Book Review: Zealous for Good Works by Todd Wilson

Pastor Wilson turns the Church’s attention to the much quoted but less applied New Testament epistle of Titus and its core message. The Spirit inspired the author of that letter to not only leave his worker Titus on the Greek island of Crete to organize the Christians there, but gave the principles by which he was to do so as well. Using as his objective that the Church be the city on a hill that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, Wilson leads the reader through the points of Paul’s letter and helps us to understand how his marching orders for Titus apply to the Church today.

For such a brief book the value is immense. Wilson expertly exegetes the equally brief letter and helps the reader to see the big idea in each of the passages. ‘Zealous’ is not a gnostic promise (Jabez et al.) of discovering some new hidden secret, but rather, it is an eminently practical look at the principles that Paul gave to Titus that address many of the shortcomings of the Church in our age. Three that are discussed in the book are the poor level of discipleship, the chasm of credibility (that is, the difference between what we say and what we do) and the effect that these have on how we apprehend the missional opportunity ahead of us.

Read ‘Zealous’ with your bible close by. It is likely you have read Titus multiple times (if you are picking up a books such as this) but much of that reading has been focused in the Eldership requirements. Wilson deftly leads the reader to see that Titus contains so much more practical application for the Church beyond those instructions. For example, Wilson stops us in a passage often seen as preamble, Paul’s greeting in 1:1-4 to point out the importance of preaching and the power of the gospel. The gospel is both the content and the power of preaching something that can be missing in today’s environment of therapeutic deism. A city on hill is not built on the pillars of making people feel better where it teeters and shifts with every new personal demand. It is founded on the unchanging glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The only disappointment I had with the book was that it was over so quickly. The more I think about it though, the length of the book is exactly right given the brevity of the profound instruction in its source. I have a new hunger to dig into Titus and preach it in the future. In the meantime, the study guide included at the back of the book is a bonus for church leaders seeking to present their people as salt and light in the world. Buy this, read this and read it again.

Rumors of Faith

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Are we simply content to watch the American church limp into eternity? Are you ready to drift through the rest of your life, lulled and softened by our comfort and ease?

Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson, the authors of Rumors of God, surveyed the landscape of the American church and pronounce it still alive beneath the surface. Finding niches of active faith in unexpected places, they see life where many say none exists.

Many have proclaimed the ‘Church’ in America dead or drifting. From some vantage points, this might be the perception that an observer would gather. But crawl under the hood, kick the worn tires and turn the key to the slow-revving starter and you gain a different view; the Church in His people is more than alive and well.

Whitehead and Tyson collect a series of illustrations together, finding signs of vigor in the individual faith of Christians across the Church. Separating these individuals from the Church in its catholic sense creates a false impression though. The heart of the Church, regardless of how we segregate into individual assemblies, is the movement of the Spirit within His people. Perhaps a perspective gained from churches not so far removed from the norm would present a more vibrant body of Christ.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this copy for review.

Letter to a Christian Nation from Sam Harris

image  As I have done more in-depth reading in the Atheist corpus I have discovered major differences between the modern rationalists (as they like to be called) and the elder members of their cohort. The younger generation is consumed with the rant at the expense of careful argumentation. Their approach is scattered, throwing out this and that in an attempt to create a blizzard of thoughts and words so impenetrable that it is impossible to refute them. An interesting exercise is to read non-professional reviews of the literature such as what one might find on Amazon and read the glowing paeans highlighting the lucid arguments and the irrefutable ideas of the author and then wonder what book these readers have read. Many of them read like freshman essays attempting to expound on the student’s first exposure to Nietchze; they appear to have read the book but do not have a sufficient grasp of the philosophy—or religion in the case of this book—to be able to critique beyond simple praise. They like it but don’t know why they like it.

L’enfant terrible Sam Harris offers nothing in his execrable little pamphlet that furthers the Atheist cult. That this book sold numerous copies is not surprising as it perfectly fits the currently acceptable cultural intolerance of Christian belief. As is the script for the new Atheists, Christians are caricatured as irrational, sexually repressed yokels unable to process any thought beyond the flannel-graph images of the animals marching two by two into Noah’s Ark. The reader is given an early glimpse into Harris’ logical approach just a few pages in when he says “The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.” (p. 4) Let’s see:

P1: I reject Christianity continually and publically

P2: It doesn’t worry me in the least

C: Your reasons for being a Christian are inadequate

How does this work in support of the remaining pages of the book? That he does not believe in the tenets or evidence provided in support of Christianity is sufficient for a Christian to doubt the truth and reality of the living God and the sacrifice of Christ? I will try the same exercise:

P1: I do not like Brussels Sprouts and will tell everyone who listens (even though there is sufficient proof of their nutritious nature)

P2: That this might hurt my mother’s feelings doesn’t worry me in the least (because she is the only person I know who likes them)

C: No one should eat or even see Brussels Sprouts

Harris believes himself to be serious minded yet his approach to the topic at hand is cavalier and simply caustic. He is an angry man and attempts over and over to portray Christians in the same light. Harris hopes that by shouting relentlessly and not giving his opponents an opportunity to interject that he can make his point and somehow walk away victorious. For example, his handling of scripture is to pick a handful of particularly violent passages out of the Bible and then present them as the whole of scripture. The first thing that a freshman bible student is taught in hermeneutics is how to properly handle the texts and the primary rule is context, context, and context. Harris pulls out a trio of passages that he says direct parents to kill their disobedient teenagers. Neither a biblical scholar nor a Hebrew linguist, Harris attempts to make these verses stand alone which they do not. He does not delve into the semantic ranges of the English words he reads and their source in the original languages. He does not place the scriptures in context, immediate or larger. He does nothing except say ‘see, the bible says kill your kids. Let’s get rid of religion!’ Irresponsible at best, a failing grade in any religious studies class at worst.

Harris does not move much beyond this approach throughout the entire book. His tools are mockery and hyperbole which excite the Atheist community but simply look childish and silly when read by the educated and astute Christian. Sam would like a world free from all religion where each accidental creation is free to make his or her own morality. When my moral system interferes with his life in that world, Sam would happily agree that we can both be right and simply suffer the consequences without complaint. Mr. Harris attempts over and over to portray God and those who believe in Him as evil and the source of the problems of the world. I suggest that he look in the mirror. He and I are the source of the problems in the world. The free will that God has imbued his creatures with allows that we can choose to believe in Him or hate him as Mr. Harris does. Choices have consequences.

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