It never fails that the posts I like the best (and usually the ones I put the most time into) are never my most popular posts. So although it was fun putting together yesterday’s post on My Top Posts of 2011, those don’t necessarily represent my favorite posts. As a result, I decided that a different list was in order. So here you go.
This post gave me the chance to articulate some thoughts I’ve been playing with for quite a while on the doctrine of inerrancy and how it functions in evangelical debates. And I got to engage the Michael Licona controversy at the same time. Bonus.
I had a great time writing this little reflection on my daughter’s Easter disaster and some of the questions it raises about our methods of evangelism.
One of my quirkier posts of the year, this one looks at stereotypes surrounding those who teach theology. And, instead of trying to refute the stereotypes, I decided to embrace them. Yes, I teach theology. And that means….
This is the only post that managed to make both lists. And I’m glad people enjoyed this brief reflection on the fact that theology is an act of worship, and, therefore, theology is never a waste of time.
I wrote this one while I was just getting into the TV show Dexter. (I believe I was in season 2 at the time.) I loved the strong theological and anthropological themes in the show and how they relate to the gospel. (I’m still enjoying the show, though I haven’t made it past season 3 yet.)
The Tips for the Th.M. series is really about surviving and thriving as a Bible/theology grad student, which I started writing almost a year ago. And this particular post is probably my favorite of the bunch.
I had a great time with these two charts and the reactions they got. They really belong together since they’re both about poking a little fun at how we often view church history. And you should also check out the follow-up post on Charting church history from a Presbyterian perspective – or, what happens when church history is really misunderstood.
Over the year I’ve posted quite a few excerpts from my gospel book (which, by the way, is now tentatively titled Good News for the Living Dead, thanks to your votes.) And looking back over those excerpts, I think this was my favorite.
I had a blast with this series. I really enjoyed thinking through the nature of heresy and trying to come up with different ways of introducing each of the various views.
I always find it interesting to go back and see which posts have gotten the most attention over the last year. Almost invariably, they’re posts that I never would have expected to be popular when I wrote them. Indeed, several of them are posts that hardly involved any writing at all! Humbling.
This one surprised me a bit because it’s fairly recent and a list like this is necessarily biased toward posts that have been out a bit longer. But apparently academics annoy people enough to want to read about it a lot.
I’m quite pleased that this one made the list. It’s one of my personal favorites.
This is another one that makes me happy. The whole heresy series was a highlight of the blogging year for me.
This is the third one on the list that I would include among my own favorites. After this, it gets a little more interesting.
Apparently lots of people are looking for Jonathan Edwards resources.
I’m suspicious of this one. I tried to eliminate any posts that were only getting hits because of the pictures that I used. (Otherwise I’d have a couple of vampire and zombie posts on this list!) I haven’t seen the pictures on this post showing up in my search stats much, but I can’t think of any other reason it would be ranked this high. (Not that it’s a bad post; it’s just not what I’d expect to see in the top 5.)
This one consistently gets a few hits every day.
One of my more quirky posts. Apparently anything iPhone or Apple related gets attention.
So my #2 and #3 posts involved almost no writing on my part. Gotta love that. This post was the first time I was Freshly Pressed, which generates significant traffic for a blog like mine.
And this was the second time I got Freshly Pressed. But at least I wrote this one!
So those are my most popular posts. Tomorrow I’d like to take things in a different direction and look at the posts from the last year that are my personal favorites. Unsurprisingly, the two lists are rather different.
Ignatius of Loyola was born on December 24, 1491. He grew up to become a Spanish knight and was wounded by a cannon ball wound to the leg. While in the hospital, he asked for reading material, and all that was available was Christian text about the lives of the Saints and Jesus Christ. He became a follower of Christ, later to become a renowned theologian and ascetic. He is known for being the founder of the Jesuits, a movement of Catholic spiritual renewal during the counter-reformation. He was strongly opposed to the Protestant reformation, which makes our relationship with him even more interesting – at least those of us who are part of the Protestant tradition.
Should us Protestants disregard this Catholic thinker? One of my (Protestant) spiritual mentors studied Ignatius for his dissertation topic because he believes that much of what Ignatius taught is to be applied to the Christian spiritual life. Ignatius realized that the Catholic Church needed to be transformed, just as Luther realized did. However, Ignatius always remained within the church, and was astonished that Luther and others would work from without.
Ignatius will always be remembered for contributing the two following ascetic traditions, The Examen of Consciousness and the Spiritual Exercises.
The Examen of Consciousness of 5 Steps:
- Recall, that no matter what, you are the beloved in the presence of the Creator God.
- Rest and reflect on what God has given you this day and what have you given others
- Ask for the Holy Spirit to pour his love into your heart and for his guidance
- Examine how you are living this day. Recall the day, context of your actions, hour by hour, etc. What cause you to act the way you did?
- Pray for reconciliation and compassion. Grieve over your sins and praise God for his grace towards you.
The Spiritual Exercises:
He wrote a manual for 30-day retreats. The spiritual exercises could be related to physical exercise such as running, biking, weight lifting…however, the are for the spiritual life (meditation, contemplation, prayer, etc). Following is a small excerpt on the first spiritual exercise and foundation from The Spiritual Exercises:
The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.
To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.
Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.
I believe that the Examen and Spiritual Exercises are a wonderful tool for maturing in one’s relationship with the Holy Trinity, but I would love to hear feedback? Do you think that Protestants should use the writings and thoughts of a Catholic Theologian who was greatly opposed to the Protestant Reformation?
Was Ignatius a Reformer?
[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]
The following is one of my favorite poems; rather, it could be rightly called a Sermon on the Nativity – originally preached some 1,300 years ago by Isaac the Syrian.
This is the night of the Most Gentle One –
Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One –
Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy –
Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will –
Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace –
Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
[This is a guest post by Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]
Just because it’s Christmas Eve today, that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a little Saturday Morning fun! So here’s a great video of Jedi Ninjas in action. The fight sequences are actually rather well done. And make sure you stick around for the surprise ending!
On December 24, 1223 Saint Francis of Assisi made the very first living animal nativity scene in an Italian grotto. I imagine that Saint Francis made a live nativity because he loved animals so much (note the picture).This tradition carries on today; however, do living nativity scenes actually help us worship God come in the flesh? My wife and I visited her family last weekend and we went to the local church’s live nativity scene. I had never seen an actual nativity scene acted out like this, where there were literal animals. It was pretty intense, this Church went all out. Living animals, a choir, young girls as angels, men as wise men, little boys as shepherds, a young man and woman as Mary and Joseph, and the little baby Jesus being acted out by an anonymous newborn child.
My question still remains, do nativity scenes like this actually help us worship God come in the flesh? Saint Francis of Assisi would have said yes. As I reflect upon the nativity scene my wife and I witnessed, it is very hard to say. I was partially distracted by the 4 year old girl who kept waving at everyone and the wise men who had denim pants and sneakers underneath their robes, and the fact that there were horses eating hay…I always pictured more sheep, cattle, and camels in the real version.
The narrator read parts of Matthew and Luke, and the choir responded with songs of worship, including most Christmastime favorites (all of which were centered on Christ, nothing like Rudolph).There were several attending the nativity scene who were not a part of the Church, and the pastor invited them to join for their Sunday gatherings. After the nativity, people gathered together in the church building for more hot chocolate and cookies. This Church obviously saw this as a huge ministry and outreach, taking it very seriously.
At the end of the day, I have to say that attending the living nativity scene did bless my soul. My wife and I were able to wear our pea coats and scarfs, drinking hot chocolate underneath a portable heat stove, while singing worship songs and laughing with the little kids’ short attention spans and being able to spend time with old friends whom we had not seen for over 6 months. Praise God that He came in the flesh so we could worship Him, recalling His birth on that evening.
When is the last time you went to a living nativity scene? did it help you worship God Emmanuel?
- How Martin Luther Went Viral: “It is a familiar-sounding tale: after decades of simmering discontent a new form of media gives opponents of an authoritarian regime a way to express their views, register their solidarity and co-ordinate their actions. The protesters’ message spreads virally through social networks, making it impossible to suppress and highlighting the extent of public support for revolution. The combination of improved publishing technology and social networks is a catalyst for social change where previous efforts had failed.”
- The Dark Side of Theology: “there is a dark side to theology. I see it everyday. I pray that this does not infect my students, but inevitably, there are always one or two who take their theological knowledge and create a recipe of sin and shame. These are people I call ‘theologically dangerous.'”
- The Original Heresy? “What was the original heresy? It’s not false teaching with respect to the Trinity, or perhaps it is. It’s not denial of the deity of Christ, or perhaps it is…”
- Can You Care about the Unreached and Stay? “One important question that I’ve been asked is why I — with a passion for the unreached and unengaged peoples of the earth — serve as a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most churched cities in America. It’s a great question and one that often perplexes me.”
- Bruce McCormack’s 2011 Kantzer Lectures on the Doctrine of Election are now available, and they look great. Make sure you check them out.
- Jesus’ Top Ten List: it seems that everyone has a top ten list these days.
- And here’s a list of 11 Christmas Songs That Never Really Took Off. It’s hard to believe that the Twisted Sister song didn’t catch on better.
Why do heroes ride off into the sunset? Wouldn’t it be better if they stayed? Who wants a hero who skips town as soon as the crisis is over? The hard stuff is what comes next. Sure you beat up the big bad guy, but what about all the little ones? What about all the problems you didn’t fix? What about the daily grind of living in a broken world? Look at you on your cool horse. Who do you think is going to clean up all that poop it left behind?
Forget the sunset. I want a hero who sticks around, not one who takes off.
But isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? His people waited thousands of years for him to come. And finally, the Messiah arrived. Then….bam! He’s gone. One minute he’s there with the disciples, and then “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
He ascended. He left.
I can just picture the disciples standing there, staring into the sky like a bunch of kids watching all their balloons float away.
The Messiah rode off into the sunset.
What is that all about? Why wouldn’t Jesus stick around? You’d think a few thousand years would be enough waiting already. Did he really need to take off and make us wait longer? That’s like telling the kids on Christmas morning that they’ll need to wait until New Year’s to open their presents.
That’s just mean.
So something must be wrong with how I’m telling this story. The ascension isn’t a mean trick that God played on us. And it certainly isn’t about Jesus leaving us just when we needed him most. The way the Bible tells it, the ascension is fundamental to God’s story.
5 Reasons the Ascension Matters
Luke begins the book of Acts with the ascension for a reason. In Luke’s story, which includes both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, the Ascension is the critical hinge between the life/death/resurrection of Jesus (Luke) and the story of his Spirit-empowered people at work in the world (Acts). And that’s because, for the biblical authors, the Ascension is critical.
1. The Kingdom
It’s really with the ascension that Jesus establishes the Kingdom. Although Jesus lived his entire life in fulfillment of God’s Kingdom promises, the ascension is key. That’s why the Bible pictures the Ascension as Jesus going up into heaven leading a host of captives (Eph. 4:8), the defeated enemies of the Kingdom. And, arriving in heaven, he sits down at the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Heb 1:3). His rule has begun. The Kingdom is here! With his birth the King arrives. With his life, death, and resurrection the King redeems. With his ascension the King rules. If you stop short of the ascension, the story dies.
2. The Priest
And, having returned to the father, Jesus also serves forever as our true High Priest (Heb. 9), the perfect priest who cleansed the people from their sins and will always represent them before the Father. The ascension breaks the cycle of God’s people continually needing a new priest to offer a new sacrifice. With the ascension, Jesus becomes our true priest forever.
3. The Spirit
In one of the most amazing statements in the Bible, Jesus says that “it is to your advantage that I go away” (Jn. 16:5). I can think of several people who could make the world a better place just by leaving it. But Jesus? How can his departure be good for us? Because the ascension is when Jesus sends the Spirit to God’s people. His departure is good news because the Spirit is good news. So, having promised to send the Spirit once he was gone, that’s exactly what he did. After Acts 1 comes Acts 2 – Jesus ascended and the Spirit came. Good news.
4. The People
But now for an interesting question: Why did Jesus need to leave in order to send the Spirit? Couldn’t the Spirit have come while he was here? To be honest, I have no idea if God could have done things differently. Probably. So why do it like this? As I’ve said before, I try to avoid answering “Why did God…?” questions. But I do wonder if Jesus ascended and sent the Spirit to empower God’s people so that we could do what we were always supposed to: image God in creation as his people. Jesus could have continued doing that for us. He does it far better than we ever could. But God’s plan was never to carry out our role for us. He wants us to do it. So I wonder if the ascension is about God creating space for his people to be his people and carry out their calling in the world. I don’t know, but I wonder.
5. The Future
Finally, I think the ascension is a powerful reminder of our destiny. Here it’s important to remember that Jesus did not stop being human when he ascended. It’s not as though his humanity was a costume that he put on at Christmas and hastily discarded at the ascension. Jesus represents us as our High Priest forever specifically because he remains one of us forever. So the ascension points to our destiny as humans – ruling over God’s creation and manifesting his glory everywhere.
The ascension is not an optional add-on to the story, a piece that we may choose to discuss if we have any time after dealing with the more important parts. The ascension is critical. The ascension is when the King rules, the Priest represents, the Spirit comes, the People serve, and the future shines with the brilliance of God’s plan.
Jesus didn’t just ride off into the sunset, leaving us to clean up the mess he left behind. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the father so that God’s plans could be accomplished. Once we really understand that, we’ll agree that it truly was better for us that he go.
[I asked someone to read through my gospel book, and he pointed out that I didn’t have anything in there on the ascension. What a tragic oversight! So this is my first shot at addressing that omission. Let me know what you think.]
I usually enjoy putting together my list of 5 favorite books from the past year. I’m not sure that anyone really cares that much about my favorite books. But it’s always fun to reflect on what I’ve read over the last twelve months and remember all the great books I’ve read.
Alas, this is not one of those years. Looking back, I’m somewhat distressed but two things: (1) I really didn’t read that many books, and (2) most of them weren’t all that great. They weren’t bad; they just weren’t great.
I need to do something about that next year. At the very least, I need to carve out a little more reading space – especially for good fiction. But I also need to read better books. I think I’ve been trying a little too hard to “keep up” with the popular books, leaving too little time to engage the really good ones.
Nonetheless, the year wasn’t a complete loss. I did read some good books worth mentioning. So, without further ado, here are my 5 favorite books of 2011. (By the way, these are books that I read in 2011 regardless of when they were published.)
Best Theology Book
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders. If you like reading theologians who write well, think creatively, engage important issues, and connect them to everyday life, this book is for you. Sanders does an outstanding job working through a range of issues relative to understanding the Trinity, and showing how each matters for life and ministry today. Far from being a piece of theological speculation, of interest only to theologians and church historians, Sanders unfolds the Trinity as central to Christian spirituality and the gospel itself.
Best Fiction Book
The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman. Okay, I’m cheating a bit here by putting two books together. But they really tell one story, and I read them at the same time. So I think it’s justified. Anyway, these two fantasy novels are a fabulous read. Grossman shamelessly steals themes and ideas from all over the fantasy genre, combining them to tell a unique and compelling story. What I found most interesting here is that unlike most fantasy novels, I didn’t find the world that Grossman created to be all that interesting. But his characters are oddly fascinating. And he’s not at all afraid to run them through the ringer. (Warning: the story does get rather gritty in places. It’s not as bad as A Song of Fire and Ice, but it’s still tough at times.)
Best Book about the Gospel
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Scot McKnight. I decided to go with just one of the many books written about the gospel this year. And, of those, I liked McKnight’s the best. McKnight does a great job explaining how the good news of “my” salvation only makes sense when it gets placed in the larger story of what God has been doing in and through his people from the very beginning. Since that’s much of what I’m trying to do with my own gospel book (though in a rather quirkier manner), I’m probably a bit biased. But I think it’s so important to see the broader story as the necessary frame for the narrower story of personal salvation. And McKnight’s is one of the best books out there right now for doing that.
Best Book That Is Impossible to Categorize
Night of the Living Dead Christian: One Man’s Ferociously Funny Quest to Discover What It Means to Be Truly Transformed, Matt Mikalatos. Speaking of quirky, you have to love a book that uses werewolves, zombies, and vampires to tell the story of Christian transformation. Matt has a creative (someone would say bizarre) sense of humor and the amazing ability to take pop culture and use it to illuminate important theological ideas. If you’re looking for something a little different to read, or if you’d like to recommend a book to someone who doesn’t usually read theology books, this is a great choice
Best Church History Book:
Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, Alister McGrath. This book served as the starting point for the heresy series I wrote in the fall. McGrath does a great job laying out all the key issues involved in understanding what heresy is and why it matters today. And he manages to avoid being overly technical at the same time, keeping the book readable and fairly short.
- Is Video Preaching on the Decline? “Eventually, however, the wired generation will desire a more local, personal touch than the man-on-the-screen. By 2020, more campuses at multi-site churches will feature a campus pastor who teaches, and more people will seek out this type of local connection.”
- Why Santa Belongs in Your Kids’ Christmas. This is a good post for reflecting on the power and importance of “myth” as a way of communicating values. I disagree that you have to get kids to “believe” in Santa for the myth to work its magic, but it’s a good reflection nonetheless.
- Christianity Goes Global as the World’s Largest Religion: “Christians are by far the largest religious group on the planet, and the religion has gone truly global over the past century, according to a new report out Monday, which finds some of the world’s biggest Christian communities in surprising places.”
- Christianity and the Future of the Book: In this history one can discern many ways in which forms of religious life shape, and in turn are shaped by, their key technologies. And as technologies change, those forms of life change too, whether their participants wish to or not.
- A new study finds that people are more likely to lie through texts.
- Google Maps now offerings walking directions to Mordor.
Just for Fun
- The first Hobbit movie trailer is out