What Happened in the Garden… Doesn’t Stay in the Garden

In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer famously declared, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This book delves into a subset of that idea; for indeed, how we treat the story of Creation and the Fall goes a long way toward dictating how we think about God’s Word—and therefore, what we think about God Himself.

what happened in the garden.jpgJohn MacArthur and the Master’s College Faculty. What Happened in the Garden: The Reality and Ramifications of the Creation and Fall of Man. Abner Chou, editor. 302p., $19.99, Kregel Academic.

If that publication info above feels a bit scholarly to you, well, it is. But the effort is worth it. As editor Abner Chou puts it in the introduction, “The story of Genesis 2-3 is the foundation for the rest of the story of Scripture. Change one part of that and we shift our entire theology. Even more, theology  is not just ideas … but the way we understand reality around us…. What would change when you reinterpret the opening chapters of Genesis? In a word: Everything.”

That quote sets up the framework for the entire book, written by several members of the (now) Master’s University faculty. Part 1 of the book analyzes the Genesis narrative from a variety of angles—historical, hermeneutical, biological, genetic—before finally delving into the symbolic/allegorical questions that plague much modern-day “biblical scholarship.” Depending on your viewpoint,. Grant Horner’s conclusion will either sound like Occam’s Razor or circular reasoning, but either way it cuts right to the point: “Our tendency to explain away, dehistoricize, and misread Genesis 3 is a direct result of the very thing the narrative describes in such absolutely clear terms—a literal, historical account of a Fall into spiritual blindness.” Kind of reminds me of the Baudelaire quote, “The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

With the foundation established, the second and briefest part of the book digs into two specific theological ramifications of the Fall—namely, the doctrine of original sin and the promise of the “seed” (Messiah) in Genesis 3:15. Again, what one believes about the narrative itself is bound to dictate what they believe about these two critical pieces of the Christian faith.

Part 3, then, gets into the “worldview” issues, again from a variety of angles—human enterprise, the laws of thermodynamics, natural and divine law, psychology, gender issues, and education. In the final chapter, “A Sin of Historic Proportions” pastor and Master’s University president John MacArthur returns us to the original premise of the book:

The facts are clearly on the side of Scripture. The whole chronicle of human history proved the doctrine of original sin to be true…. The work of Christ is the remedy—the only remedy—for the failure of Adam. Adam cannot be merely a myth or an illustration. He is the living, breathing reason we are in this mess. And Christ is the only way out of it.

Again, not easy stuff—but if you’re up for it, you’ll have the opportunity to see through the “mess” more clearly for the effort.

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Living as People Who Are Free

Repentance is not what we do to right ourselves with God. That’s been done for us by Jesus. Repentance is what we do when we are right with God. It is change in the direction of obedience toward what God desires for us. Repentance is intentional, grace-empowered change over time.

With this book, Andy Farmer not only provides a vision for change, but some of the nuts-and-bolts we need for that “grace-empowered change” to become a reality in our lives.

trapped_thumbnail__81570_1454080753_350_450Andy Farmer. Trapped: Getting Free from People, Patterns, and Problems. 192p., $17.99, New Growth Press.

Farmer invites readers to jump to the chapters that cover their particular “traps.” But you’ll want to read all of them. Chances are,  you’ll realize that there’s more (at least potential) traps in your life than you first realized.

In the opening chapter, we’re introduced to each of those traps —approval/people-pleasing/”fear of man,” laziness, pornography, eating disorders, chemical addiction, marital issues—through a series of brief case studies. Then, Farmer pulls back, to remind us that we’re not here to focus on our traps—we’re here to escape them. Hopefully.

We say we want to be free, but don’t want the personal regime change that freedom requires. We may subtly prefer a long-term life chained to our problem to the short-term hardship of doing what it takes to live another way.

In short, the willingness to change has to come first. But even before that, we need to remember that we have already been given freedom in Christ. And it’s something we tend to forget far too often.

At the heart of this book is a singular conviction: The promise of the gospel is not enduring captivity; it is enduring freedom. But this promise isn’t plug and play. It doesn’t just happen because you say you have faith. I do a lot of pastoral counseling and one of the most common struggles I see in those I counsel is how the gospel seems to get lost in the traps and trials they experience. Good, solid, believing Christians face hardships in life and have very little idea of how the gospel is meant to make a difference.

Thus, Farmer spends a few chapters first reminding us of both the freedom and redemption we’ve already received through Jesus. Then, once the reader has been properly (re-)equipped, it’s time to dig into how it’s possible to escape from each of the above traps.

Each trap is given its own chapter, with one exception—pornography and eating disorders are treated together in the chapter, “The Trap of Secret Escape.” If that seems to knock you a bit off-balance, good; you’re ready to listen. And it will make sense once you’re in.

The book ends on a curious coda: After 150 pages of addressing our contemporary problems (or at least our contemporary versions of them), the final chapter details a correspondence between William Legge (aka Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State to the American colonies) and pastor John Newton (better known as the author of “Amazing Grace”), which took place just months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Without giving away the ending, Newton’s advice to Lord Dartmouth (and the response to it) reminds us all that “being in the world without being of the world” is anything but a new challenge; only the window dressing changes.

Trapped, likewise, reminds us that the same God who has delivered and transformed people throughout the ages is here today, ready to free us now from whatever traps we face—and gives us a vision of what life beyond those traps can look like.

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From Disciples to Disciplers Featured on Discipleship Network

Happy August. And here’s a short note with a big link… 🙂

Season 4 coverA couple weeks ago I was interviewed by Phil Miglioratti of Discipleship Network / Pray! Network about the From Disciples to Disciplers series (although I was able to sneak in a quick plug for Lay It Down at the end as well). You can read the whole interview here.

Check out the rest of the recently updated Discpleship Network site while you’re there — they’re still at it, even post-NavPress, and as such deserve your support.

If you’ve been following for awhile, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of what I said; if not, it’s a quick way to get a nice overview of my whole philosophy and why I felt the series needed to be created in the first place.

Either way, hope you enjoy it. Hope to be back soon with some new material (or new reviews, at the very least…).

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Starting in the Harvest

Our making of disciples flows out of our life with God, to be certain. Yet in some ways, the order needs to be inverted as well: Only as we make disciples are we perfected in the faith. As we reach out, we are shaped and transformed. As we go about life, the mission of Jesus is to recognize the people in sphere of influence and help them take the next steps toward God. Engaging in that mission results in not only an increased quality of relationships, but a changed life for us as well.

This “inversion” struck me from the outset, and it’s critical to what this book is all about. We are not only called to make disciples, but as we make disciples we become more complete disciples ourselves. That’s just one of the “differences” this book highlights.

TheDiscipleshipDifference-Cover-238x325Robert E. Logan and Charles R. Ridley. The Discipleship Difference: Making Disciples While Growing as Disciples. 224p., $14.99, Logan Leadership.

(Disclaimer alert: I’m not just a fan; I’m also editor for this book. But as mentioned before, I was a fan of Bob Logan’s writing and ministry years before I was his editor. Thus, I went in with a positive bias. :))

Two other main points Bob makes throughout the book: 1) One size doesn’t fit all—Jesus changed His approach with every person He encountered, and so should we; 2) We are not just meant to be disciples making disciples—we are disciples making disciples who make disciples. If people are sitting at our feet instead of moving on to help others sit at Jesus’ feet, we’ve missed something huge.

This holistic approach to discipleship is woven throughout the book, which is also borne out by the branches of the “discipleship tree” examined here:

  • Experiencing God
  • Spiritual Responsiveness
  • Sacrifical Service
  • Generous Living
  • Disciplemaking
  • Personal Transformation
  • Authentic Relationships
  • Community Transformation

Another huge point is that discipleship is not reserved for believer—it starts “in the harvest,” with those who haven’t yet turned to Christ. By taking this approach, the result is new believers who already are disciples, rather than having some false dichotomy between belief and some later “higher calling” to discipleship. The two were never meant to be separated, and they’re not here.

The overall format of the book goes between practical advice and a fictional case study (“Rob”), whose course we follow as he implements that advice. It’s a success story (of course), but as opposed to other books I’ve seen that have used this device it’s a realistic story — there are real challenges; everything doesn’t go perfectly; sometime things happen that make no sense at all, at least at first. But when it comes to discipleship, staying the course is more than half the battle, and our travels with “Rob” throughout this book help us to vicariously experience that—with the hope that we’ll experience it for real after putting the book down.

On the other side of the spectrum, Chuck Ridley adds dozens of more academic notes throughout the book “if you care about the research.” Put together, these two facets help maintain a balance throughout the book—not only illustrating how discipleship works, but also showing us proof that it works.

In the later chapters, we’re (re-)introduced to the tools of discipleship. And really, all that needs to be said is that the hardest thing about using these tools is being willing enough to obey and actually use them.

As always, I’ve really enjoyed (and been challenged by) The Discipleship Difference, and am confident it’ll do the same for many others.


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Living into Leadership

Spiritual eldership is something lived and recognized, not something attained. That said, growing into eldership requires guidance. Bob Thune’s book helps potential elders—and potential leaders at any level, for that matter—to get some of that guidance and training, and in a way that’s substantial without being overwhelming.

gospel_eldershipRobert H. Thune. Gospel Eldership: Equipping a New Generation of Servant Leaders. 144p., $14.99, New Growth Press.

(Disclosure alert: I was editor for this book. Of course, that’s just another reason why you should buy it.)

This book is set up so that elder training can be done in smaller groups, and includes practical exercises and discussion questions for each of the ten lessons here. As such, it makes a nice complement for books such as Oswald Sanders’ Spiritual Leadership or Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership (the latter being a heavy influence on this volume). There’s a good amount of content here, but again in this form it’s manageable for people to process.

And again, there’s that “living” thing. The emphasis here, refreshingly, is not on “leadership skills” but on living in a way that reflects Christ—because, as an elder, you need to to be doing that, far more importantly than knowing business principles, etc. Thus, lessons and exercises focus on such matters as having a servant heart, dealing with false righteousness, inculcating spiritual disciplines, having a missional focus, and dealing with temptation (including those temptations that are peculiar to spiritual leadership).

It’s worth noting that Bob is coming from a complementarian position here when it comes to eldership, rather than an egalitarian one. (In layman’s terms: Only men can serve as elders.) If that’s a stumbling block, so be it. If not and/or if you’re on the fence about it, there’s plenty here worth processing, regardless of your own/your church’s position on eldership.

And again: All of us had better be on a path toward spiritual maturity. And if you are, there’s plenty to be gleaned from Gospel Eldership, whether you’re ready to become “that elder guy” or not.

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All This Gettin’ Born….

As I continue to ruminate on Bill Mallonee’s latest, it’s hard not to see it as a concept album of sorts, that concept being: Life is long. And hard.

Now, before you say, “Well duh, it’s a Bill Mallonee album,” hear me out.

It’s true that “existential [and sometimes literal] Dust Bowl tunes” have been Bill’s stock-in-trade for quite some time now. At the same time—and this was touched on in my review of his previous album, Lands and Peoples—with each passing album, the songs have become even less observational and even more lived-in. It’s music for the end of a long day—heck, a long life—when you’re finally slowed down enough to hear it properly.

That said: Despite the struggles that ooze out of Bill’s work, there’s hope. There’s always hope. And sometimes, even joy. That’s why I trust him—and why you should, too.

slow traumaBill Mallonee. Slow Trauma. CD $18; download $12.

So let’s touch on that hope and joy—and faith—a bit more. Because while there’s a deepening sense of mortality throughout this, there’s also an almost-constant reminder that life doesn’t end here, and that we can catch glimpses beyond this life even now. In the end, that’s what keeps us going even in this life. We get it all in the same package, good and bad, and a lot of this album is about accepting that truth.

And that truth is nowhere clearer than in the opening invocation, “One and the Same.” It’s probably the shortest song Bill’s ever recorded in 70+ albums, and yet it’s all you need to kick this thing off. Stately, slidy, “hi-strung” (Bill’s term) guitars ease in, as Bill croons in one of the highest vocal registers he’s ever hit:

What you hold onto
and what you let go of
and what you should give away
What’s gonna save you
and what makes you smile?
Sometimes, they are one and the same.

And with that, the Rickenbackers are off and ringing in “Only Time Will Tell,” a song of promise, both future and unfulfilled, about all of us who have ever come west in the hope of a new life: “You got your bonanza towns and turning up the soil / a kind of madness seems to take hold …. / Flash of a coin and we go under the spell / Where’s it all going? Only time will tell.”

From there, the next couple songs steer more strongly into that aforementioned mortality (and just plain human frailty) territory. Waiting for the Stone (to Be Rolled Away)” largely takes place in “the parking lot of the Holy Spirit Assembly / …a beacon in the desert night until the break of day,” and reminds us that “it’s so hard to get clean, and it’s hard to stay that way / Waiting for the stone to be rolled away.” Bill and wife Muriah Rose harmonize together nicely on the next one, the moody, cinematic, and probably self-explanatory “Hour Glass (Only So Many Grains of Sand).”

We get one of those literal Dust Bowl songs next with “WPA (When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us),” the story of a husband/father seeking work who-knows-where for who-knows-how-much: “Tossing you a scrap; throwing you a crust / it’s all ashes to ashes and dust to dust…. / Say good-bye to the family / I promise I’ll write regualrly / When I get to where they’re taking us.”

Just when things start to feel a bit too down, though, things perk back up with “Ironclad,” another song about leaving, but with a wry look at the past and with a better end in mind:

Wind the tape back to the very start
And offer up another broken heart

Georgia never was a place I could call home
Too many paths to navigate with those on the throne
And it’s good to know when to stay & when to flee
Every truth worth learning is right there on the streets.

The soulful, slightly trippy “High-Beam,” arguably my favorite here (but it changes near-daily), continues the threads of self-confession and departure:

My pen? It never went dry
This guitar could always woo
Till my soul my the color of box-car rust
& my heart was big-sky blue

Whatever is heavy as hell
is what you shouldn’t carry….

All this gettin’ born
and these roses & thorns, and the confusing parts
Well, I cobbled a life together with them
just to watch it fall apart.

“Doldrums in Denver” (an Allen Ginsburg reference) brings us back to the moodiness (“and it’s time you leave this town / there ain’t nothin’ for you now”), before looking up—and as way up as the man can muster—for the last couple songs. “The King’s Highway (A New Set of Wheels)” is really the first of two endings. After warning us, “You can go with God, or with a clenched fist,” we’re both cautioned and promised, “The Great Beyond is gonna have to wait another day / But you’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway…. Could be soon, could be far, but that’s not for me to say.”

And then there’s the official closer, “One Last Hill.” In it, Bill’s looking, praying for a longer glimpse of that Great Beyond, and hoping, praying that he’ll get it—even as he glimpses in the rear-view mirror at a past he’d wished had gone better in so many ways:

You know, it’s funny how things can get so damn misplaced
Where you bet your farm & where you place your faith…

Will the Gatekeeper know my name?
Will there be Someone to claim me for his own?…

Lord, gather me unto Thyself
when my wayward heart grows still
I just wanna see over that last hill.

And that’s something we should all be able to appreciate. So hit that link by the album cover above, and get appreciating.

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Pick It Up—Put It On—Walk It Out: a small-group session

For this session, you’ll need….

  • 1 old, beaten-up jacket and one new jacket, for every four to six people. The older and smellier your old jacket is, the better—but not so bad that people would get dirty just putting it on! (Know any mechanics or landscapers who’d loan you their jackets for the day/evening?) Pair up your jackets, and leave them in an open area where everyone will be able to easily access them.
  • a plan to worship
  • a plan to celebrate. However you want to handle this is up to you; perhaps you even want to have a separate session for this. But make plans to celebrate together what God’s been doing in your midst over the last several weeks.

Laying Down Your Day (15 minutes)

It’s our final session of this study—thanks for coming! I know you’ve just arrived and gotten comfortable, but I’m going to ask you to put on coats anyway—the coats you see over there.

Have your group gather into groups of four to six by each pair of coats.

Everyone should try on the old jacket first. But don’t just put it on and take it off again—get comfortable with it. Take a whiff of it; get a feel for where it’s been.

Put on one of the dirty jackets; show everyone how it’s done.

Once you’ve done that, pass it on to the next person to try on, while you go ahead and try on the new jacket. Again, leave it on for a few moments—get a feel for where this jacket hasn’t been yet, and what kind of person might wear it.

Pass on your dirty jacket to the next person, and repeat your actions with the new jacket. Once everyone’s had a chance to try on both jackets, bring the group back together. Discuss:

  1. Which jacket felt better while trying it on? Why?

Ask for one or more volunteers to read Colossians 3:1–16, then discuss:

  1. How was trying on and taking off each jacket like the taking off of the “old self” and the putting on of the “new self” that Paul describes here? How is it different?


Ask for another volunteer to read the following passage from Day 4. Then, discuss the question that follows.

Our natural “old” experience is life and death, and that experience extends to everything else in this life. The new resurrection life is life and life only.… Gaining this perspective on our lives on earth changes everything, and frees us to become more like the Savior we profess to follow.

  1. When have you experienced this truth? Or, put another way: How does “put[ting] on the new self” (Colossians 3:9) free us to “seek the things that are above” (v. 1)? Share from your own experience. 

Laying Down the Word (20 minutes)

Read Hebrews 12:1–15 as a group, letting each member read at least one verse each. It’s OK to let the same person read the opening and closing verses, but make sure everyone gets a turn.

Let’s connect this passage with how we’ve experienced this study, and discuss these questions together:

  1. Describe the flow of this passage. How does it start, where does it go to, and where does it end?


  1. Let’s apply that flow to ourselves now. On a personal level, how has the laying down of your life and your pursuit of Jesus—and the disciplines you’ve undertaken in order to do that—already begun to produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” in you? Share a little about that.


  1. How has that, in turn, enabled you to “ [s]ee to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God”? In order words, how has this study helped you to help others to “lay it down”? Again, share how God’s been able to use you in this capacity.


Have a volunteer read the following passage from “Pick Up Your Cross,” and then discuss the question that follows:

“Your life is no longer yours. Stop behaving as if it is. You cannot force God to lead you into the next phase of your life. You can renounce all you have and entrust your life to him, move when he tells you to move, and rejoice that he considered you worthy to be trusted with anything. Pick up your cross. Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus. And truly begin to follow the One who carried your cross before you were even born.”

  1. How are you still wrestling with this idea? Is there fear, a lack of understanding, maybe even an unwillingness to deal with it? Take a step of faith here and be open about what you’re still working through.


Laying Down Your Life (20+ minutes)

Get into your pairs one more time. Give everyone time to reassemble.

We’ve spent a lot of time this week looking beyond this week. For the next fifteen minutes, I’d like you to do the same thing with your partner(s). Talk about how God’s been speaking to your heart this week, and over the last few months. How has God helped you to better understand what he’s created you for, and what are the next steps you think he’s leading you into?

When you’re done sharing, pray for one another. Don’t be afraid to pray not only about what the other person’s shared, but also about what you’ve been seeing in that other person over the last several weeks. Put together what God’s been showing you with what God’s been showing them. Let’s get started.

Bring your group back together after fifteen minutes. Ask for a few volunteers to share what God’s been showing them—but if more than a few people share, don’t cut if off. Let God have his way.

Afterward, lead your group in prayer, again giving everyone the opportunity to pray. Thank God for your time together—and for the eternal life you look forward to together. Ask God to help each of you to go even deeper into laying down your lives before him, and before others.

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