CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Night Of The Living Dead Christian

Thirty of us were talking, and we ended up with sixty-seven posts — all about Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. So much conversation is a sure sign that the book stirred something in those who read it. Was it controversy? I mean, an allegory comparing Christians and monsters could get a little dicey. Was it praise for the author? After all, his work has received some heavy-hitter endorsements.

No and no — well, OK, somewhat, in that last one, but that wasn’t the most popular subject. The main topic of discussion that came up most frequently was how the book — the message of it — affected the reader.

Here are a few samples:

  • Bruce Hennigan: All in all, “Night of the Living Dead Christian” is a powerful allegory of what most Christians are like today, including me. It is well worth the reading, well worth the laughter, and ultimately, well worth the tears of joy.
  • Steve Trower: there were plenty more like it, snippets of dialogue that contained real thought-provoking truth. As a writer, moments like these serve to remind me of the power that stories can have – even silly stories about vampires and zombies. As a flawed and arguably monstrous human being, this particular moment was really a little closer to home than it had any right to be!
    • Theresa Dunlap: Yes, you will find zombies, werewolves and vampires and even a mad scientist and a robot – um – android, but there is such a powerful message hidden in the story that one is likely to not forget it easily. To put it as simply as possible, this book is a story about transformation – a true transformation.
  • Thomas Fletcher Booher: something Mikalatos did very well was point out that faith must involve works, and he pulls from the book of James to support this. True faith is a working faith, and a faith without works is not a true saving faith.
    • Tori Greene: If I really believe that Jesus is God become man to save us from sin, if I really believe in the things that he taught, then the way I live my life should reflect this. Jesus calls us to live in a radical way – to put Him first, to love our neighbor, to reject the false promises of the world. My life should be transformed as I seek to pick up my own cross and follow Him

    Not that the participants were unanimous in their opinions, by any means, but that so many focused on what the story meant is unusual for a book also recommended because of its humor.

    One last part of the tour remains — choosing which blogger to recognize as this month’s Top Tour Blogger. And to add a little something, Matt has kindly offered a prize for the winner:

    to sweeten the pot this month I’m giving the winner of the blog tour a free, signed copy of the book as well as a limited edition NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD poster (the image of which does not match the book cover, is beautiful, and that the publisher has asked me not to share publicly).

    And now those eligible for the Award:

    We definitely can use your help. Take time to look over these posts if you haven’t already, and then come back here to vote for the blogger you think deserves to be recognized as this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger. You have until April 16 to vote.

    Published in: on March 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Night Of The Living Dead Christian  
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    CFBA Blog Tour – The Hope Of Shridula

    From time to time I participate in the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance blog tour, and this second half of the week the group is focusing on The Hope Of Shridula (Abingdon Press) by Kay Marshall Strom. This is actually book 2 of the Blessings in India Series, but it easily reads like a stand-alone.

    The Story. Shridula and her parents are members of the Dalites, or India’s chaste of Untouchables, enslaved to a rich landowner because of a small debt her father’s father owed. Trapped in what appears to be a hopeless situation, the world as they know it begins to unravel because this is 1946 — the British colony is fighting for independence and then to accommodate the strong and varied religions influencing different people groups. Trapped by their economic circumstances, helpless against the powerful, and now squeezed by political forces that are ripping apart the fabric of society, Shridula and her family have few options until a surprising way of escape opens.

    Strengths. Some Christian publishing professionals claim that American readers don’t want stories about other peoples and other places. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I know I used to shy away from what I considered the “typical missionary story.” Not that I’d read many. But in my mind they were predictable and unrealistic. They put missions in the very best possible light and told only success stories.

    Forget all that with Kay Marshall Strom’s work. Her novels are about real people facing real struggles. And she happens to be perfectly suited to write books about people living in underdeveloped countries, suffering hardship and abuse because of injustices they face. For years she’s written non-fiction based on personal interviews with people throughout the world. She’s been to India alone seven times. In other words, she’s done her research in the best way possible, and it shows.

    In some ways, though, you have to be ready to have your heart broken because of what people suffering at the bottom of the caste system go through. Humble people, subservient people, hard-working, fearful, superstitious, loving people tied to a religion that debases them and offers little hope. Then to realize that the cultural Christianity of the minority clouds the truth, as well, the story seems destined to a hopeless end.

    But in a deft way, Kay’s skill as a novelist shows God’s sovereignty, so that light and truth merge in a wonderfully surprising ending.

    This is a quiet book in the sense that there are no car chases or clashing armies. But there is plenty of tension and suspense based on personal conflict and pressures, so it kept me turning the pages.

    In addition, I immediately cared for the title character, a twelve year old put in a dangerous situation. Here’s the opening, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

    Chapter 1

    South India
    May 1946

    The last of the straggling laborers hefted massive bundles of grain onto their weary heads and started down the path toward the storage shed. Only twelve-year-old Shridula remained in the field. Frantically she raced up and down the rows, searching through the maze of harvested wheat stalks.

    Each time a group of women left, the girl tried to go with them, her nervous fear rising. Each time Dinkar stopped her. The first time she had tried to slip in with the old women at the end of the line the overseer ordered, “Shridula! Search for any water jars left in the fields.” Of course she found none. She knew she wouldn’t. What water boy would be fool enough to leave a jar behind?

    By the time the girl finished her search, twilight shrouded the empty field in dark shadows. Shridula hurried to grab up the last bundle of grain. Its stalk tie had been knocked undone, and wheat spilled out across the ground. Quickly tucking the tie back together, Shridula struggled to balance the bundle up on her head. It shifted . . . and sagged . . . and sank down to her shoulders.

    If you’d like, you can read the entire first chapter, but I think these opening paragraphs give you a sense of Shridula’s vulnerability, the quality that I believe won me to her right away.

    Miraculously and without any preachiness, Kay navigates common pitfalls and delivers an ending that is not contrived, predictable, cliched, or overly simplified. This is a memorable story, exposing the light of God’s love in the midst of a dark world steeped in false religion.

    Weaknesses. If you’re looking for literary prose, you won’t find it in this book. The writing is straightforward and crisp. Some might think of that as a strength rather than a weakness.

    If you’re looking for sweet romance, you won’t find that in this book either. The story is far too realistic, exposing harsh realities, though in a matter-of-fact manner that reduces the horrific to the mundane. Perhaps that’s a strength, too, though I might wish the horrific dug a little deeper into my heart. It’s a hard thing to accomplish for a novelist, though, when the characters themselves, consistent with real life, accept their lot and suffer much of their abuse willingly or at least silently.

    Recommendation. This is a must read for anyone willing to step out of the comfort of his or her own culture and to look at how limitless our sovereign God is. It’s a story that will hold your interest to the last page.

    According to the FAA I must add, I received a courtesy copy of this book from the publisher as part of the CFBA blog tour.

    A Review: Night Of The Living Dead Christian – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

    The CSFF Blog Tour for Night Of The Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos is winding down. What a ride!

    We have a book giveaway at Beckie Burnham‘s site, a quiz to determine what kind of monster you are at Chawna Schroeder‘s, reviews of My Imaginary Jesus, such as this one by Shannon McDermott, and theology discussions by the Boohers — Thomas Fletcher and Thomas Clayton. That’s only scratching the surface. There is much, much more to enjoy.

    A bonus has been the posts by our host author who is offering several goodies to the winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award and who has graciously shared a portion of his book proposal so writers can see a bit of how he presented his story to his publisher. He also has linked to chapters with bonus material so we can see how the story changed from an earlier conception. It’s great stuff.

    But now, on to what you came to read.

    The Review

    The Story. Unlike My Imaginary Jesus which was fairly episodic, Night of the Living Dead Christian has a basic plot.

    Matt Mikalatos is once again a character in his own book. This one, however, is really his neighbor’s story. Luther is a werewolf. He doesn’t want to be one because his wife left him, taking their daughter with her. He is desperate to find a way to stop being a werewolf, so Matt and a couple other buddies determine to help him. The story, then, is Luther’s quest for change.

    Strengths. This short description of the story, or the one on the back cover, or any of those I read from tour participants doesn’t really give an adequate representation of the book.

    First, it is funny. Matt is a bit bumbling (which ends up playing a significant part in the story), and his humor, self-deprecating. As several commenters pointed out in my day one post about the use of spoof in the book, this technique is disarming, allowing readers to sit back and chuckle without feeling defensive.

    But this isn’t simply a romp with vampires and mad scientists and zombies popping in and out for no rhyme or reason. It’s actually a very authentic, incredibly sad and serious story. It’s very “real life.” Luther’s werewolfishness, as it turns out, is no laughing matter. He has every right to want to be rid of it for good. Except he doesn’t want to be rid of it.

    And therein lies more truth and reality. This book is full of such insight, but also of answers. Yes, answers — the very thing that so many Christians think we ought not be giving in our stories. But Matt is faithful to Scripture, so his answers aren’t easy, nor are they quick. They paint the picture of the seed dying in the ground in order that it might begin to grow.

    What’s more, this book, so full of Biblical teaching, is not preachy. In all the fifty-some articles I’ve read about this book over these past three days, I don’t remember any saying the book was preachy. In fact just the opposite. How can a book be so overtly Christian and not be preachy? You’ll have to read it for yourself and see.

    So what are the strengths of this book? It’s easy to break down: it is funny and truthful.

    Weaknesses. I don’t really have anything I’d call a weakness. Because Matt is doing something so different from other novels, it’s hard to evaluate it on the same terms.

    I did realize as I read various tour posts that some people might be expecting a different book simply because it’s about monsters. This is not horror, not even close to horror. The monsters are a device. Will that disappoint some? Perhaps, but I think it will relieve a good many more, and it makes the book accessible to a wider audience.

    At the same time, the back cover announces that the book is an allegory. Will that drive away readers expecting a fairly standard, predictable story? I hope not. It is most definitely a twenty-first century allegory, so it’s not like anything you’ve read before.

    So the only weaknesses I can think of are the things people might expect, leading them to think the book is something it is not.

    Recommendation. My first instinct was to say this is a must read for everyone, but I realize that’s not the case. Instead, I’ll amend my recommendation and say it’s a must read for those who want to think about spiritual things and who are willing to take a look in the mirror. Along the way you should plan to laugh a bit.

    As an example, look at the front matter. Before the title page, as is typical of Christian fiction, there are a number of pages with endorsements, first of this book and then of Matt’s debut novel, Imaginary Jesus. The list of endorsers is impressive: Chris Fabry, radio host and bestselling author of Almost Heaven; Mike Duran, author of The Resurrection; Publishers Weekly; Relevant Magazine, CBA Retailers; Josh McDowell; Pete Wilson pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, and on and on. Finally, at the end of five pages of endorsements is this: “Adam Sadados, just some guy.”

    Stay alert. When you read Night of the Living Dead Christian, you’ll find chuckle-inducing moments when you least expect them.

    In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

    Transformation: CSFF Blog Tour – Night Of The Living Dead Christian, Day 2

    The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Matt Mikalatos‘s second novel, though I use the term loosely. Night Of The Living Dead Christian is like no other novel you’ll read, except perhaps his debut novel, re-released under the title My Imaginary Jesus. (You can view the original cover and read my review here).

    The subtitle of Night Of The Living Dead Christian is “One man’s ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed.” The tag line on the back cover is, “What does a transformed life actually look like?”

    No beating around the bush here. This novel is less about the story and more about what Matt wants to say than any others I’ve read since I finished his first one. I like that about his books. It’s the same approach used by fathers of fiction such as John Bunyan. Few others besides Matt are doing it today. But I’ll discuss my reaction to it and why I think it works when I write my review tomorrow.

    Today I want to focus my thoughts on the subject of transformation. As Night Of The Living Dead Christian clearly portrays it, the need for transformation is vital. We all are monsters of one variety or another.

    Some people struggle against their monster-ness and seek transformation in any number of places — false religion, charitable activities, psychoanalysis. None of these activities, external or internal, can accomplish true transformation. At best we pretty up the monster to make him appear more respectable or hide him as best we can.

    In the end, what we need, is the transformation that only Jesus Christ can bring. But what exactly does that mean? Some professing Christians say the change Jesus enacts is instantaneous and total. We have new life; the old has passed away. Consequently, the true Christian no longer sins.

    That certainly would be radical transformation, and I think we all long for such. All we need to do is confess, and Jesus will do the rest. The fact is, anyone who claims he is living a sinless life is deceived.

    Yes, absolutely Jesus gives new life, but like physical birth, becoming a new creature in Christ is a starting place, not a finishing place. It’s as if at the point when we turn to Jesus, we’ve crawled back up on the Potter’s wheel and laid our lives before Him so that He can remold us into the image of His Son.

    The remolding process isn’t finished in a day. There may be days we don’t think there’s been any progress at all. We may look into the mirror of God’s word and be dismayed by all we see that needs to go. But that’s the nature of growth.

    When we were little we couldn’t always tell that we were getting taller or more responsible or more independent. As Christians we can’t always tell when we are less selfish or prideful or unloving. We see Christ and we know we aren’t there yet, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. That doesn’t mean He isn’t ordering our lives in such a way as to bring about transformation.

    Sometimes the growth comes in spurts, and we see dramatic change — which can then turn into a bit of a problem that can stunt our progress because we might think we’ve arrived, or we’ve figured this transformation thing out.

    The truth is, it’s not actually a mystery. Paul says in Colossians that growth comes by holding fast to the head, which is Christ (see Col. 2:19). Peter says growth comes from God’s word:

    like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2)

    In fact, the word of God and its importance to the Christian is a theme in any number of books in the Bible. James says we are to abide in the word. Paul says we are to let the word abide in us, or “richly dwell within” us (Col. 3:16).

    Is transformation some kind of instant cure for our sin nature? Yes and no. Christ’s righteousness is now my righteousness, but I still don’t have any of my own. My motives are twisted, just as Paul described in Romans 7:

    v. 15 – For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

    v. 18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.

    v. 19 – For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

    In chapter 8 Paul happily states that there is no longer condemnation for those who are in Christ. That’s the good news. But there’s still the matter of living transformed lives. After some digression, Paul comes back to the issue in chapter 12:

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (v. 2)

    Renewing our minds certainly seems consistent with abiding in the word of God.

    Paul addresses the issue of transformation in his second letter to the Corinthians also, this time in respect to our looking to Jesus:

    But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cr 3:15-18, emphasis mine)

    To summarize, transformation can’t happen apart from new birth, but it is resultant growth, not an instantaneous change. It comes from looking to Jesus Christ and engaging His word with our minds, with our lives. It’s also important to note that as long as we are alive we should be growing, so transformation isn’t a done deal here and now.

    Tomorrow in my review I’ll let you know if my conclusions about transformation match up with those presented in Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

    Spoof: CSFF Blog Tour – Night Of The Living Dead Christian, Day 1

    This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos.

    Who writes spoof these days? Matt Mikalatos, that’s who. Matt Mikalatos, author of Imaginary Jesus, which is being repackaged and re-released by his publisher (Tyndale) as My Imaginary Jesus — a much better title, in my opinion.

    But I’m getting far afield. I was talking about spoof — “a humorous imitation of something … in which its characteristic features are exaggerated for comic effect.”

    Spoof is precisely what Matt writes, as his newest book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, demonstrates.

    The interesting thing with Matt’s writing, though, is that he has married spoof with allegory. Now that takes some doing! Yet, in my opinion, he’s pulled off the upset. He’s writing this quasi memoir-ish, urban fantasy-ish spoof that has blatant, purposeful, in-your-face spiritual parallels, and it works.

    The thing about spoof is that it taps into what’s going on in pop culture, but also exploits an undercurrent that most people might not realize exists. In this case I call it vampire fatigue.

    For some time, in a large part because of Twilight and company, vampire stories were white hot, but as happens with more frequency in our capitalistic society, what sells, promoters stuff down the throats of the public until we are gagging with the excess.

    Enter the spoof. At that point when society has had it’s fill, the subject is then ripe for a little ridicule fun-poking.

    Matt’s brilliance as a writer is that he spoofs himself as much as he does the vampires, werewolves, and zombies he writes about. His humor is contagious, and I found myself laughing out loud in places, while chuckling out loud in others.

    But there’s more. The addition of allegory spreads the spoof. Not only is there fun at the expense of the fantasy/paranormal elements he uses as the foundation of the story, he’s also doing an adequate spoof of the Church.

    In this case, however, the ripe-for-ridicule tendencies are a result of the ways in which the Church and individual believers have been infected by tradition and the distillation of God’s Word into systems of thought superseding the way of Life.

    Matt taps into this expanded material in a manner that does more than raise a few laughs. His spoof/allegory hammers home weighty thoughts about weighty subjects, even while cushioning the blow.

    Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of those weighty subjects, then Wednesday I plan to give my review. In the meantime, see what others participating in the tour for Night of the Living Dead Christian are saying. (Check marks link to articles that have been posted already).

    What Does God Think Of Social Media?

    The majority of the people I associate with in the physical world don’t blog — or read blogs — aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, and probably haven’t heard of LinkedIn or Pinterest. But social media is here to stay and seems to be growing in its influence. If in doubt, listen to how many businesses now have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. Recently a couple of our local TV stations held contests to encourage people to “Like” them. (The prizes were pretty good, too, and I seriously considered putting my name in the hat.)

    Another interesting and somewhat related piece of information — WordPress has recently added a new breakdown of my stats. I now can see by country how many views my blog receives.

    By country? That startled me the first time I realized people in other parts of the world can read what I’m writing, but since then I’ve had editing clients or inquiries from Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Brazil.

    These new stats confirm that, for whatever reason, people from various parts of the world are clicking over to A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

    What a small world we are becoming.

    Like most things, there are pluses and minuses to this amazing technology. Cyber-bullying has become an issue, but support communities have sprung up for people suffering from abuse or various types of cancer or any number of things. Identity theft has become a problem, but PayPal and online banking has made doing business easier and less time consuming. Dangerous relationships have developed on the Internet, but so have opportunities to help, pray for, and support someone like Katie Davis and her Amazima Ministry.

    So what does God think of all this?

    I believe He cares about all the stuff of our lives, big or small. He cares about the collective direction the world is taking, and He cares about the personal ramification for each person.

    The last time the world got together in such a unified way, God split us up. (See Gen. 11:1-9). Prophecies of the last times, however, suggest there will be unified action again.

    All of this togetherness, then, seems to be unfolding according to His sovereign plan.

    And for the individual? I’m not sure things are different. If we are to be honest in our face to face relationships, I feel confident God expects us to be honest in our online interactions as well. If we are to be kind to our neighbors, then I believe we are to be kind to our Facebook friends, blog guests, Twitter followers, and the rest.

    God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, hasn’t given us a pass to be rude to people we’ve never met, even when we disagree with them.

    Granted, sometimes we don’t realize how our words are coming across. As was mentioned in the recent discussion about fiction, when it comes to writing, intent and interpretation both come into play to yield understanding.

    I’ll be honest. I wish I had thought about what God thinks about the Internet years ago. I wish I’d considered what others might be thinking as they read my part of discussions. And I pray that I’ll remember what He thinks about it tomorrow, too.

    The Internet and social media are here to stay, and God should be as much a ruler of my thoughts and actions in cyberspace as He is in my living room or church or car.

    Published in: on March 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm  Comments (9)  
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    Preachy Fiction

    Two of the Mikes whose blogs I follow, Mike Duran and Mike Dellosso (soon to be known as Michael King — you’ll have to ask him about that) posted this week on the subject themes in fiction. As it happened, they took opposite positions on the subject.

    What caught my attention most, however, was Tony’s comment to Mike Dellosso’s article. In part he said

    If you can entertain me first, I won’t mind a message in there. It’s why shows like Glee are so successful despite their obvious indoctrination-style message.

    Ah, yes, Glee, a show with an “obvious indoctrination-style message.” I would mention Harry’s Law as just such a show as well. Perhaps there are others I’ve never watched. These two, I know about. In both cases I watched the first season and indeed found them entertaining, but at some point all the preachiness, much of it about things with which I disagree, drove me away.

    I’ll give you a snippet of a recent Harry’s Law — and I didn’t watch this entire show, so don’t have all the details.

    First a little background. Harry is a lawyer, a 50-something woman who got fed up with the way law had turned into a game, but ended up opening a store-front office in the heart of the inner city and started representing those who normally couldn’t afford representation that would give them a fair shake. Well, a season later, she’s been so successful, she’s taken on partners and is now in charge of her own firm.

    In the show in question, someone came to her because they wanted to sue the local zoo on behalf of a gorilla. The animal was being unfairly treated, the claimant said, its rights trampled. The show then went into the courtroom where all kinds of evidence was brought up — how intelligent the animal was, how social it was, how its present conditions deprived it of what it needed.

    Ultimately the judge had to rule on the question of whether or not the gorilla was considered property. There was even comparison with how the gorilla was being treated and the treatment of African Americans during the era of slavery.

    Yes, meat-eating came up and what a ruling in favor of the gorilla would mean for pets. In the end, Harry lost the case, but the show closed with a touching scene where Harry went to the cage to tell the gorilla she would keep fighting for it to get moved or to stay, I forget which was at issue.

    Simply put, Harry’s Law is an issues show. Glee is too, or at least it had become one at the point when I stopped watching it.

    Is blog commenter Tony right that these kinds of shows stay on the air because they are so well done, the preachiness of them doesn’t spoil them?

    But more to the point, why do secular TV shows get to be preachy but Christian fiction doesn’t? Obviously I’m not talking about “get to” in the sense of “permission.” Rather, when these things are reviewed, do the writers of Harry’s Law and Glee get taken to task for their preachiness in the same way that authors of Christian fiction do?

    Here’s one segment of a review covering the episode I referred to:

    While I recognize the prerogative of the writers of this show to turn everything into a social issue, this show cannot and should not be expected to hold its own on this premises alone.

    This series is more than capable of building deep and convincing character development while still achieving its social issues agenda in the courtroom.

    Apparently this reviewer agrees with Tony.

    Then are Christians laboring under a double standard in fiction — people can write about what they believe as long as it isn’t Christianity?

    As a reminder, I’m not in favor of in-your-face themes. That’s very different from fiction that says nothing, however. Themes that are well crafted and need some tugging and teasing to bring them out are absolutely the best. Those are embedded into the story and are part of it’s warp and woof. The characters’ lives, choices, and development direct the reader toward the story’s meaning. The Ah-ha moment is not summed up in dialogue or even in internal monologue.

    Little Red Riding Hood does not turn to the Hunter and say, Thank you for saving me from the Big Bad Wolf. I understand that I was wrong to talk to a stranger. From now on I will be sure to obey.

    Weeping over the death of her grandmother would be far more effective.

    But either way, the message is there. Christian writers seem to be on an island thinking that our stories are not supposed to mean something.

    Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (27)  
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    Freedom And Authority

    America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Freedom is what the US is all about, and freedom is what attracts so many immigrants to leave their homes and come here. And yet, A. W. Tozer says people aren’t actually free, not completely. Not even Americans.

    From The Knowledge of the Holy:

    There cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two free wills must collide. (pp 15-16)

    His point is that God alone possesses certain attributes, those scholars refer to as incommunicable. These are not qualities that Man has even though made in God’s likeness. We are not, for example, omnipresent or unchanging. We are not infinite, nor are we sovereign. And there’s the rub.

    If God alone is sovereign, then we are not free in the ultimate sense. Rather, His rule must supersede our liberty or He is not sovereign.

    The incredible truth is, however, that God seems to give us free rein. We can choose Him or reject Him, we can bow to His authority or trumpet ourselves as the only one we trust. We can accept His revelation of Himself, or we can deny His desire to do so or His power or even His very existence.

    It seems to me that true Sovereignty is the only One not threatened by another’s freedom.

    Christians in America, both cultural Christians and those following Jesus, feel threatened because certain laws suggested by our current administration would certainly reduce the rights of some to hold to their religious beliefs, hence jeopardizing the religious rights of all.

    Feminists in America who believe in abortion feel threatened because a Presidential candidate talks openly about his pro-life stance, thus potentially jeopardizing their “right to choose” should that person win and end up appointing another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

    Gays feel threatened and those advocating for heterogeneous, monogamous marriage feel threatened. Homeowners feel threatened and the rich feel threatened. Small businesses feel threatened and college students feel threatened.

    At every turn, though living in a country not torn by war, not suffering from famine, not oppressed by a dictator, we still feel threatened. If anyone ought to feel safe and free, it is the American.

    But we don’t because we aren’t actually free. Not even Bill Gates or the President himself. We all — every person on earth — live under God’s authority. He alone is free in the ultimate sense. He answers to no one and has no laws to abide by except those originating from His nature. He goes where He wants, does what He chooses, is how He wishes.

    Man is not free in that way. And surprise, surprise, Man is constantly dissatisfied. We want to change our hair color or lose ten pounds or buy a new car or change jobs or churches or computers or friends or houses or habits.

    Our wills are always colliding with other people’s wills because we are not in control. Some of us try to be. We work hard to create an environment we can order, but that’s a figment of our imagination — a sandcastle about to wash out to sea with the rising tide.

    I liken God’s sovereignty to that of a teacher supervising a playground of children. She’s in charge, but they are free to do as they please under her watchful authority. If they obey her, they really can do whatever they wish — unless she asks them to help a new child or run an errand or stay away from where the big kids are playing.

    A good teacher exercises her authority for the benefit of the children she is caring for. The obedient child submits, even giving up his ephemeral freedom because he is subject to the one in charge.

    How good of the One True Sovereign to give us freedom under His watch care, to ask us to trust Him rather than forcing us to do so. How secure to know that His eye is on the sparrow and He’s watching me.

    Why should I feel discouraged,
    Why should the shadows come,
    Why should my heart feel lonely
    And long for Heav’n and home,
    When Jesus is my portion?
    A constant Friend is He:
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches over me;
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches me.

    I sing because I’m happy,
    I sing because I’m free,
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches me
    His eye is on the sparrow
    And I know he watches me

    (Written in 1905, the words by Civilla Martin and music by Charles H. Gabriel)

    Published in: on March 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm  Comments (4)  
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    What Is Truth?

    Nearly two thousand years ago, Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea serving under Emperor Tiberius, asked Jesus, What is truth? The problem was, he didn’t stick around for the answer but headed outside to tell the Jews Jesus wasn’t guilty of the crimes of which they were accusing him.

    Jesus, you see, had just said that He came into the world to testify to the truth and that everyone “who is of the truth” hears His voice.

    In light of the context, Pilate’s question seems disingenuous. It was more dismissive than it was searching, as if truth was an ephemeral will-o’-the-wisp, impossible to grasp.

    In that regard, Pilate would have made a good postmodern thinker.

    Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective. (excerpt from “Postmodernism”emphasis mine)

    What a contrast to Jesus’s testimony. He not only told Pilate He came to communicate truth, He told His disciples He is truth.

    Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

    Of course, to believe Jesus’s statement, of necessity we must believe that the Bible faithfully recorded it.

    Back in the eighteenth century, a scholar named Hermann Samuel Reimarus, using the methodology employed to study Greek and Latin texts, concluded that very little of the New Testament could be considered as indisputably true. That is to say, he had no proof that anything recorded in the Bible was untrue, but it lacked the supporting evidences from extra-Biblical sources.

    Of course a good number of extra Biblical sources confirming Biblical truth have since been discovered, but the horse was already out of the barn, and higher criticism or “historical criticism,” the new term now favored, had already begun to sift through the Bible for the “historical Jesus.”

    Similar efforts were being made regarding the Old Testament and scholars were concluding that it was nothing more than a human document. Apparently everything came under question, including authorship.

    No longer was it sufficient for the book of Isaiah, for example, to state in the first chapter that these were the prophecies of Isaiah the son of Amoz.

    The point is, a set of scholars came to believe that, despite internal evidence to the contrary, they could determine, thousands of years after the fact, what was true and what wasn’t.

    The internal evidence I’m speaking of includes the clear declaration in various verses that these things are so. It also includes the evidence that the New Testament writers quoted the Old as proof of what they were saying. It also includes writers like Paul referencing Old Testament individuals like Adam in a parallel argument to explain what Christ means to people who believe in Him. (Why would Paul compare Jesus to a myth if he wanted people to believe in Him?)

    In addition, there is a collection of methods such as what the leaders of the church wrote in the years following the writing of the last book of the Bible, that scholars use to verify the veracity of Scripture.

    Other scholars will rely of methods such as socio-scientific criticism:

    A typical study will draw on studies of contemporary nomadism, shamanism, tribalism, spirit-possession, millinarianism, etc. to illuminate similar passages described in biblical texts. (excerpt from “Biblical Criticism“)

    With all the voices saying this or that, I can see a Pilate throwing up his hands and saying, What is truth?

    As I think about this subject, I come to a central point — does the Bible depict truth as I know it, starting with the existence of God. Does He exist and is He the person the Bible describes?

    Oddly enough many people make that determination without having ever read the Bible. I suspect such a decision says more about the person than it does about Truth. I heard, for example, Christopher Hitchens in a debate, and he said, for all practical purposes, that he didn’t believe in God because he couldn’t stand the thought of a “tyrant” telling him what to do.

    The bottom line for me is this: if the God of the Bible exists, then He is all powerful. Could an all powerful God communicate through people to reveal Himself? Could He preserve and protect that communication down through the ages? Could He be sure that those writers who contributed to it gave a unified message? Could He verify the truth of that communication to individuals through His own Spirit?

    If He could not do those things, then it would seem He is not all powerful, calling into question all the key components of the Christian faith — specifically the Son of God come down in the form of Man, dying for the redemption of sinners, rising on the third day to be seated at God’s right hand until He returns again in glory.

    None of those things could be true unless God is all powerful. And an all powerful God can do all those things, He can let people know He did them, and He can let them know why He did them by producing a reliable, authoritative written record.

    It seems to me unless a person believes in a “different God,” the Bible is His authoritative word. If Truth exists, if God exists as an all powerful person, what couldn’t He do to make Himself known?

    Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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    Majesty Replaced By Mystery

    Recently, because I wanted to look up something about God’s character, I pulled out my copy of The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, then decided it was time to re-read that slim volume again. The preface alone was arresting.

    Speak to the condition of the hearer, Tozer quotes. The “message must be not only timeless but timely.” He then launches in on the rationale for his book — Christians have a low view of God. (If he thought this back in 1961 when he wrote the book, imagine what he would think today!)

    The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking…

    The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (pp 6-7)

    Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for the postmodern generation? What I hear and read most often proclaims God’s mystery, not His majesty. In fact, a quick check using Google search revealed seven times more blog articles discussing God and mystery than God and majesty.

    Of course, if those using the term “mystery” actually mean “transcendence” then they’re on the right track. But too often the meaning is, “we cannot know”; God is hidden from us — the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know.

    Except, all throughout Scripture, God declares who He is. Take Exodus 29:46 for example:

    They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

    Or how about Hosea 6:3:

    So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
    His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
    And He will come to us like the rain,
    Like the spring rain watering the earth.

    Then there is Hebrews 8:11 quoting from Jeremiah:


    Christ, the mediator between God and Man has made this possible.

    For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossian 2:9)

    Then we have Jesus’s own statement:

    “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)

    A mystery, God is not, at least for those who know Jesus Christ.

    This contradicts our postmodern culture so the problem now seems to be that we no longer grasp the majesty of God because we no longer believe it is possible to do so. Who could grasp what is shrouded in mystery?

    What a subversive lie Satan has introduced. (He’s good at that, being the father of lies). First it undermines the authority of the Bible. If we can’t know because God is mystery, then whoever or whatever claims knowledge of God is suspect. No longer is the believer to give definitive answers, and the one who seeks and keeps seeking is considered wise.

    Except this position contradicts Jesus Himself.

    Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

    Throughout the Bible, God promises Himself to those who seek Him:

    • But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
    • the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chron. 15:2b)
    • You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)
    • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a)

    A. W. Tozer took it upon himself to write The Knowledge of the Holy as his timely, timeless message — a way of calling Christians back to an elevated view of God.

    It seems to me we have a different timely, timeless message to convey first — that God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him?

    Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (7)  
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