, but the lyrics just still leave some depth to be craved, although there’s definitely growth. The one notable exception to this is "Already Home," which closes out the album and utilizes great vocals, strings, and emotional lyrics. This slower tune is quite good. The guys are capable; they just have to be a little more consistent as they branch out in terms of style.

Overall, I doubt many TFK fans are disappointed too much with this one. The band just might not win over a ton more with it, either. I’ve been using it routinely during workouts as few bands can get you going more than these guys can, and that’s really their appeal in my opinion. They stir emotions and get your blood moving. Through that lens, this album is fantastic.

*This album was provided for review by Tooth & Nail (Thanks, Lori!).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Youth Group Rules

A sampling of rules that all church youth groups should employ from the Stuff Christians Like website:

2. Only one “dude with an acoustic guitar” will be allowed per youth group.

3. If you go on a retreat and you’re boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t go, they should expect to get dumped when you return home. Cause that’s happening.

6. All youth group retreats should be held at locations that could double for horror movie backdrops because it adds to the intensity of the weekend.

7. Youth group volunteers who are helping out primarily to relive their own high school glory days vicariously through the teens will be removed quickly and quietly.

13. The one parent who complains about something you did will not be empowered to steer the entire course of the youth group. The 50 other parents who didn’t complain will also be considered.

16. If the youth minister changes his/her tone of voice, vocabulary and outfit, when they get around youth, saying things like, “Yo, my tweets are blowing up, we ballin’ on a budget,” that youth minister will be hit with water balloons filled with honey.

Check out the whole list, which includes a discussion of "the side hug," at Stuff Christians Like.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Prosperity Gospel in Africa

Our American Christianity export to Africa.

The Prosperity Gospel from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.

HT: Zach Nielsen and Jared Wilson

Landon Paul Skoog

My nephew was born a couple weeks ago. With my wife being a photographer, my sister had a sister-in-law to capture the event beautifully. You can see more of Leah's work on her website and at her blog.

Here's the slideshow she put together of my nephew's birth:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Music Review: Shane & Shane - Everything is Different

Genre: Acoustic Rock
Label: Inpop Records
Release Date: November 3, 2009

Rating: 4.5/5

A gloriously harmonious, vocally-astounding, acoustic attack of God-honoring awesomeness.

That’s the best I can come up with the describe Shane & Shane’s new album, Everything is Different. The guys have created their best album to date, as their always stellar vocals are put on display throughout the 12 intricately-crafted songs, bringing honor to God through both their lyrics and musical ability.

If you’ve enjoyed the Shanes’ previous albums, you will find a ton here to love. The guys haven’t deviated a ton musically from what they do; they just continue to do it better each time out. Songs like “Everything is Different,” “Worthy of Affection,” and “I’m Alive” are vintage Shane & Shane with their acoustic-driven melodies and incredible harmonies. Also, their version of “The Lord’s Prayer” is moving and a fresh take on the prayer.

My favorite song, however, was “My Reward,” which explores the idea that Jesus himself is our reward and all we need. A gorgeous acoustic guitar riffs leads the verse into a driving chorus that sings, “I love you, Lord. Jesus, my King. I want to love you, Lord. My great reward.” Powerfully moving with the melody they use.

Another interesting song was the slower “Turn Down The Music,” which explores issues of social justice as our song of praise to God. “Turn down the music / Turn down the noise / Turn up you voice, oh God / And let us hear the sound of people broken / Willing to love / Give us your heart, oh God / A new song rising up.”

As I said, I would classify this as Shane & Shane’s best work overall. It’s solid from top to bottom, with a few songs that will likely become favorites of mine for quite a while. I've been listening to it for almost a month and it's still amazing me. I’m a huge fan of great harmonies, and I’m yet to find better than these guys. They write great songs, have amazing vocals, and use every song to glorify God in every way. Given that you appreciate their acoustic style of music, it’s hard to find better than that.

*This album was provided for review by Inpop Records.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: Andrew Parker - The Genesis Enigma

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: October 8, 2009

"For the first time ever, a respected evolutionary biologist shows how the biblical story of Genesis reflects scientific truths that were only recently discovered – and finds room for divine inspiration at the center of this enigma."

~From the inside flap

Andrew Parker is a well-known and respected scientist. His knowledge of evolution and the Big Bang is extremely impressive, and in his new book, The Genesis Enigma, Parker attempts to show how a metaphorical reading of Genesis 1 actually has numerous parallels to the scientific understanding of world. Eventually, Parker posits some views on how science and religion can coexist, finding room for God to fit within the boundaries laid out by scientific thought.

In theory (no pun intended), this was an interesting idea for a book. The “Battle over the Beginning” has been fought for years, and I was mildly interested to read a book that claimed to find a middle ground. What I found this book to be instead was a science textbook that explains the origins of the universe from the Big Bang on, then uses some extremely questionable exegesis to say that the Bible agrees with the science. I say questionable because, for example, connecting the mention of “lights” in Genesis 1:14 to the development of sight was very unconvincing. What you basically have is a scientific history book (both of the earth and the scientists who developed the theories behind evolution) with a few theological claims tacked onto the end.

Two things were exceedingly evident to me as I read this book: 1) Parker has an immense knowledge of science and can explain complex theories quite well. 2) He is not a theologian and does not understand the theological implications of most of his claims as he attempts to reconcile religion and science. He clearly doesn’t believe the Bible is God’s Word, and he just doesn’t seem to understand why Christians would have a hard time with even the claim that God just created the energy for the Big Bang and then stepped back to watch. Even a cursory reading of the whole of scripture, however, reveals that God is intimately engaged in this world that he created. Additionally, I kept coming back to this as I read Parker’s claims: If God didn’t personally create us, forget Him. He would have no claim on us, no right to enforce a moral law on us, and the need for Jesus to redeem us from our rebellion against that law and God would disappear. Christianity falls if God is not our Creator (See Romans 5).

Throughout the entire book, there were numerous moments where Parker was forced to admit that science has no answer to something (i.e. Where did the energy for the Big Band come from? Why do animals reproduce at all? Why does religion exist at all if it serves no evolutionary function?). In the final chapter of the book, Parker addresses many of these questions to get to his claim that there is “room for God” within a scientific understanding. The problem with this is that the God Parker arrives at in his understanding (sort of, he seems mostly agnostic) doesn’t resemble the God presented in the Bible at all. As I said, Parker doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, but Christians will.

That’s why I’m not exactly sure of his audience for this book. Christians will clearly see that he’s pulling the foundation away from all of Christianity, and non-religious people will likely not care whatsoever that Genesis can be metaphorically interpreted to somewhat match up to science. Parker doesn’t aim at reconciling science with God (consistent with Christianity), he just wants to reconcile it with the possibility of a god.

I enjoyed reading parts of this book simply to get a good summary of what science says about the earth’s origins, but that’s really all. In terms of thinking through how to reconcile that science with Christianity, there’s nothing very new or helpful here.

- Not Recommended.

*This book was provided for review by Dutton Books.
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