Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

ChristianBeliefs-GrudemOne of my modern heroes of theological writing is Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. I recently read one of the several books he has written and which his son, Elliot Grudem, edited – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. I read it because my pastor and I are team teaching a class using the book as our guide over the next four months. It’s a small, 159-page paperback that is quickly read and digested.

On the other end of the depth spectrum is Grudem’s 1290-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine which has kept many seminarians and pastors occupied for countless hours of study (myself included). I’m nearly finished reading the monster and will write another review soon this month when I complete it.

In between the small paperback and the large volume is yet another middle-sized book, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, a 528-page condensed version of the larger Systematic Theology written by Grudem and edited by Jeff Purswell. So, the reader can certainly pick the size and depth of study he wishes to undertake from tackling the original, massive Systematic Theology, to the subsequent half-sized but still meaty Bible Doctrine, or the latest and much simpler Christian Beliefs. And for those not even inclined to invest the few hours it takes to read Christian Beliefs, you can cut right to the 6-page laminated book summary of either Systematic Theology or Bible Doctrine. Hopefully, though, your interest in biblical theology warrants more than a 6-page cheat sheet – nice to have around, but not all you need to know on the subject.

So, given that background of relevant Grudem texts, let’s get back to the subject of this review – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

As the subtitle suggests, this book focuses on 20 Christian doctrines (or teachings) considered basic to the Christian faith. To include 20 topics as well as a few historic confessions of faith and a list of recommended reading in 159 pages demands that only a few pages be written per doctrine. Because of this, the book is appropriate for someone new to the faith or wanting a refresher across the spectrum of doctrines included. It will not (nor is it intended to) provide an in-depth look at any of the 20 doctrines included. By comparison, Systematic Theology has 57 chapters of about 20 pages length each in addition to the confessions of faith and other appendices in its nearly 1300 pages. You get what you pay for.

Still, as a guide for further exploration of what the Bible teaches, the book serves a valuable purpose of pointing the reader to a variety of biblical texts for each of the topics discussed. As Grudem does so well in all of his writings, he presents a faithful explanation of what each doctrine is and a sound, biblical basis for all conclusions drawn. He never shies away from presenting dissenting opinions by those in various faith traditions, being careful in the appendix listing further reading to provide some background about each author’s theological tradition and perspective. The book is not intended to present biblical teachings from any one particular denominational perspective; it intends to answer the question of what the Bible teaches on the subjects – a healthy approach that ought to cross denominational biases.

Like his other texts, the starting point of Christian Beliefs is Grudem’s discussion of the Bible as the word of God. If the Bible is the authoritative basis for beliefs, then its authority and reliability is crucial to establish up front before using biblical texts as the basis for additional doctrinal positions. The full list of 20 doctrines covered is as follows:

  • What Is the Bible?
  • What Is God Like?
  • What Is the Trinity?
  • What Is Creation?
  • What Is Prayer?
  • What Are Angels, Satan, and Demons?
  • What Is Man?
  • What Is Sin?
  • Who Is Christ?
  • What Is the Atonement?
  • What Is the Resurrection?
  • What Is Election?
  • What Does It Mean to Become a Christian?
  • What Are Justification and Adoption?
  • What Are Sanctification and Perseverance?
  • What Is Death?
  • What Is the Church?
  • What Will Happen When Christ Returns?
  • What Is the Final Judgment?
  • What Is Heaven.

In addition are the appendices that include a few historic Christian confessions of faith and Grudem’s recommended reading list, plus an index. Each chapter concludes with a few questions for review and application that are good for personal reflection or for group discussion.

I suspect that most churches have members who are differently inclined to tackle the three Grudem’s works mentioned above, from the quick Christian Beliefs to the weighty Systematic Theology. I still have a desire to take about a year to walk through Systematic Theology with a small group at some point in the future. Laymen can handle it. We need not “dumb down” theology as though the preaching class are able to understand things that the people in the pews cannot. We are all led by the same Spirit of God into the truth of His word, and God can surely speak to whomever He pleases regardless of position or formal theological education. In fact, if I had the benefit of a few current study Bibles and works like Systematic Theology when I attended two seminaries decades ago, I may have been just as well off studying those on my own as spending five or more years in the classroom, but I digress…

As for recommending Christian Beliefs, I do recommend it to those new to the Christian faith, those new to Protestant faith (as opposed to Roman Catholic), those interested in the faith, or to those wanting a quick refresher on important biblical doctrines. Then, assuming your appetite is whetted, advance to either Bible Doctrine or, better yet, Systematic Theology for an incredible, long-term, more in-depth study of what the Bible teaches on the above and many additional topics.

For further reading:

BibleDoctrine-Grudem     SystematicTheology-Grudem

Blank_bookAs I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:

Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.

Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.

So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.

But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:

  1. Continuing rumors about my company being sold to a larger healthcare company. Of course, I’m not an insider and I know nothing about the truth of those rumors. I won’t know until the public and everyone else knows. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s out of my hands. Worry doesn’t change anything, but I’d be a fool to ignore the possibility and be unprepared for a worst-case scenario of a new parent company doing away with my role. Of course, I could potentially have a role in the combined company, but what kind of role, and would relocation and/or a significant cut in compensation be a condition of continued employment?
  2. Ever since I left full-time Christian ministry in 1985 to move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there has been the question of whether I should return at some point to vocational ministry.

Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)

I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.

To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.

Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.

Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.

And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)

It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.

Stay tuned.

LentIf any of you want to give up something for Lent, by all means go ahead and do so. I won’t think less or more of you for observing the practice. And I highly suspect few if any of you reading this really care whether I give up anything for Lent or not. That’s fine, too. Still, I’m going to explain why I won’t be doing anything different for the 40-day period know as Lent.

First, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, Lent is the period in the Christian liturgical calendar which commemorates Jesus’ 40-day period in the wilderness when he fasted and was tempted by Satan. Some church traditions (although not all and usually not churches in my Southern Baptist tradition) celebrate Lent by having individuals give up something or spend more time in prayer and fasting or performing good works for others in ways not normally a part of the person’s daily life. What is sacrificed for Lent runs the gamut if my Facebook news feed is any indication – caffeine, meat, chocolate, coffee, soft drinks, even Facebook or the Internet. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services to begin the observance, and participants in those services may leave with a cross of ashes on their foreheads.

I have nothing against liturgical calendars or centuries-old traditions. I value fasting (but rarely do it) and prayer (which I do throughout every day) and doing good works for the benefit of others (which I hope I do often, though probably not often enough). I don’t care, however, for the thought of walking around with a cross of ashes on my forehead because it seems like a giant “look at me” sign that would make me too self-conscious, but if others choose to do so and their motives are pure, then more power to them.

I haven’t felt the need to sacrifice anything for this 40-day Lenten period. Why? A few thoughts come to mind:

  • First, if giving up “X” brings you closer to God for 40 days, then you probably ought to give it up permanently. If caffeine or chocolate or Facebook or anything else seems to come between you and God the other 325 days of the year, then why would you not give it up permanently instead of just for 40 days? The Christian life of sanctification – growing in holiness – is one of perpetual growth this side of heaven, and doing something for such a short term that presumably helps your walk with God seems antithetical to a desire for continuous growth. “Well, God, I’m going to draw close to you for these 40 days, but after that you’ll just have to wait until Ash Wednesday next year to get my serious attention.” Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? And if you believe as I do that we don’t impress or earn favor with God by mere acts of temporary sacrifice, then a change in behavior for only 40 days doesn’t have much lasting effect personally or eternally.
  • Second, I don’t need to re-live an annual liturgical calendar to experience my faith. Christianity at its heart is a personal relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a relationship that defines who one is every moment of his/her life. It is the basis for how I see and interpret and respond to the world around me. It is who I am at the core of my very being even though I fail to live up to the example of my Lord (see previous point on sanctification). If my faith was about religion – external things I do related to what I believe – then observing Lent would make more sense (maybe), but if my faith is about a relationship with the living Lord, then it’s primarily about the heart and an ongoing surrender to the lordship of Christ which plays out in a changed life. That is of far greater significance than can ever be expressed by doing without something I enjoy for 40 days, and it is something that needs to happen every day of the year.
  • Lastly, I know how the story ends. I know that Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. I know He was crucified, dead and buried. I know He was raised from the dead and reigns forever and will come again one day to bring judgment to all the earth and to usher in His eternal kingdom. And I know I’m one of His children who will be with Him in that kingdom. I don’t need to mourn because He has saved me. I don’t need to temporarily sacrifice because the ultimate sacrifice has already been made by Him on my behalf. I choose not to re-live the part of history or church calendars pretending the end is unknown because His word declares His victory as accomplished and available to be shared by all who repent of their sins and surrender their lives to Him. I can rejoice and enjoy all that He provides in this life because, as one song says, “We win, we win, hallelujah we win; I’ve looked at the back of The Book and we win!”

Yes, there are times when I hide away for a few days in a quiet place for extended times of prayer, study and reflection. Yes, I am all for living life simply as evidenced by one of my goals for 2015 to end the year with less than I started it with in terms of material possessions. Yes, I support the practice of fasting if one chooses to do so to spend more time in prayer and communing with God. But this Lenten season I’ll just continue the path that is for me an unending one of daily spending time in His word, in praying throughout the day as a way of life talking with the One who is closer than a brother to me, and in pursuit of a life of obedience and growth that won’t end this side of heaven – certainly not in 40 days.

The point of this post is not to criticize those who treat Lent differently than I do. You have my respect and support if it draws you closer to God. My point is to promote the idea of celebrating life in Christ and continually growing in relationship and obedience to Him regardless of the season. I choose to focus on the victory already won and the grace given through that victory.

May this be a meaningful Lenten season for you – not because you give up something, but because whether you give up something or not you draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up everything on the cross so that you might experience eternal life in Him.

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A few other related articles:

 

ApologeticsStudyBibleI finished reading trough The Apologetics Study Bible earlier this week and want to write a bit about the experience. It has been my practice for nearly four decades to read through a different translation, version or edition of the Bible every 1-3 years. I haven’t kept track, but I’m guessing I’ve done it now somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 times since college. My preference is for study Bibles because of the wealth of notes and supplemental articles provided. There is value in exposing oneself to as many translations and commentaries as possible in a lifelong, systematic way, so this approach works for me. Of course, the thrust of any trek through the Word of God is to hear from the primary Author of the original scriptures and not the notes and commentary on it by others. Still, it doesn’t hurt to hear from both!

In January 2014 I started reading through The Apologetics Study Bible both because (1) it focused on defending the Christian faith with its supplemental reading, and (2) because I had never read completely the translation it uses – the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It took me a few weeks longer to complete it than planned, spilling over into 2015, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Like most study Bibles, there are ample footnotes on nearly every page, worthwhile introductions to the books, helpful reference materials in the back, plus those articles and short inserts scattered throughout the text that address a host of questions, issues, interpretations, and ways in which some religions try to twist the meanings of certain passages to stray from historic, biblical teaching. I found these brief “Twisted Scripture” segments to be among the most helpful features because they specify how particular groups misinterpret certain passages, and they are located right by the verses in question, easily standing out visually on the page.

While I have certainly benefited from study Bibles that are largely the effort of a single person (e.g., The MacArthur Study Bible or The Evidence Bible), I generally prefer editions that contain the thoughts and writings of many contributors as is the case with The Apologetics Study Bible with its many dozens of contributors. Of course, that method lends itself to potential inconsistency in the type and quality of notes provided. This isn’t a major concern, though, as there were only one or two books where I found the notes to be very repetitious and, frankly, frustrating to read after a few chapters.

For example, after completing the Old Testament book of Numbers, I wrote the following note in it:

“The notes in Numbers are very frustrating to read. The writer correctly rejects the idea that it is a composite of various priestly, Yahwist, and Elohist sources. However, instead of addressing that point once in the introduction or in an article about it, he constantly references it in the notes. There is no value in filling notes repeatedly with “some think such and such, but I disagree.” Tell us more about what is true about the text – not what is not true about it.”

Fortunately, such objections were limited to no more than a couple of books, so the objections shouldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from heartily recommending the edition to anyone interested.

At just over 2000 pages, it isn’t an overwhelming size compared to some other study Bibles on the market, so it tends to be a quicker read than, for example, the ESV Study Bible at more than 2,700 pages which is what I read through over 2012-2013.

With this being my first time reading the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I found it an enjoyable, readable, understandable translation that seeks to be true to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Like any translation, it sounds a bit odd at times when the wording is very different than what I may have grown up memorizing or hearing frequently, but that is to be expected and is not at all a fault. I consider the HCSB a worthy translation for use, although I drift more toward the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) as my go-to translations.

Overall, I can heartily recommend The Apologetics Study Bible as a valuable resource for helping the reader build up a strong, rational defense for the faith. After all, that is what Christian apologetics is all about. It is well worth the time to read every word of it and to keep it handy, especially for its plentiful articles and helpful resources in addition to the biblical text. It may not be the study Bible you choose to be your primary, permanent Bible to carry to church, but it deserves a place within arm’s reach as you explore the meaning of various texts.

What’s next for me? I’ll tackle The Reformation Study Bible the remainder of this year. About a year from now, I should be sharing with you about that experience.

What about you? What version/translation/edition of the Bible are you reading now? Which have you found most helpful?

thankitforwardWhen my professional colleagues at The Community Roundtable started posting their “Thank It Forward” posts recently, thereby recognizing three specific people or groups that have made a difference in their lives this year, I knew I wanted to do the same. So it’s taken me a while to think through it and come up with this post. My three who have had the greatest impact on me this year are from all parts of my life, so it’s an unlikely trio, but a meaningful one to me.

The first person I want to thank for his impact on me this year is my new pastor, Mark Williams. I cannot adequately express how thrilled I am to have this man as my pastor. He is a kind, loving, gracious soul who is profoundly committed to proclaiming the Word of God and calling others to a life of faithful service to Christ. He is wise far beyond his 31 years with a wisdom that can only come from the Spirit of God within. When he preaches, you know you are hearing the truth of the gospel. He is not out to impress others or dictate to others or to draw attention to himself. He is a servant of his Lord and an incredibly gifted and faithful proclaimer of truth.

It is important to me that I deeply respect my pastor. Life has been a bit out of whack in times past when there has been some tension between a pastor and me. That’s not a good situation and not one I care to repeat. I respect the role of pastor and want the relationship to reflect that respect. Mark makes it easy for me to do that because we are united around a common purpose and cause and desire. I would be quite content to learn from this man for the rest of my days on this earth. He makes me want to be a better person in general and a better Christian in particular. I know my own relationship with Christ ought to produce those same desires and it does, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a key person in the flesh that draws you in that direction as well. I thank God for Mark Williams and look forward to his continued influence on me, our church and our community.

The second person I want to thank is my bride of 35.5 years, Linda. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as she does. While her role as kitchen hostess at church and self-employed caterer is officially part-time, she sure does seem to be going at one or the other full-time. And if she isn’t absorbed in those activities, she’s gardening or doing yard work or something else – anything but resting (which she really ought to do more of). Anyone who knows us can tell you how different we are. That has always been the case. In fact, we lost some college “friends” when we got engaged in 1978 for that very reason. They worried that we were so different that it would never work for us to be married and they simply could not and would not give their blessing to it. Well, 35.5 years later, I would beg to differ with their assessment. That doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye or have no issues, but we’ve learned to keep the main things the main things and not elevate minor differences to a loftier level of attention than they deserve.

I want to thank Linda for loving me all these years, for continuing to do the less-than-glamorous things that come with managing a home and family, for forgiving me when I have been self-absorbed or downright thoughtless or mean or stupid, for being an absolute rock of faithfulness and consistency for the entire time I have known her from my sophomore year of college through the present, and for being the mother of our two sons and grandmother to the newest generation of Rosses. I cannot imagine life without her, and I am thankful now and forever for her.

The third person I want to call out in my #thankitforward this year is my manager at Humana, Lewis Bertolucci. Lewis took a chance in late 2011 by adding me to his Enterprise Social Media team at work when there were not originally plans to have that team own the internal social media function I manage so much as the external, customer-focused media. Lewis is a remarkable person who knows more about the field than I ever will. He can’t possibly sleep much and still juggle all the things he has his hands in. It’s no wonder he was included in a recent list of the top 100 digital marketing experts. Don’t even think about trying to match his Klout score!

There are so many things I appreciate about Lewis as my manager. He is open and honest and I can discuss whatever I need to discuss with him. He trusts me to do my work and has no inclination to micromanage me or others. He is funny and creative and will blindside you with a funny photoshopped picture or JibJab video and seems to have funny animated GIFs ready for all occasions to throw into online discussions. He keeps his cool in the midst of what I know are very stressful, demanding days at work. He thinks of others more than he thinks of himself. He can write out the best, thoughtful, reasoned response to situations where others would be tempted to respond quickly and emotionally. He gives wise counsel that others (including me) would do well to heed. He is supportive and encouraging to his team. And as is shown by the expanded role he offered me in August this year, he is eager to see those he supervises grow into their potential, even when that means they leave the team for other roles as some did in 2013. Like my pastor mentioned above who is in his early 30s, Lewis is also wise beyond his years and has earned the deep respect I have for him as a person and as a manager. I am fortunate to have him and hope to learn from him for many years to come.

So there you have the three people from different areas of my life who I am most thankful for in 2014.

I won’t end this post, though, without also recognizing the one professional organization that has also been very significant for me this year as well – The Community Roundtable. I have enjoyed being a member of this organization of online community professionals for several years, but this year the connection stepped up a notch when they graciously agreed to take over the reins of the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat which I started in 2013. They are doing a great job with the chat and will continue to innovate and do things with it that I as an individual could never do. I am deeply appreciative of their willingness to do this. I know the work involved in making it successful and worthwhile week after week. It is no small task. Thank you, Hillary Boucher, Rachel Happe, Shannon Abram, Jim Storer and all the wonderful people at TheCR! You do amazing work that is very much appreciated by many.

What about you? For whom would you #thankitforward for their impact on you in 2014?