Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Why I Would Recommend You Don’t Go See the Movie “The Shack”

the-shackKnowing that I enjoy going to the movies, I’ve already had many friends ask me if I was planning to see the upcoming film adaptation of William P. Young’s best-selling 2007 novel The Shack. When I tell them that I’m not going due to serious theological issues in the book, they usually respond that they don’t know or care too much about theological issues, they just loved the book.

Several years ago, when it seemed like everyone I talked to was reading the book (the book has sold an incredible 22 million copies to date), I decided to read it myself. I wanted to see why it was resonating with so many people, even some of my friends who didn’t regularly attend church. And while the book can speak to those who have experienced a tragedy or lost a loved one, I had serious concerns about the way the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were portrayed.

To help you be discerning as you consider whether or not to watch the film or read the book (as interest in the book has been rekindled with the release of the film), I offer the below perspectives from three respected Christians teachers.

  1. Tim Keller. In this article Tim Keller writes “But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
  2. Tim Challies. In this article (which also links to his lengthy review of the book), Tim Challies writes “The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.”
  3. Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn writes “Unfortunately, increasingly few people these days are well grounded in the Word and have both the knowledge and the discernment to filter out the bad while embracing the good. That means that some people, perhaps many, will fail to recognize the book’s theological weaknesses, and therefore be vulnerable to embracing them, even if unconsciously. Sadly, I personally know some who have been led down a path of universalism through their understanding of the book and what they have heard the author say, either publicly or privately.”

I know these comments won’t be popular with many. Please seriously consider them when making your decision about whether you will see this film. And if you disagree with what is written here, please let me know and why.  Also, if you need good materials that address the topics in the movie such as “Where was God when I lost my loved one?” I would be glad to give you some recommendations.

Blessings!


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

My Devotional Books for 2017

voices-from-the-pastVoices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. Edited by Richard Rushing. Banner of Truth. 428 pages. 2009
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The author writes that over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the Puritans.  I was personally introduced to the Puritans about twenty years ago by my pastor through the wonderful Puritan reprints of Dr. Don Kistler and also via The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Richard Rushing has developed this book of daily readings extracted from some of his favorite Puritan authors (a second volume was recently published). His prayer is that these readings will stimulate the reader to explore further the writings of these spiritual giants.

Each of the short readings (approximately 350 words), begins with a Scripture verse. The author selected the verse according to the theme of the reading. While some of the devotions appear almost as written, others have been condensed by the author so that several pages form a single devotional reading. At the end of each reading is the Puritan author and a citation from where Richard Rushing pulled the reading.  I plan to use this wonderful resource as a part of my devotional reading for 2017.

60-days-of-happiness60 Days of Happiness: Discover God’s Promise of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 304 pages. 2017
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Respected author Randy Alcorn states that our problem isn’t that we want to be happy. Rather, our problem is that we keep looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. He writes that this new book, drawn from selected portions of his acclaimed 2016 book Happiness, will take you to God, the primary source of happiness in the universe. The book then connects the secondary sources of happiness back to the God who created them and graciously gives them to us.

The author has reworked the material from Happiness to present it here in a fresh and different way. I have not yet read Happiness, which is nearly 500 pages in length, though have read his small God’s Promise of Happiness, which encouraged me to read this medium sized book. For this book, the author and editor have selected subjects that most lend themselves to personal growth and worshipful meditation on God and his Word, which will be an excellent way to start 2017. Each of the 60 daily readings begin with a scripture verse and an inspirational quote (Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), and end with a prayer. I am using the book for daily devotional reading, though it can certainly be read straight through as you would a regular book. Whether you have read the larger Happiness and would like to return to the subject in a devotional format, or whether you haven’t read Happiness but want to learn what God and his people have said about the subject of happiness throughout the centuries, I think you will enjoy and be blessed by this new book. Continue reading


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THOUGHTS OF HEAVEN

Heaven by Randy AlcornMy Review of the Book “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers. 560 pages. 2011 edition.  
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When losing a loved one my thoughts turn to Heaven. This happened when I lost my Mom twenty years ago and again recently when I lost my father-in-law. I’ve long wanted to read this book, but was probably intimidated by its massive size; I decided now was the time. As an added bonus, my mother-in law read the book at the same time I did, and we would occasionally talk about what we were reading.

Alcorn has done his research on this topic, having read 150 books on Heaven. He quotes liberally from many of those books.  He writes that in our seminaries, churches, and families, we have given “little attention to the place where we will live forever with Christ and his people—the New Earth, in the new universe”. The eternal Heaven is the central subject of this book.

Alcorn believes the book will stand up to biblical scrutiny. But right up front, he invites the reader to contact him if they have biblical grounds for disagreeing with anything in this book. He is open to correction and mentions that the revised edition of the book contains a number of changes he made based on input from readers of the first edition.

The book is organized as follows:

Part 1: In “A Theology of Heaven,” he explains the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth).

Part 2: In “Questions and Answers about Heaven,” he addresses specific questions about life on the New Earth that arise out of the foundational teachings in Part 1. Part 3: In “Living in Light of Heaven,” he encourages the reader to let the doctrine of Heaven transform us and fill us with joyful anticipation.

He also includes the following:

  1. Appendix A: Christoplatonism’s False Assumptions
  2. Appendix B: Literal and Figurative Interpretation
  3. Selected Bibliography

Alcorn writes that most people do not find their joy in Christ and Heaven. Instead, he states, many people find no joy at all when they think about Heaven. They assume that they will be bored, playing a harp on the clouds all day long. He writes that many Christians who’ve gone to church all their adult lives (especially those under fifty) can’t recall having heard a single sermon on Heaven.

Alcorn states that nearly every notion of Heaven he presents in this book was stimulated and reinforced by biblical texts.  As you talk to others about Heaven as you read this book, they will probably ask “Where did he get that?” Alcorn helpfully lists scripture references throughout the book as he teaches about Heaven. He also states that we should ask God’s help to remove the blinders of our preconceived ideas about Heaven so we can understand what Scripture actually teaches about it.

Alcorn writes that when a believer dies, he or she enters into what is referred to in theology as the intermediate state. This is a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. The intermediate or present Heaven is not our final destination.  Rather, we will live with Christ and each other forever, not in the intermediate, or present, Heaven, but on the New Earth, where God will be at home with his people.  In the book, when referring to the place believers go after death, Alcorn uses terms such as the present Heaven or the intermediate Heaven. He refers to the eternal state as the eternal Heaven or the New Earth.

Alcorn states that the problem is not that the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Heaven. It’s that we don’t pay attention to what it does tell us.  He states that we were all made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place.

I found this to be a fascinating book, covering many aspects of Heaven that I had not previously thought of.

25 Quotes from Heaven by Randy Alcorn  

I recently read Randy Alcorn’s outstanding book Heaven. There was much of value in the 560 page book, and I commend it to you. Here are 25 helpful quotes from the book:

  1. Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we’ll be robbed of our joy and anticipation, we’ll set our minds on this life and not the next, and we won’t be motivated to share our faith.
  2. The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.
  3. When we die, believers in Christ will not go to the Heaven where we’ll live forever. Instead, we’ll go to an intermediate Heaven. In that Heaven—where those who died covered by Christ’s blood are now—we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and New Earth. If we fail to grasp this truth, we will fail to understand the biblical doctrine of Heaven.
  4. The present Heaven is a temporary lodging, a waiting place until the return of Christ and our bodily resurrection. The eternal Heaven, the New Earth, is our true home, the place where we will live forever with our Lord and each other.
  5. Simply put, though the present Heaven is “up there,” the future, eternal Heaven will be “down here.” If we fail to see that distinction, we fail to understand God’s plan and are unable to envision what our eternal lives will look like.
  6. We should stop thinking of Heaven and Earth as opposites and instead view them as overlapping circles that share certain commonalities.
  7. Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live—the New Earth.
  8. Despite the radical changes that occur through salvation, death, and resurrection, we remain who we are. We have the same history, appearance, memory, interests, and skills. This is the principle of redemptive continuity. If we don’t grasp redemptive continuity, we cannot understand the nature of our resurrection.
  9. We will experience continuity between our current lives and our resurrected lives, with the same memories and relational histories.
  10. The doctrine of the new creation, extending not only to mankind, but to the world, the natural realm, and even nations and cultures, is a major biblical theme, though you would never know it judging by how little attention it receives among Christians.
  11. Our primary joy in Heaven will be knowing and seeing God. Every other joy will be derivative, flowing from the fountain of our relationship with God.
  12. Heaven’s greatest miracle will be our access to God. In the New Jerusalem, we will be able to come physically, through wide open gates, to God’s throne.
  13. Nothing demonstrates how far we’ve distanced ourselves from our biblical calling like our lack of knowledge about our destiny to rule the earth.
  14. It’s a common but serious mistake to spiritualize the eternal Kingdom of God.
  15. Our resurrection bodies will be free of the curse of sin, redeemed, and restored to their original beauty and purpose that goes back to Eden.
  16. If, as I believe, animal death was the result of the Fall and the Curse, once the Curse has been lifted on the New Earth, animals will no longer die. Just as they fell under mankind, so they will rise under mankind (Romans 8:21). This suggests people may become vegetarians on the New Earth, as they apparently were in Eden and during the time before the Flood.
  17. Many people wonder whether we’ll know each other in Heaven. What lies behind that question is Christoplatonism and the false assumption that in Heaven we’ll be disembodied spirits who lose our identities and memories.
  18. Jesus said the institution of human marriage would end, having fulfilled its purpose. But he never hinted that deep relationships between married people would end.
  19. The notion that relationships with family and friends will be lost in Heaven, though common, is unbiblical. It denies the clear doctrine of continuity between this life and the next and suggests our earthly lives and relationships have no eternal consequence.
  20. We’ll never question God’s justice, wondering how he could send good people to Hell. Rather, we’ll be overwhelmed with his grace, marveling at what he did to send bad people to Heaven.
  21. I believe we have more than just biblical permission to imagine resurrected races, tribes, and nations living together on the New Earth; we have a biblical mandate to do so.
  22. Work in Heaven won’t be frustrating or fruitless; instead, it will involve lasting accomplishment, unhindered by decay and fatigue, enhanced by unlimited resources. We’ll approach our work with the enthusiasm we bring to our favorite sport or hobby. Because there will be continuity from the old Earth to the new, it’s possible we’ll continue some of the work we started on the old Earth.
  23. I don’t look back nostalgically at wonderful moments in my life, wistfully thinking the best days are behind me. I look at them as foretastes of an eternity of better things.
  24. When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don’t matter. When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, earthly lives suddenly matter.
  25. The fact that Heaven will be wonderful shouldn’t tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. If you’re depressed, you may imagine your life has no purpose—but you couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t make a terrible ending to your life’s story—finish your God-given course on Earth. When he’s done—not before—he’ll take you home in his own time and way. Meanwhile, God has a purpose for you here on Earth. Don’t desert your post.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

This month marks 18 years since we started as a four-page monthly church newsletter in September, 1998. Much has remained the same – we aim to look at contemporary culture (movies, books, music, news) from a Christian worldview.  We transitioned to a non-church specific blog in late 2013.
Thanks for making us part of your life. Please let us know how we can we better serve you.

recommended-resourcesSermon on the Mount by Sinclair B. FergusonSermon on the Mount

I recently enjoyed listening (for the second time) to Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent 12-part teaching series Sermon on the Mount. Ligonier describes the series as follows:

“In the face of scorn and disbelief, Jesus Christ announced His kingdom. In the face of hatred and death, He demonstrated its power. In this twelve-lecture series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson explains how the Sermon on the Mount equips us to live a kingdom life in a fallen world. Dr. Ferguson highlights Christ’s exhortations to live counter-culturally, to examine the deeper implications of God’s law, and to rest in the knowledge of God as Father for the cure of all our anxieties.”

You can watch the first message “Life in the Kingdom” and find out how to order the DVD or CD here.

book reviews

every-season-prayersEvery Season Prayers: Gospel-Centered Prayers for the Whole of Life by Scotty Smith. Baker Books. 336 pages. 2016.
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With his first book, 2001’s Objects of His Affection, I was gripped by the honesty, transparency and Gospel-centeredness of Scotty Smith. I told my pastor that my desire was to take a class at Covenant Seminary with Scotty. Much later, I was blessed to have not one, but two wonderful classes with Scotty that I described as small tastes of Heaven, and have since read with joy each of his books. His daily Heavenward prayers come into my email inbox and often times speak directly to something that my wife and I have been dealing with at the time. He has told me that he receives similar feedback from friends all around the world.

His first book of prayers, Everyday Prayers, has been a daily companion of mine since it was published in 2011. I’m so excited about this new volume of prayers, which will be a treasured part of my morning devotional reading.

This new sequel to Everyday Prayers, which had a prayer for each day of the year, is arranged topically, so readers can, as Scotty tells us, find a prayer applicable to a particular need, mood or issue. He states that he wrote most of these new prayers in response to comments asking him for prayers for a particular topic. He also received many suggestion for prayers of different forms, lengths and voices, including many from pastors and worship leaders for prayers of confession and family worship.

Scotty’s intent with this new book, as it was with Everyday Prayers, is to equip God’s people to pray, not to do their praying for them.  To help with that, he has included exercises in the book that will enable the reader to develop their own voice in prayer as well as cultivate a listening heart.

It is with joy that I highly commend this new book of prayers to you. May it be a wonderful daily companion for years to come!

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