Archive for October, 2014

206700Title: Killing Lions

Authors: John Eldredge & Sam Eldredge

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2014

Pages: 188

Killing Lions at Ransomed Heart

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I am required only to be honest with my review. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review.]

If I recall correctly the history of my reading, this is the third John Eldredge book I have read in my life. I'm not sure what the other two were–maybe The Sacred Romance and Waking the Dead–I really don't remember. All I can say is that neither left a mark on me. I think when it comes to John Eldredge books you either get it or you don't. I fall into the latter category. I'm just not quite able to put a finger on what it is he is writing about or why he's writing it. I don't think that is an indictment of him or his writing as much as it is a nice way of saying I just don't care for his writing.

Now add his son Samuel to a book. That's where I'm at with Killing Lions. And given that this is the third of his books I have read it's not like I haven't tried. I still don't get it. Furthermore, given the wide range of life experiences of young Samuel, I find it hard to believe that many people–many young men–will be able to relate to his peculiar brand of 'woe is me.'

The book is billed as a guide through the trials young men face. Sounds admirable. Sounds interesting. Sounds like a great way for a dad to get his son's writing career off the ground. Half-way through the book I couldn't shake this thought from my head, by the end nothing had changed. I'm not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with that. I wish my dad could do the same thing for me and Lord knows if I could do that for my sons I would. But whatever sympathy I might have had for young Samuel quickly evaporated when I had to read, at least once per chapter, about his world travels and how terribly broke he was while he traveled to Malaysia (56, 95), or completed a Vision Quest at the age of 14 by climbing the Grand Tetons (63), or went sailing, or suffered as RA at the college he went to or how he had to spend a semester abroad because he was rejected by a girl (4 months to be exact. I remember one time I was rejected by a girl. I had to get up the next day and go to work. See pages 40, 115), or how he was certain his writing career was never going to get off the ground (51). This poor kid has done more by the age of 20 than most of us will do in a lifetime.

But he was struggling to find himself. And his career. Until one day his wise friends told him, "God was after how I saw myself" (55). I'm all about finding yourself and wading through the struggles of a young man–learning that alcohol is not helpful, that serial dating is a waste of time, that we often have to find the right career by being fired or quitting a fruitless job–and that's what this book amounts to: one young man's journey. The problem, as I see it is, is that his dad's advice is good for him. It might be helpful for others; it might not be helpful for others. I'm not sure who the audience is for this book because the people who probably should read it won't and the people who will read it will already agree with Eldredge because they have bought into his rather strange philosophy of warriors, masculinity, and romance. You either get it or you don't. There's nothing unique or inspiring about the content of this book.

The book is full of quotes. It is clear that the authors either read a lot or are good at quote mining because there are a lot quotes from all the people one might expect: Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, Buechner, U2, Frankl, Pascal, Dostoyevsky, and a few other philosophers and authors–some known, some obscure. The things these people have to say are important in certain contexts, but I think in this book they were filler. Use of these quotes always felt kind of forced and convenient-even if the quotes were the good quotes one might expect to see from these authors. I like quotes, but there was nothing surprising about these quotes.

I think when it's all said and done, as I noted above, you are either a reader who gets John Eldredge or you are not. If you are not, you will find a lot of the 'dialogue' tired and boring. Most of us do not live in a world where we discuss or engage in things like the 'Warrior' stage of life, go on Vision Quest's, eat Tiger beer as curry mee in Malaysian food courts with friends (I've read pages 95-96 two or three times and I'm still not sure what Samuel is trying to tell us in this story because I'm not sure what a person falling down and cracking their head in a Malaysian bathroom is reason enough to ask the question, "Why God?"), or 'suffer' from relational paralysis. Most of us don't have time because we are too busy living to take the time to 'find ourselves.' For most of us life and the journey is discovery enough without having to dedicate time to the specific task, and I can assure you that writing one book, traveling through Europe, and getting married will not end your journey to self-discovery. I am now 44 years old and I still learn, and will continue learning, but not so much about myself. At some point we need to grow up and give up the notion that learning about ourselves matters. We will do so when we start seeking first the Kingdom (Matthew) or when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews).

I have grown weary of a generation who thinks that life is all about self-discovery. I have grown even more tired of the publishers who think all of these angst ridden tales of spoiled brats need to be published. It seems to me that we all know enough about ourselves. Life is not necessarily a journey to find ourselves. In fact, a better goal would be to lose the self and find Jesus. We truly start living when our ambition each day is to discover Jesus in the faces and lives we see each day, to do everything with love, and to die trying. This is the essence of taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus. And despite the prayers at the end of the book, I don't sense that that is the gist of this book.

It seems that many of the problems young Samuel had to pass through (as are the problems most people face at that age) were self-inflicted problems because he wanted to live the so-called cookie cutter, standard life of a 18-20 something rebel–complete with drinking, smoking, bouncing from girl to girl, and, of course, taking 4 month 'find yourself' journeys in Europe (see page 49-51). I'll be honest when I say that I just don't understand all this angst that Millenials feel they are suffering or this so-called higher sense of awareness they think they have. It all seems so self-centered: "Woe is me. I have to figure out life. I need to travel around the world to find myself and see how God wants me to look at myself. And we will be so aware and sensitive that the world will change. And we are the only people who suffer this way. And blah blah blah…" Really. Get over yourselves already.

And I certainly don't think one needs to travel to Europe and visit Auschwitz in order to know that there is terrible sin in this world and that humans are capable of horrific, ungodly, despicable violence against one another. Look around. Be more aware of what's going on in your own neighborhood. Stop climbing mountains and start stooping down to help someone right next to you.

So Sam and John discuss all sorts of things: girls, relationships, sex, money, careers, church, God, suffering & evil, building cars, travel to exotic locations, video games, and friends. Yes. All 'lions' as they say in due course. Every now and again there were some helpful thoughts, but for the most part the conversation between dad and son sounded edited, written. I'll be honest, it wasn't raw enough. I think this book might have worked in an electronic version where it could have been left raw and unedited and less wooden. Yes. That's word I'm looking for: it's too wooden. 

In conclusion, I will say this. I do agree with John's words on page 119: "Christianity is not a 'blind leap of faith' as many have been led to believe. According to Jesus–and the entire canon of Scripture–faith is trust and confidence in a person whom you have good reason to believe is trustworthy" (his emphasis). I think he is right to put the emphasis of faith on a person who actually lived in history instead of upon some strange idea that theologians have conjured up. What I wish would have happened though is that this would have found its way to the front of the book because then maybe young Samuel might have understood life a lot better. Samuel wrote, "My generation is desperate for meaning" (7). Well? Have you read your father's books? Can you get over yourself for five minutes and figure out that life is not about you and your meaning? That you are not the culmination of history? That you are not the reward?

We have meaning. All of us. We don't need to search for it and I'd tell Viktor Frankl that too. Our meaning has been summed up for us nicely in the person and rule of Jesus.

We have meaning already and sadly I don't think this book is going to contribute much to the journey of discovery that some young people seem to think they must go on. Open your eyes. Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Peter)

I don't think this book is meant for a wide audience. It's meant for a niche group of readers who already get the work of John Eldredge.

2/5 Stars

PS–I disagree thoroughly with his take on Luke Skywalker on page 110. I don't think Luke ever, for a minute, experienced self-doubt. Watch the films again: he wanted off Tattoine to fight; he went into the cave on Dagobah, he left his training to rescue his friends in Bespin, and he left the group on Endor to confront Vader. This is not self-doubt. This was a man who knew what he had to do and did it. He often did it without thinking ahead, but Luke was a man who knew what it meant to be a friend, to be loyal to something pure, and who had a clear vision of right and wrong. There was no doubt in Luke Skywalker and he is not a good model of comparison for this current generation of humans growing up, spoiled, and searching for meaning. Luke knew, in his bones. Frankly, if anyone tried to hold Luke back it was everyone around him.

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I am a Christian. I am a preacher–I just don't actually have a pulpit right now or a church or a Word from the Lord. It's not always easy–being a Christian, that is. I'm not always honest–which means that sometimes I am a hypocrite. I am not a strong-always-faithful-kind of guy. I am a weak-my-grace-is-sufficient-for-you-kind of Christian. I have to be because otherwise I would have nothing. I've learned that I cannot trust myself no matter how much effort I exert. I am far too easily amused and far too easily distracted.

It's been about five and a half years since I was removed from the pulpit of the church I served nearly 10 years.

There's a large part of me that is glad Mark Driscoll quit Mars Hill. It's about as large as the part of me that was glad when Rob Bell quit the other Mars Hill. Here's why. Aside from a small blip every now and again, I don't have to hear about Mars Hill, Rob Bell, and some of the silly things he used to say in his efforts to be relevant or controversial or emergent or whatever his shtick of the week was. I'm hoping the same results occur now that Mark Driscoll has quit Mars Hill, Seattle. Frankly, I am hopeful he will just go away and live off the fat of the money he made during his time in Seattle for a little while, learn some humility, repent of his sins, and return someday to be used by the Lord.

This is what I genuinely hope for him. I hope he will start again. Maybe I hope that because I hope maybe someday also to start again. The desert can be an arid place.

I should be clearer about why I'm writing this because someone might misunderstand me and think that this is about a personal animosity or personal dislike or that I'm just another blogger looking for google-love or whatever. I'm not. Really, I don't care. My real issue is that what the church really needs is for the celebrity preacher to just go away. Seriously. Just. Go. Away. Stop trying to go nationwide. Stop trying to make the nation your parish. Stop trying to dominate the airwaves with your sermons. Stop trying to take over the world of publishing with your books. Be content with your small parish or congregation and work in the field the Lord gives you. Make disciples. Preach the Word in season and out of season. Do the work of an evangelist. Don't be afraid to be small and unnoticed outside your community.

Stop trying to be a celebrity.

This is the inevitable result of one preacher trying to take faith nationwide–a task I'm not even sure Jesus tried to do. "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel" I recall him saying and while his eventual goal and result is 'all authority in heaven and earth' belonging to himself, I think it is safe to say that Jesus stayed with his mission to work in the fields God had called him to and he then entrusted others to carry on his work. He had other sheep, but he trusted that others would be faithful and bring them in to the fold.

An example from Driscoll himself is a book I have sitting on a shelf right next to me where I'm typing. I have owned this book since it was published Photoin 2010. It's the only Mark Driscoll book I own or will ever own. And here's the kicker, I've never even read it. I haven't even inscribed my name on the inside of the cover, near the spine, as I do with all my books. I'm not even sure why it is this close to where I am studying. I have no use for it precisely because on the cover it says, "What Christians Should Believe." I have no use for the word should. (I think this book was a book club choice once and it came before I responded to the card. I'm not sure why I own it.) But the point is this: who is Mark Driscoll to tell anyone what they should believe? Who am I to tell anyone what they should believe? Who is any Christian to make such nationwide, worldwide claims about faith in Jesus? (My point here is that I'm not defending Driscoll or excusing him personally. That is, I'm not necessarily a fan, but he's a brother in Christ and a companion in preaching.)

It's my opinion that Driscoll simply got too big for his britches. But he's only one example of many who could be pointed to. Many, many of these celebrity preachers end up all the same so I don't think Driscoll is any worse or any better than any other celebrity preacher who starts off with good intentions, is blessed by the Lord, allows it to go to his head, creates a scandal, resigns in humiliation, and goes away. I am hopeful, frankly, that Driscoll stays away. I hope he learns something from his sins. I hope the Lord restores him someday and he finds a way to start preaching the Gospel again.

I am happy that another celebrity preacher has quit. I'm not happy about the way it happened and I think there are a lot of bloggers and celebrity christian writers who will have to answer some day for the things they said about Mark. I'm glad Mark is no longer at Mars Hill because I happen to think he has more to offer and I do not believe for a minute that Jesus is finished with him; I hope he's not. I hope Mark comes back full of humility, full of grace, full of mercy, full of love, and full of gratitude for what God gave him for so many years.

I hope that because I hope that for myself too.

I can feel this way because I am a preacher too and I understand what it means to lose a pulpit, to lose God's trust, to have your faith shaken. To be sure, I was no celebrity preacher. I was not famous and never will be, but there is a part of me that understands what happens when a preacher forgets to depend upon the Lord and starts depending upon his own ability or prowess or popularity or skill. It is easy to forget the Lord in the pulpit even though the words are as holy and gospel infused as the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes preachers forget who they are and what they are called to do because the task at hand is so vital and eventually it ends up going to their heads that maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using them somehow in his scheme.

And maybe it's the Lord's intention to give them time to remember. Mark Driscoll might never remember. I pray he does.

Many are rejoicing over Driscoll's resignation. I'm not one of them. I understand all too well this pain and shame; the loneliness he may well have to endure for a while. Perhaps now that he is gone those angry bloggers and writers and critics careers too will come to a screeching halt–maybe now they won't have so much cannon fodder, maybe now the Lord can rebuke them too. Maybe they too can give up their dream of being nationwide and just go away. Maybe now that their whipping boy is gone, they can shut up and stop bringing an even worse shame to the body of Christ with their hyper-critical and hateful spirits.

We all have to learn. We all have to remember. Sadly some of us have to do these things are a far bigger stage than others which is exactly why we need less celebrity preachers. Leave the grand stage to Jesus. Exalt him; not yourself.

And come back faithful.

I went back through my old notes, the ones I managed to save after the church fired me, and found that I have written two separate sets of daily devotionals on the book of Daniel and and entire series of sermons. Now I have a new project where I am doing preliminary work through the book of Daniel. These blog posts are part of the development of this project and as such represent a prolegomena to the larger study which will manifest itself later.

In his short book The Justification of God, theologian P. T. Forsyth wrote, "It must be something historic which enables us to believe in the last reality, deep rule, and final triumph of goodness in spite of history" (98). He also wrote, "If civilisation collapsed, the Divine Kingdom is yet immune from its doom" (82). Forsyth says many such things in the course of his book and I wish I could spill all of them here in this short post. Forsyth seems to have had a keen eye for noting the differences between this world where we live and kingdom God established in the cross. Yet Forsyth also expresses that this necessarily means the church must be missionary in nature. He insists that the earth has a goal and that there is nothing that can prevent us from arriving at that goal and that God will stop at no historic convulsion to get us to that goal. 

When we read Daniel 11 (and perhaps Daniel 10 should be included here too) we see a fourth major interpretive point for understanding Daniel. The other three (there are two kingdoms, the two kingdoms are at war, and those who hold fast to God will live) are briefly developed in another post. To those three I add a fourth: the kingdom that set itself in opposition to God is violent, aggressive, blasphemous, and destructive in nature. All throughout Daniel's book the reader sees this. Consider:

  • Chapter 1: the kingdom of Babylon invades Jerusalem and takes captive people and articles of the temple.
  • Chapter 3: God's people are thrown into fire for not worshiping a statue.
  • Chapter 5: Belshazzar is a blasphemous king with no respect for God as is evidenced by his drinking from the gold goblets
  • Chapter 6: Daniel is thrown to lions for failing to stop praying to God.

It becomes worse when we read chapters 7 – 11, but essentially those chapters all follow a similar pattern: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. While they are empowered, they are violent and blasphemous. Yet every single one of them comes to an end at the hands of another kingdom. This was foreshadowed for the reader in chapter 2: "In the times of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever."

In my opinion, this verse is key to understanding the book of Daniel because this is exactly the pattern we see over and over and over again in the book: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. And what we know from this verse is that it is the hand of God that is somehow involved in the wrecking of all these kingdoms. This is especially so when we get to chapter 11 of Daniel.

Chapter 11 is a stellar example of being so concerned with looking at trees that we miss the forest. The problem, I think, with so much of the interpretive energy expended on Daniel is that exegetes work too hard at trying to identify the specific people that the author of Daniel is writing about in chapter 11. Maybe he's talking about Alexander. Maybe he's talking about Antiochus. Maybe he's talking about the Seleucids or some others. My question is: who cares? And my point is: those people are all dead and gone and Daniel must speak to you and me, right here, right now.

Now, to be sure, I'm not saying that the identity of those people Daniel wrote about is historically meaningless. Their identity does serve some purpose in establishing the veracity of the book and the credibility of its author, but as far as the overall point that the author is making, their identities are meaningless because the pattern never changes: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. And in truth it does not matter if it was 600 years B.C. or 200 years B.C.: if Daniel matters, it matters now and we who read it now do well to pay attention to the forest: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. This pattern never changes; the character of the people running the kingdoms never changes; the position of God's people within those uprisings/downfallings never changes; and God preserves his people despite this constant fluctuation.

Even a cursory look at chapter 11 demonstrates this. I won't list the sketch from my journal, but some general points can be made nonetheless.

First, not one kingdom/king written about in chapter 11 of Daniel survives. Every last one of them meets his/her end. There is no alliance they can make that will save them. There is no tax they can impose that will secure them. There is no war they can wage that will sustain them. From first to last, these kings and their kingdoms will perish from the earth. Proof? Look around. Do you see any of them in existence? So, then, do we have any reason to believe that kings/kingdoms of this present world will end any differently than those described in chapter 11 of Daniel? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No.

Second, not one of these kings or commanders achieves anything righteously. Quickly survey how they get things done:

  • Power through wealth (11:2)
  • Alliance through marriage (11:6,7)
  • Through rage (11:11)
  • Levying of taxes (11:20)
  • Through intrigue (11:21)
  • Through deceit (11:23)
  • Through bribery (11:24)
  • Through lying (11:27; they don't even tell each other the truth!)
  • Through violence against God (and God's people; 11:16,30,31; 36-39)
  • Through flattery (11:32)
  • Through self-exaltation (11:36)
  • These kings do whatever they want (11:36)
  • They blaspheme the God of gods (11:36)

And this isn't even to mention that every single one of them does what they do through violence, aggression, and war. Every king mentioned has blood on his hands. They do what they do through war. Yet we exalt these people and continue to lend them our voices in their attempts to secure power for themselves. How else can we justify the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars during political campaigns? The real question is this: do we have any reason to believe that the leaders of this present world are any different than those described in Daniel 11? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No.

The third point I would make about chapter 11 is this: How are the holy things, the holy people of God treated by these kings, rulers, and commanders in Daniel 11? Read it again and note how the holy things of God are treated in Daniel's book. Chapter 1, the temple vessels are put in the pagan temple and the holy people are taken to a pagan city; chapter 3, holy people are thrown to fire; chapter 5, the blasphemous character and actions of Belshazzar speak volumes about the kings of earth; chapter 6, holy people are thrown to lions; chapter 8, the truth is thrown to the ground; chapter 11, the beautiful land becomes a haunt for pagan rulers (v 16, 41), the temple is desecrated (v 31-32), and just read verses 36-45 to see the nature of one of these rulers. They feign righteousness and speak a pretty word about how they have the best interests of their constituents in mind, but I think it is fairly easy to read Daniel's book and see that neither the kings nor the people they serve have the righteous and holy things of God in mind as they rule.

Thus the question becomes: do we have any reason to believe that this side of the cross that the rulers of this earth are any different than the ones Daniel was specifically writing about in his book? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No. We see all the same such hubris and violence and warmongering as Daniel did. We see the same 'want to power' Daniel did. We see the same intrigue, the same flattery, bribery, and self-glorification as Daniel did. Times have not changed. Only the names.

What's ironic about so much of the interpretation of this chapter is that when we see Jesus speaking of it later on in Matthew's Gospel, we find him making the same (or at least similar) points: Kingdoms of earth rise, kingdoms of earth fall; the kings of earth do not have the righteous things of God in mind; and the holy things/people of God will be the ones who will have to endure their wrath. But also the command is the same and what the Man in Linen in Daniel 12 tells Daniel Jesus tells us in Matthew 24-25: Watch out, hold fast, resurrection awaits: "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (24:46).

Again, this is all preliminary and I have a lot of studying to do yet. This means I have a lot of clarifying to do of some of my major points of exegesis, but at this point I'm sticking with the forest instead of the trees. I get that without trees we won't see a forest, but taking a longer, wider view of the landscape demonstrates to us that sometimes general principles arise that are significantly more important and relevant than trying to dredge of history and match faces to no-names.

I was in Sunday School this morning and we were talking about something in John's gospel. Somehow or other the conversation drifted to the book of Daniel–a book I am currently making an extended study of for purposes that are my own right now. Nevertheless, we got there (to Daniel) and somehow started talking about Jesus being the Son of God. Or maybe we went there in order to talk about Jesus being the son of God. Frankly, I'm not altogether certain because for some reason the two ideas came together in my head and I started thinking hard about Daniel and from seemingly nowhere the book of Daniel opened up before me and I saw a theme stretched from one end of the book to the other–every 'chapter', every page, it is there. At this point it was only in my head and memory so it was a theory.

So I started checking my idea–throughout the rest of Sunday school and part of the worship time–and sure enough it's there. I had to be safe and double check because I am fully aware that to some the book of Daniel is a prop for a theological system that eminently benefits the Christian publishing houses in America and that looking at things in Daniel a little less finely might be troublesome. Yet that is precisely what I started to do. That is, I started looking at things less finely. In other words, I started to look at the forest instead of the trees. Looking at trees can be daunting when considering the book of Daniel because there are so many trees to look at. For example, trying to take a nice stroll through chapters 10 and 11 is nearly impossible. There are kings and beasts coming at the reader from north and south, land and sea. It's so overwhelming, that it even made Daniel sick most of the time.

And these kings and commanders come and go. They run roughshod over any and all that stand in their way. The decide morality, they collect taxes, they worship war (11:38), and make war wherever they go. What Daniel seems to be telling us is that it makes little difference where these rulers come from, they will have only one thing on their minds: destruction and self-aggrandizement. It seems to matter little, furthermore, when they rule. It might be the first year of a king; it might be the third year of a king; it might be kings who reigned in the past or kings who will reign in the future. They will all collect taxes. They will all blaspheme the Truth and the True King. They will be powerful–of this there can be no doubt. They will hold life and death in the palms of their hands. Nothing in the text of Daniel says, however, that we ought to live in fear or recoil in terror of these men. Nothing. In fact, the book's constant refrain is exactly the opposite: go and live.

From the first chapter to the last, the book of Daniel is about endurance. Consider 1:21: "And Daniel remained there until the first year of Cyrus." Daniel outlived all of them. Now consider 12:13: "As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance." Daniel will live.

I suppose we can read Daniel and see clues to 'unlock prophetic revelation' or we can read Daniel as a book designed to teach us three overarching truths.

First, there are two kingdoms in Daniel's book. The kingdom of man as represented by Nebudchadnezzer, Belshazzar, Darius, Cyrus, shaggy goats, horns, kings of the north and south, and others whom we cannot identify with any real precision. These kingdoms come and go. They are here and gone. But without fail, no matter how monstrous they are at any given point, the refrain is always the same. "Yet he will come to his end…" (11:45) Every kingdom in the book comes to an end at some point. Except one: "His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation" (4:3) a refrain found more than once in Daniel.

Second, these two kingdoms will clash, but both cannot win. Only one will win. Only one will endure. Kings of earth will try and try and try, but they will always fail: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (2:44). And they will continue to clash over and over again throughout history. I don't think that just because Jesus came to earth that the book of Daniel has suddenly ceased to be relevant. Not at all. There are still wars. The wicked continue to be wicked (12:10). Violence is still perpetrated upon the righteous. And kings still do whatever they want (11:36).

Third, there is hope for those who trust in the Lord. I can't help but sense in this book a theme that the righteous will live not because, necessarily, they press on through tough times but because God is there with them. In chapter 1 we see it this way: "And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God." In chapter 3 it looks like this, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Later in latter chapters, it looks like this: "Then I Daniel looked and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river" (12:5-6). In other words, wherever God's people went, he was with them. He was protecting them. I think Jesus said something similar, "And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

I think Matthew's book is excellent commentary on the book of Daniel. The Emmanuel promise is especially magnificent in Daniel's context. But the point is greater: we need not become unhinged in the face of all these absurd billy goats and many horned monsters who are running around as if they were something special or important. The writing is on the wall for all of them, not just Belshazzar. Yet, I might say the point is even bigger than merely seeing these earthly kingdoms trampled and all things put to rights: We have hope either way. Or: "But at that time your people–everyone whose name is found written in the book–will be delivered" (12:1). And: "Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days" (12:12). God will not leave his people without hope.

I have more to say on this matter, but this post is long enough. In conclusion, I will say this. It is very typical of those who study Daniel to fixate on identifying the who this guy is and who that guy is and to try and tuck them neatly into a historical context. They fixate, in other words, on the trees. And in trying to identify specific people and specific times and specific places they miss the overall point of the book of Daniel which is something like I have sketched above: 1) there are two kingdoms; 2) they are constantly at war and one will ultimately lose; and 3) God's people are not left without hope in the midst of it all. I need to explore this all a lot more and I will be posting my findings periodically. Just remember not to get so hung up on seeing trees that you miss the forest. It sounds cliche; it is. But that does not mean it's not true.

PS–I think it's especially important to understand the concept of Kingdom in this book and to explore the larger implications as they unfold later in the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus. I also think a good case can be made for the Emmanuel theme in Daniel. I'm convinced the book is teaching us that God went into exile with his people and did not abandon them their to their own devices or wholly to the whims of their pagan captors. In my next post I will show how important Kingdom is in every single chapter of Daniel's book.

I'm doing some research on the Old Testament book of Daniel in preparation for a project I am about to undertake in the not too distant future. I'm taking it slowly. I'm still in chapter 1.

Daniel 1 is an interesting place to begin a book. I mean, Daniel isn't typical prophecy. It has prophetic elements in it as well as some so-called apocalyptic elements too, but it's not typical of a book of prophecy like, say, Isaiah or Jeremiah. There's no long poems or sermons. There's no real sweeping judgments against nations even if there are some heavy judgments against individuals who happen to rule those nations. Daniel is stories and dreams and visions. And that's about it.

With that in mind, I was thinking: why does Daniel begin where it begins? I mean, what's the point of opening a book of prophecy or a book about a prophet, by telling a story about who will eat and what food they will eat? Then I got to thinking that perhaps Daniel 1 isn't really about food or eating after all. Maybe the subtle point Daniel is making is that there is more going on in his life than mere appetite–there is more going on in his life than the king can possibly satisfy with portions from his table.

Several years ago, I wrote something similar in a devotional I had prepared for my congregation. I wrote:

I do not think Daniel and his friends felt they had a mandate to change the Babylonian culture and make it Jewish. What Daniel and his friends did have a mandate to do was to remain faithful to God–at any cost. They resolved not to be dependent on the culture in which they lived by eating food from the king's table. To eat from the king's table was like saying, 'we are going to be dependent upon the king. We will ingratiate ourselves to his providence.'

I think the short and long of it is this: when you eat like the king, you become like the king. Daniel and his friends were ultimately saying: we do not want to be like Nebudchadnezzer, and by not being like him, we will be better and more useful. It seems to me this is a larger story for us too: when we partake of the culture, we become like the culture. The culture of Babylon, in particular the person of the king, started changing because Daniel and friends remained faithful. It's a short road to the compromising of faithfulness. Daniel and his friends want to remain distinctly Hebrew in the context of Babylon. I'm not even certain Daniel's motive had anything to do with seeking God since there are no explicit commands anywhere that prohibit people from eating the king's food in captivity.

There's probably no such specific commands for Christians either. We are free to enjoy life and liberty and, if we choose, to eat from the king's table. Paul did write that all things are permissible. He also wrote, however, that not all things are profitable. So here we are faced with the crazy idea that we have to decide what is and is not compromise here in America where the king's table is so abundantly spread.

Given where Daniel's book begins (1:1): In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebudchadnezzer king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And given where chapter 1 ends (1:21): And Daniel remained there until the first year of king Cyrus. I would say that Daniel's decision not to take his sustenance from the king's table benefited him, and many others besides, well: He outlived them all and provided counsel for many kings and peoples. I would say that his decision to remain unique and distinct among the culture of Babylon was well played.

Middle schoolTitle: Middle School: The Inside Story

Authors: Cynthia Tobias & Sue Acuna

Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Publisher: Tyndale

in association with Focus on the Family

Year: 2014

Pages: 208

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book by Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was not provided with anything in exchange for my review. And as always, I promise to be perfectly honest about what I read.]

I will say upfront that I didn't like this book, but that doesn't mean it's not a good book for someone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with the book and there is nothing about the book that is unhelpful. I just didn't like it.

The book is divided into four parts: Changes, Parenting, Friends and Other Problems, and School. Each part is then subdivided into smaller parts dealing with issues under the general heading. So, under the section 'Changes' the authors deal with the strange dealings that come along with changes in the body as the child gets into his/her junior high years. The sections on Parenting and School are the longest sections with each having six sub-sections. The other two sections, Changes and Friends and Other problems, only have three sub-sections each which unbalances the book a little.

Throughout the book there are quotes from random middle school students who were interviewed by Sue Acuna, co-author of the book. I'm not really sure what to make of the quotes. It could be a case of these are genuine and fit nicely in with pre-determined chapters or it could be that they helped shape the content of the chapters. For me they were a distraction, mere fillers that acted as chicanes more than anything else. Periodically, too, there were brief anecdotes from the authors. These brief stories, mostly from their own families' or anonymous sources, again seemed to be perfectly fitted to the subject matter of the chapter–a fact I always find a little too convenient for my taste, but that's just me. I don't think the filler hurts the book but neither do I think it helps. I think it is filler that stretches a 75 page book to over 200 pages. (There is other stuff that I consider filler too. The only filler I appreciated was the 'Here's a Thought' text-boxes.)

The book is easy to read and it's not terribly deep. There's no doubt that it is filled with all sorts of helpful information that someone might well find beneficial. Nevertheless, I think even the authors would acknowledge that every family is different and has different needs and operates under a different dynamic. Thus we have to be careful when applying a template and suggesting that all things will work in all families. That being said, I don't think the authors of this book do that. Frankly, I think they manage to strike a very good balance between 'here are things that we have learned through our experience' and 'here are things you should do that will most certainly work for you.' They offer suggestions and helpful hints and ideas, but I think they manage to safely avoid dogma.

However.

I want to go back to those quotes that are laced throughout the book. These quotes are from 'a middle schooler.' We are not told the age or the sex of the student or the circumstance under which the quote was collected. What I found is that most of the quotes that are pulled out and put front and center are highly negative about parents. One would think, after reading a few of these quotes, that most parents are absolutely horrible people and that the only way to solve the issue is to get along with this program. I think that if middle school students are just learning how to be middle school students then perhaps their parents are also just learning to be parents of middle school students. Perhaps a few quotes from disoriented parents would have provided some balance to the book. Me and my wife have raised three sons through their rough junior high years. It was not easy because all three boys were different and had their own unique personality that we had to adapt to, but it did get easier with each boy.

Finally, I want to say this. I get that this is a popular level book written for a general audience (I suspect their audience is primarily moms, but I could be wrong) and that they want to get helpful information into as many hands  as possible and that neither the authors nor the publishers want to bog people down with technicality, but 9  ? Really? Not even a bibliography or a 'here's where you can find more information' type page? With the exception of a couple of pages directing us to Focus on the Family stuff, a couple of references in the book to Tobias' other books, and a couple of references to Focus on the Family publications, we are simply left in the dark as to where all this information, helpful or otherwise, comes from. I think books that are designed to help us navigate such things as parenthood need to have a slightly more substantial research base than that of pull out quotes from 'a middle schooler.'

So, as I said at the beginning, there isn't anything necessarily wrong with the book. I just didn't like it. It is written from a female point of view (which again isn't wrong or bad), by two women who (according to their bios, have tons of practical experience). But I detect nothing in this book that would inspire another man to want to read it. I suspect stay at home mothers will enjoy this book and probably nod their way through in agreement. But I also think that if you are an adult, and you have happen to have any amount of common sense, you ought to be able to navigate your way through those strange middle school years without much help from this book.

3/5

The-word-of-the-LordTitle: The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets

Author: Nancie Guthrie

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2014

Pages: 272

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book (e-book) via Crossway Publishers online. I was not required to write a positive review and I was not compensated in any way.]

Back in 2010 the publishers of Modern Reformation magazine decided to devote an entire magnanimous year to Scripture. Eric Landry wrote in an editorial, "The theme for this year was born out of the conviction that we all need to recover Scripture: in our churches, in our devotional lives, as the source of our theology, and as the living voice of God today" (MR, Jan/Feb 2010).

I actually happen to agree with Landry even if there are a plethora of points at which we might disagree concerning just how such a task might come about in our time. His thought reminds me of a young kind just ascended to the throne of Judah who wanted to make things right in the land. So he started with temple repairs when he was in the 18th year of his reign. Yet it was something else that ended up being the catalyst for renewal he was looking for. While the workers were working the high priest, Hilkiah, said, "I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord." Well, to be sure, it's not like the Book of the Law had ever been far from anyone, let alone the priest. And it has always struck me as odd that the book was 'found' just around the time the king asked for repairs to the temple, but that's another story.

My point is that here in America, not one of us is far from the Word of God and yet I suspect that most of us are a couple of miles away. Yet here we are in a land where more Bibles are sold on a yearly basis than we can scarcely imagine–and the publishing houses reap a windfall in Bible sales. Really it's a shame, but I suppose it is what it is.

This is all so much segue into my thoughts on Nancy Guthrie's book The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets. What disturbs me about many of the books I read and review from Christian publishers is that the books typically claim to be about the Bible and then it turns out that the Bible is merely pepper on the pages, if we are lucky. What I like about Guthrie's book is that it is Scripture–front to back. She really digs deep and I appreciated it. She leaves no stone unturned and tackles hard questions that the prophets raise for readers.

This is not to say that I find perfect doctrine on every page nor is it to say that I particularly agree with every point she happens to make. There are times when I found the writing to be a little on the self-centered-American side. There are times when I found that she had a broader, more comprehensive swath of the church in mind. There were times when she fell into cliche and other times when she was downright prophetic like when she wrote this about God's word to a powerful king from Babylon: "He put impressive power and progress into perspective for us. The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of man or anything he has made or accomplished. Rather, it lies with something radical: a rock not hewn by human hands. This stone is going to put an end to Babylon and all successive powers, while establishing a kingdom that will fill the whole earth and never be destroyed" (158, NOOK version).

Those could very well be the best words in the book, the most powerful words in the book. I think that this is when Guthrie is at her best in this book: when she is writing as the prophets she is reading. I think she is at her worst when she is trying to persuade us of a theological system and this is, frankly, because the Scripture itself is not trying to persuade us of a particular theological formulation. It's trying to persuade us of what she wrote on page 158: The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of man or anything he has made or accomplished. I hear echoes of CS Lewis in this and I'm glad I here them: "For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man" (Mere Christianity, 182).

And this we learn about in the Scripture: that it is God's work, in and through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, that makes new people. In my opinion, Guthrie does a beautiful task of drawing our attention to this Jesus as he appears in the prophets of the Old Testament.

All in all, I like this book very much. I don't think this is the sort of book one sits down and reads straight through–as I did for review purposes. I think this is a book that one must take their time reading: slowly, quietly, and thoughtfully. I do believe, however, that if one reads this book in such a way they will be blessed by the richness of God's Word and the depths to which Guthrie has mined it.

So much Bible prophecy is misunderstood because it is read under the covers with only a quick peek every now and again to see if God is watching. Or, worse, they are read by folks looking for clues about the future and all such 'end of the world' type stuff. But there is a passage in Luke's Gospel, near the end, which gives us an insight into a better way of reading the prophets: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; see also 24:44 and Acts 8). Here is the key to interpreting all prophetic utterance: it points to Jesus. I think Guthrie gets it right in this book. Again, we may quibble about specific points, but by and large, she gets it; she nails it; she reads the prophets as they are meant to be read.

I think Eric Landry was on to something 4 or so years ago when he suggested we needed to recover the Word of God. We need each and every person who calls on the name of the Lord to start taking the Scripture a little more seriously. Turn off the TV preachers. Turn off the TV 'prophets'. Throw away the worthless books about Me. And just start reading the Bible again. Like Josiah did. Like Nancy Guthrie did.

You will like this book.

5/5 Stars