Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reclaiming Love--A Good But Not Fun Read

Reclaiming Love is a pastoral commentary on one chapter of the Bible--the over quoted, under-applied 1 Corinthians 13. Over quoted for weddings may be a better way to say it. The "Love chapter" goes far beyond our romantic and trite views of love. Fernando examines the contextual understanding of love. Specifically, he looks at what love truly is and how it plays out in all of our relationships in the midst of the struggles and hardships of everyday life. It is a thoughtful mix of scholarship and reflections gleaned from over 35 years in ministry, reminding readers that love is supreme and is worth the effort.

If I am being truly honest, I struggled to love this book. Was it solid exegetically, theologically, and practically? Absolutely. Was it full of stories and illustrations to help me remember his points? Yes. So, why the struggle? If I'm going to be honest, I guess I would say that I was somehow expecting more.  I was expecting to have my mind blown by esoteric insights and exegetical nuggets that would revive this well-worn passage. I was wanting something from this book that it was never meant to be. Perhaps my reaction to this book reveals how much I truly need its message.

When I saw that Ravi Zacharias had written a forward, I was immediately interested. When I saw that my very own theology professor Dr. Steve Seamans, as well as, respected scholar Dr. Craig Keener gave the book a good review, I was very excited to read it. As I read, however, I kept wondering what was so great about it. Fernando was hitting all the notes, so to speak, but he wasn't singing my tune. The song was a good song, but it was James Taylor when I was wanting Pink Floyd. Part of it might be that his particular cadence didn't grip me. Some writers suck you in, even while discussing the mundane ins and outs of life. Some writers carry you on by sheer virtue of the fact that they deliver keen insights, even if their style suffers from academic woodeness. The insights of the book rang true but not novel. How could so many men that I respect find this book insightful and encouraging while I plodded along out of a sense of duty?

The more I think about it the more I believe that I read this book looking for knowledge rather than help. Interestingly, the Corinthians also prioritized knowledge. Paul said that "knowledge puffs up; love builds up." Fernando is writing this book to build up rather than to puff up, so he focuses on encouragement and example. After finishing this book, I believe that I will reread it at some point in the future when I recognize my need for help loving. For instance, I would highly recommend this book to those who are struggling with unforgiveness, bitterness, and/or resentment. Solid material: 5 stars. Enjoyment factor: 3 stars. Averages out to 4 stars for me. May change this in the future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is Today's Christian Overfed?

For a while now I've been on a mission to push for deeper teaching in our churches. Occasionally I'll encounter someone who says that most Christians have enough intellectual knowledge and simply need to be "out there" doing something with it. On the surface this sounds good and right. After all, our churches are full of people who hear sermon after sermon week after week and never really do anything with it. There is no real change. The answer has to be that they are overfed right? Not necessarily.

Think of it this way: There is a major problem with obesity in this country. According to the CDC, roughly one-third (35.7%) of the adults in the U.S. are obese. However, doctors and other health professionals do not recommend a strict regiment of exercise with no eating. Why not? They have clearly eaten enough. Now they need to get out there and work some of it off.

No--starvation and exercise do not go very well together. We would quickly grow weak because our fat supplies cannot be immediately turned into energy. The answer to getting healthier is both diet and exercise. Incidentally, I get so frustrated with many Christians' seeming inability to think in term of both/and rather than either/or. Merely taking away junk food is not enough--you must replace it with good food...and, yes, exercise too.

The problem is: I'm not sure if the American Church is obese or starved. You see, just because people are being fed regularly doesn't mean that they are getting the proper nutrients. Maybe the reason we don't see the Church working enough is that they are subsisting on gruel rather than wholesome food.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says it this way:

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still and infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:12-14)

In and of itself this passage does not speak directly to the issue I have raised. Here the writer is merely saying that these people should be further along in the process than they are. They should have grown up by now. They are still drinking milk rather than eating meat. The problem can be seen more clearly when we ask ourselves the question of what are we serving in our churches--milk or meat? Some people want to eliminate both!

What would we consider to be meat today? Think that one over for a moment before you read on, because it is a question well worth pondering.

The writer continues:

"Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings (milk) about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again (milk) the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." (Heb. 6:1-2)

Do you catch what he's saying? Repentance of sin and faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead (eschatology), and eternal judgment (seemingly heaven and hell) are kids' stuff...Christianity 101. But when I look at this list, I can't help thinking that if many of the churches I have been in over the years were to preach on these topics, people would think it was incredibly deep.

I don't think our food is too rich. I think we are living on skim milk. The answer isn't to cut people off and send them out the doors to change the world. They will die on the side of the road. I believe the answer is that we need to be offering something more substantial--more nutritional--at church.

I have been in the church my whole life, but it wasn't until I experienced deeper teaching and richer reading through seminary that I was actually motivated to impact the world. There has to be something to back the enterprise, so to speak. When our people are asked to give a defense for what they believe, they should be able to give one. The trendy solution of "just get out there and serve" doesn't cut it. Service is essential. But transformed hearts come from transformed minds (Rom. 12:2). The church must be a place of transformation and growth. If our people are fat and lazy or if they are starved and languishing, the answer is more good food and less filler--not less food altogether.