Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

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Majesty Replaced By Mystery


A few years ago, 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.

In reference to the hearer, Tozer says 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, emphases here and throughout are mine)

Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for postmodern America? 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—the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know—is hidden from us.

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:

AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

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

For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 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. Our problem, then, 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 the idea that God is unknowable 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 today before we can grasp Tozer’s—that is, God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have come in the form of man, lived on earth, and died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him? Would He have given us Scripture if He didn’t want us to know about His person, plan, and work?

At every turn, God reveals Himself so that we can enter into relationship with Him.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

This article with some changes is a reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2012.

Published in: on November 24, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

Addressing Christian Agnosticism


Your first impression might be that I’ve made a mistake in my title because there’s a contradiction in terms. How can Christians be agnostic?

I wish the problem were nothing more than a slip of the tongue, but sadly I think agnosticism is creeping into the Church. More and more frequently I hear people who claim to love Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, turn around and say incongruous things that come from postmodern thought.

I’ve already addressed, in several posts (here, here, and here), one of the issues that lead to agnostic thought—that God is mystery (as opposed to transcendent).

Another issue is the idea that we humans, being so fallible and so restricted by our limited experience can’t begin to get God right. We can know some things, such as Christ dying on the cross for our sins, but we’re bound to get a lot wrong.

As proof for this position, those holding it often point to denominationalism and the split between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.

I tend to think this view stems from good motives. One charge against Christians has been a prideful, know-it-all attitude. This we-don’t-know-everything position seems initially to be a more humble approach. The problem is, a well-intended position can still be completely wrong.

Mind you, I’m not saying we should revert to a prideful stance. The fact is, however, taking a we-don’t-know/we-can’t-know” position still puts Man in the forefront. It may sound humble, but it’s still all about us.

The truth is far different.

Since the Fall, knowing God has never been about what Man can or cannot know.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear (Is. 59:1-2).

In other words, unless God intervened and removed our sin, we would have no way of knowing Him beyond what we could see in creation. Since He did intervene, however, we’ve had a game-change.

Even in the Old Testament, before Christ, God said to His chosen people

“But let him who boasts, boast of this, that understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord (Jer. 9:24 – emphasis added).

When Jesus came, He made it abundantly clear that He was here to make known the Father.

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:7-9).

Paul confirmed this numerous times, none more clearly than the simple statement in Colossians 1:15 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” [Emphasis mine.]

If we know Christ, then, we know God.

What’s more, we not only know Christ if we are His, but Scripture says we have His mind.

For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord so as to guide and instruct Him and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ (the Messiah) and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart. (I Cor. 2:16, Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)

Have I yet mentioned the Holy Spirit? He who lives in every believer:

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

Part of the Holy Spirit’s work was also to inspire Scripture. Consequently we know that its revelation is true. Hence, everything it says about God is true.

The problems that those advocating for agnosticism point to are a reflection of us not believing the revelation that is before us. Some dismiss portions of the Bible, while others say they believe it but twist it to their own purposes (Harold Camping comes to mind as an example). Others take a particular passage and interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that truth, rather than taking all of Scripture and interpreting particular passages in light of the totality. Still others chose one over another of truths that seem contradictory.

What we need is the faith of Abraham who believed God even when His command seemed to contradict His promise.

Seriously, agnosticism falls away if we take God at His word. What don’t we know about Him that we need to know?

And yet God, like any other person (but more so) has a depth we will never plumb fully.

So what am I saying? Can we or can’t we know God? We can, absolutely. James says, when we draw near, He in turn draws near to us. But in knowing Him, we discover there is more to know.

If we sit on the sidelines, however, saying how impossible it is to know God, if we succumb to the agnosticism of the age, we will end up like the Pharisees—staring Jesus in the face and not recognizing Him.

This article was originally posted here in August 2011 under the same title. It is one of a group of posts that are part of the Less-Than-3-Stars club. 😉

Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering – A Review


Author Julianna Deering must be doing something right because her novel Rules of Murder (Bethany House), first in the Drew Farthering Mystery series and the current Christian Fiction Writers Alliance blog tour feature, garnered multiple Goodreads reviewer comparisons to Agatha Christy, Dorothy Sayers, and the TV writers behind the cozy mystery series Murder, She Wrote. Without a doubt, it appears fans of those writers comprise the audience for Rules of Murder.

I have to admit, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but think of Downtown Abbey as well as the mysteries of yesteryear. There was a distinct upstairs/downstairs element that I thought added to the charm and enjoyment of this novel.

The Story. Drew Farthering, a young English gentleman of the 1930s, comes home to more than he expects. His mother is holding a party and his stepfather has invited a number of the guests who are also business associates to stay over the weekend. After wrangling his room away from a man with a questionable reputation, Drew settles in to make the best of the situation.

If only circumstances had allowed such settling. Instead, first one body turns up, then another, and another, and another. Drew and those he’s gathered around him are intent to find the murderer, though the police inspector isn’t too keen on having a civilian tampering with evidence—that is, until Drew and his cohorts find a key something which the police missed.

Strengths. I love a good mystery and Rules of Murder qualifies. There were sufficient red herrings and unexpected events to keep the story from being predictable. The historical feel seemed wonderfully familiar. Ms. Deering successfully painted the setting without getting bogged down in details or slowing the story.

Besides the expected puzzle the story provided, I most enjoyed the varied character voices. The English gentlemen came off appropriately stuffy and impersonal for the time period. The American love interest sounded less formal and more relaxed. The servants altered between their clipped and somewhat stiff “at work” speech to the more expansive narrative of those comfortable in their own skin but not so comfortable in association with moneyed or authoritative people.

My favorite exchange, which goes on for several pages, is between the gardener, Mr. Peterson, and Inspector Birdsong. The protagonist, Drew, is present as well. Here’s part of the interrogation.

[Birdsong asked,] “Tell me what you did last Friday.”

“The whole day?” Peterson asked.

“The whole day.”

The gardener scratched the side of his head with one grimy fingernail. “I gets up round five, as I reckon it, and gets dressed. My old woman, she give me beans on toast fer breakfast and a bit of black pudding and tea. Then I does down to the shed fer my spade and such.”

“Is that the shed where you kept the shotgun?”

“It is.”

“Go on.”

“About then I sets Mack and Bobby, my men, you see, I sets them on to weedin’ and that whilst I tends to the roses. Mrs. Parker, God rest her, sir, Mrs. Parker was that fond of her roses, and I liked to keep ’em fer her. So I were mixing some top-class muckings from the stables into the soil round them, just to perk ’em up like. Took me nigh unto noon to do ’em all.”

“All right,”Birdsong said. “And did you see anything during that time?”

“I seen some of them has aphids.”

“I mean anything unusual,” Birdsong pressed.

“That is unusual for my roses.”

Drew bit his lip.

“Anything else?” the chief inspector asked.

“There’s moles or somethin’ digging round in the bed nearest the forest.”

I could go on—the entire scene is delightful—but that gives you a picture of the strong character voice Ms. Deering gives to her characters.

Weaknesses. Very little bothered me. I finished the book feeling as if I’d found a new friend because I truly love mysteries. This one was thoroughly satisfying. However, for the sake of a review, I thought over the story and came up with two specifics.

First, I thought our protagonist needed more emotional depth. He’s falling in love and facing tragedy, all at the same time. Yes, he is an aloof English gentleman, but I think he would have at least thought more deeply even if he didn’t allow himself to feel more deeply.

But that leads to the second. In response to the death around him, in what felt like inappropriate and unmotivated times, Drew had short musings about death. I would have rather he dealt with the issue or decided to avoid it all together, but this near-handling of it felt tepid to me. (And now, for some reason, I feel as if I must write in the lofty English style of the period. Whatever has come over me? 😉 )

Recommendation. Loved it. Really an enjoyable story, well-told. Anyone who has a soft spot for the mysteries of old, with the big reveal at the end which ties up all the loose ends, will be a fan of Rules of Murder. Anyone who appreciates historical settings and strong character voices will enjoy the writing. I enthusiastically recommend this one.

Published in: on August 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering – A Review  
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CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand


Nothing To Hide (Bethany House Publishing) is a Roland March mystery by Mark Bertrand, a writer I got to know at the Faith In Fiction forum years ago. I later had the privilege of meeting him in person at an ACFW conference.

Besides his Roland March mysteries, he co-authored a mystery romance with Deeanne Gist and has written a non-fiction book on Christian worldview. As you might guess, the man is a real talent.

All this to say, when I get an opportunity to read and talk about his work, I’m eager to do so.

The problem is, my copy of Nothing To Hide only arrived last Thursday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drop everything else and read through, much as I would have loved to. Being a notoriously slow reader, I have only reached the critical set up point during the few hours I’ve been able to settle in with the book.

So rather than a review, I’m offering first impressions. The first is my typical reaction when I crack a book and discover first person, present tense writing–a silent groan.

It’s not my favorite. I’ve tried to figure out why, and the main things that come to mind are moot points if the technique is executed well (see review for Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes).

Clearly, Mark is a skilled writer, and until I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t thought about the point of view or tense since I first started the book.

The plot revolves around a fairly gruesome murder–Roland March is a homicide detective, after all–so there was a little CSI feel to the story at the beginning. I think many readers will be attracted to this aspect, and it wasn’t a negative for me since I wasn’t actually seeing all grisly parts. (Yes, parts!)

The character continues to intrigue me. I’ve seen growth over the first two books, and he isn’t the same despairing, insecure person he was in the first two volumes. He’s still troubled, still trying to make life work, but I like him better so far, respect him more.

Mark’s writing is stellar. There are no hiccups, nothing that pulls me from the story. The scenes are painted well without laboring over needless detail, the characters all seem to be living, breathing people with their own issues.

All in all, this is a satisfying beginning. I’m glad to get back to it again when I must put it down.

If you’d like to read an actual review, check out my friend Nicole‘s article (she is also a former FIF’er) or the excellent one by Linda. I admit, I had to skim their summary of the story because I didn’t want to know anything ahead of time, but their comments about the book are thoughtful.

Better yet, get a copy of the book and find out for yourself what a good storyteller Mark is.

Published in: on July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand  
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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:

AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

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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Christians Have Answers


One of the latest catchphrases among Christians seems to be a reworking of an atheist question: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” The Christianized edition is, “If Jesus is the answer, why are Christians afraid to ask questions?”

Oddly, this sentiment co-exists with a sort of artificial humility that has Christians backing off from knowing anything. Rather than offering a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), we are now, apparently, to say spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a type of Christian agnosticism.

The whole notion of spiritual mystery is an outgrowth of postmodern thought and is not a Biblical concept. Instead Scripture teaches that God is transcendent:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Because God is Other, we will never figure Him out. Does that mean He remains cloaked in mystery? Actually no, for one reason, and one reason only. God chose to reveal Himself to us.

Hence, when the New Testament writers reference the mystery of God, they say things like “make known” or “speak forth” or “reveal.”

Clearly God has made known what Mankind needs to know, first in creation, then through His Word, His Son, and finally by His Spirit. The interesting thing is, the more we see of God, the more we see of God.

In other words, Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, makes reconciliation with God possible. To those who believe, He gives His Spirit who in turn teaches us all truth and brings to remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14:26). And of course Jesus said what He received from the Father. In addition, the Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Cor. 2:10b).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul continued to explain the working of the Holy Spirit. Then he concluded the discussion with this amazing statement: “But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15).

So … it’s a fair assumption, then, that Christians have answers, even to hard questions.

I suspect the problem has never been about not having answers but about not liking the answers we have.

For example, a hard, hard question that has been asked down through the ages is this one: Why is there suffering in the world?

The Bible gives the answer: because of sin.

But no, we want more. That one’s too simple, too impersonal, especially when the suffering we’re asking about seems very personal. In fact, we’re often asking, Why me?

Again the answer, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

Another answer we don’t like.

But shouldn’t being a Christian change that? Shouldn’t Christians be able to count on God to get us out of suffering?

Again, the Bible gives the answers, ones we just don’t like. We are to expect persecution, to bear our cross, to share in the sufferings of Christ including the fellowship of His death.

When the questions involve the Big Things of life — why am I here, how did I come to be, what lies ahead — the Bible gives those answers too (for God’s glory; by His creation; judgment and life forever, either in His presence or cast from Him).

But how? How does it all work?

Need I say it? The Bible tells us how:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).

But to those weighty, cosmic questions, aren’t those answers illustrations of the earlier criticsm — they’re simplistic, impersonal.

I’ll answer with a set of questions of my own: Is Christ simplistic? Impersonal?

Perhaps how a person views Christ determines whether or not that individual believes Christians have answers.

– – –

For other posts on this subject see “Transcendence vs. Mystery,” and “Draw Near To God … For What End?”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm  Comments (7)  
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CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder


The current CFBA Blog Tour feature is J. Mark Bertrand‘s Back on Murder, a Roland March Mystery (Bethany House Publishers). I’ve known Mark as an online colleague for some time and have learned a lot from him, so I was happy to join in a tour for his first solo novel. You may recall, he debuted as the co-author with Deeanne Gist of a romantic suspense entitled Beguiled (a novel I also reviewed).

The Story.
Roland March is a troubled, and apparently, in trouble, homicide detective in Houston. He’s been shipped, metaphorically, from the penthouse to the outhouse—given jobs he sees as the bottom of the barrel. He wants desperately to get back into real detective work.

Except, he can’t seem to treat his superiors as … superior. When he gets a chance to work on a case again, under an up-and-coming younger detective, he chafes under the restraint. He has his own hunches he wants to check out, which makes him inattentive to the jobs he’s given.

Even as March is taken off the case and loaned out to another agency, then yanked back to homicide to work the dreaded cop-suicide detail, he continues to pursue his ideas, believing that his career hangs on his solving the intertwining crimes.

There’s more. A grudge match with another detective, personal failings, and heartbreak. As the story unfolds, so does the character—readers learn what caused March’s career to tank and what’s behind his personal demons.

But of course, I’m not going to tell you any of that. “Twould the story spoil. 😉

Strengths.
The thing that impressed me the most was how integrated Christianity is in this story. Not all the characters are Christians, mind you (I read that recently, in a blog comment at another site—that in Christian fiction all the characters are Christians 😛 ). But since one of the crimes around which the story centers involves a Christian, of necessity Detective March must interview a youth pastor among others.

As it turns out, one of his partners is also a Christian and so is … well, you get the idea. Sprinkled throughout his co-workers and acquaintances, March encounters a variety of Christians, none who try to convert him. They simply act the way Christians in real life act.

They struggle with guilt, make good choices, make brave decisions, make mistakes, show weaknesses, live out their faith, and more.

Besides the faith aspect, Mark has done an excellent job portraying characters. Roland March, his wife, Detective Cavallo, the youth pastor Carter Robb, all of them spring to life. They are believable, interesting, three dimensional, well motivated. In short, they make the book.

But what about the plot, you may ask. I mean, this is a mystery, isn’t it? Yeeess, sort of. It’s not your typical mystery, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. The thing is, the plot keeps moving forward and readers learn more about March’s inner world even as they learn about the complex crimes he’s working to solve. It’s not high-action, page-turning, heart-pounding drama. It’s more real than that. An engaging story, peopled with realistic characters, and placed in a true-to-life setting.

Weaknesses.
Recently Mark wrote a guest post at Forensics and Faith called “First Person, Present Tense (And Other Risks)” in which he said, “The story made me do it.” Yes, Back on Murder is written in first person, present tense. And I have it listed under “weaknesses.”

It’s a personal thing. I don’t like first person very much, though I can adjust. I don’t like present tense hardly at all, but I have liked some books that utilize it.

Both? Such a book requires a strong character voice, and I suggest one that is “agreeable.” To be honest, early in the story, I found Roland March’s strong, distinctive voice to grate on me because it continued page after page. He wasn’t whiny, but he was cynical and negative and depressed and jaded and a bit arrogant. He wore on me.

Thankfully as he became more engaged with the case, he began to … not change as much as shift. I began to understand where his attitude came from, too, so I grew more sympathetic. Let’s say, I’m glad I persevered through the earlier parts.

The other thing I’m considering as a weakness is that Back on Murder isn’t really a mystery. It’s a puzzle. This is not your Hercule Poirot type mystery with a cast of suspects and a litany of clues. Rather this is a twisty, interwoven series of crimes that relate to one another and March is trying to connect the dots.

It’s interesting, but I don’t see it as the kind of mystery that allows a reader to “play along.” Readers learn things as March learns things, so we’re sort of in it together, but not in the same way as the Agatha Christie mysteries. My taste runs toward those.

Recommendation.
I know how Mark prefers reviews of Christian books that are more than promotional pieces. The thing is, Back on Murder is worth promoting. It’s a well-written story that integrates Christianity in the same way that Christians are, or should be, integrated in society. The book is entertaining even as it is insightful. I highly recommend Back on Murder to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, who wants to read a well-crafted novel, or who wants to read a book with intriguing characters.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 2


Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, the second April feature of the CSFF Blog Tour, is a dense book. In some ways the fantasy is dense.

Yesterday I looked at two specific ways authors of fantasy can connect with readers. Mr. Overstreet succeeds in those ways, I believe. But another factor comes into play—the on-going epic story, published over a series of four books. Since I write this type of fantasy too, I’m particularly sensitive to this subject.

In my appraisal, this book works—all except the prologue and the first couple chapters. Because the Auralia Thread story has a full cast of characters and takes place in various parts of the Expanse, because each of the previous books has featured a different character than the ones we are initially introduced to in Raven’s Ladder, I felt a more thorough review of the story at the beginning of this book would have been helpful (there is a short summary, but the emphasis here is short). Better yet might be a what-happened-last section bringing readers once again up-to-date with Cal-raven, the focus of this latest installment of the series.

Be that as it may, the density and accessibility of the novel isn’t my subject today. Rather, I want to address one of the themes (though I don’t think Mr. Overstreet believes in incorporating theme into his stories intentionally).

One aspect of Raven’s Ladder is Cal-raven’s belief in the Keeper, a creature most in the Expanse believe to be mythical, a dream figure children embrace but grow out of. Cal-raven did not grow out of his longing for the Keeper, however, and early in this book, he has a direct encounter with it which cements his belief.

However, midway through the book, in House (country or more accurately, city-state) Bel Amica, Cal-raven stumbles upon a group of people claiming to also believe in the Keeper. In fact, one, who used to lead the rebellious faction known as the Grudgers, claims he has seen the Keeper and can describe him. He proceeds to do so, but the creature he paints is nothing like the one Cal-raven encountered. In essence, the two men digress to a “this one said, that one said” disagreement, proving nothing.

This segment of the story made me aware once again of the importance of authoritative, absolute truth. For anyone to put faith in moon spirits or the Keeper or even in himself, he is vulnerable to the next guy who comes along saying, no, the moon spirits, the Keeper, or a regular person does or does not have the qualities, attributes, abilities, or what have you that the first individual professed. In other words, all views are equally valid because none are independently verifiable. As a result, truth is relative.

Interestingly, much of the Auralia Thread series revolves around the idea of beauty. The world of the Expanse is dark and deadly, but none of the characters seems to disagree that Beauty exists, that the colors, the music, the light, the water with restorative powers is real. None fails to recognize beauty either, though some want to use, hoard, or ban it.

Beauty in this story, then, seems like the one universal, the one absolute. People’s response? Clearly that’s another matter.

So the point that comes to my mind is this: God has made it clear that He can be seen in what He created (in essence, in the beauty of our world), but He went further because He knew beauty by itself wasn’t enough. Therefore, He revealed Himself in the flesh and in the written word. He wants to be known. He is no mystery, except to those whose eyes are veiled, whose sight is blind, whose ears are stopped.

My review of Raven’s Ladder tomorrow, as God wills.

Today, take a look at what others on the tour think. You’ll find the list with appropriate links to the various articles at the end of yesterday’s post

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press..