Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

The Bible as an Enjoyable Reading Experience

The Bible as an enjoyable reading experience — does that sound wonderful to you? Or maybe even ‘unimaginable?’ Watch this video:

Bibliotheca Kickstarter from Good. Honest. on Vimeo.

I’m not enthusiastic about doing so much work on the reading experience while using an older translation. The ASV, for example, predates the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Still, it’s much better than the KJV, and the archaic word forms are being eliminated, so it’s not bad.

What do you think? Should the Bible be enjoyable to read, as well as practical to study?

(I was originally alerted to this project by Jason Morehead, via Tim Chailles.)

(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog at JLP.)

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C. S. Lewis – Where to Start

Have you ever wondered what makes C. S. Lewis such a great writer? Or would you like to get started reading him? In this video, John Piper and Tim Keller talk about how to get started with Lewis:


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Tab Sweep – Small Groups, Hitchens, Mainline Planting

A quick list of some things I’ve read lately that are worth sharing:

First, the short but provocatively-titled “Taking Our Groups Off Life Support.” Key graf:

If we are going to take our groups off life support, we are going to need permission to re-imagine what gospel-centered community looks like. We will not change the preconceived view of groups by making participation a requirement for membership or by changing the names of our programs from “ministries” to “groups.” Small groups will thrive when they become the place where we experience life-giving transformation.

Second, “Learning from Christopher Hitchens,” an appraisal by Albert Mohler that is less a eulogy than, well, what it says: “Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.” Mohler lists five such lessons, such as this one:

4. Hitchens did not hide behind intellectual scorn and he did not fear the open exchange of ideas. … Hitchens … was willing to debate evangelical Christians and to allow the debates to be publicized and published. He did not attempt to shut down debate by insulting his ideological and theological opponents.

Very much worth reading. If an outspoken atheist were admirable in so many ways, should not Christians be equally so, if indeed, not admirable in many other ways as well?

And finally, Landon Whitsitt tells young mainline pastor types to plant a church:

Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Not only do we want to “screw up the church,” but we also want the little old ladies pay for it? And then we have the audacity to be aggrieved when it doesn’t pan out? Come on. I thought we were smarter than this.

I’ve had concerns about the local-church-as-fixture (you know, “First XYZ Church of Anytown, U.S.,” celebrating a hundred years of doing the same thing) ever since I read Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways. I’m not sure convinced a local congregation was ever meant to survive for more than a brief season. Our expectations to the contrary seem to me to be baggage we’re carrying from Christendom. See also Whitsitt’s follow-on.

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Early Christmas Present

I got this because it was almost as cheap as Dogmatics in Outline.

Christmas Comes Early

We’ll see how much of it I actually read. With advances in medicine, I figure I have at least 40 years, which would be only 16 pages a month: a veritable walk in the park. Darrell Guder says this is the older translation, which he thinks is the better one. He also says the secret to reading Barth (first discovered by Leslie Newbigen) is to start at the end.

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Radical Reformission

I just finished reading Mark Driscoll’s Radical Reformission. He’s right on about the missional character of the church and some of the things that prevent us from being faithful to that calling. It’s also very enjoyable reading.

The problem with my pastoral job is that I don’t really know what I’m doing. So I read every book I can find and I cling to the Bible like a kid who can’t swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

I feel that way. A lot.

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Do the Dead Grieve?

Reading C. S. Lewis, I was struck by this thought:

If, as I can’t help suspecting, the dead also feel the pains of separation (and this may be one of their purgatorial sufferings), then for both lovers, and for all pairs of lovers without exception, bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.

(From A Grief Observed, pp. 49-50. Emphasis added.)

I’d known that Lewis was comfortable with the whole idea of purgatory, but I was fascinated by his idea that purgatory might entail grief. On the one hand, we want our loved ones to be happy — to be, as we say at such times, “in a better place.” But there is a slight, selfish appeal to the idea that they grieve for us, just as we grieve for them. How much sharper it would make our grief if we thought our loved one had simply shrugged us off.

We Presbyterians, however, aren’t keen on the concept of purgatory. Our Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, in the Service of Witness to the Resurrection we have at funerals, says, by contrast:

We thank you [God],
that for him/her death is past
and pain is ended,
and that he/she has now entered
the joy that you have prepared.

It’s an intriguing notion, nevertheless. I don’t have time right now to do a serious study, but I’ll have to keep this in the back of my mind, in case I run across Scriptural arguments for or against the idea.

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Dealing with the Devil

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

As a rule, Presbyterians don’t talk much about the devil. But this month, we’re going to begin reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in the pastor’s Bible study. The book imagines a correspondence between a senior demon and a younger apprentice, as they plot the damnation of their “patient.”

Pop culture tells us how people make deals with the devil. It says people sell their souls and obtain worldly success in exchange for eternal damnation. These stories are often accompanied by convincing details: the contract is signed in blood, or is executed at midnight at a crossroads.

Scripture paints a more complicated picture than pop culture. While there are some points of agreement, the picture is certainly nuanced. On the one hand, Psalm 10:5 says the ways of the wicked prosper at all times. On the other hand, the Psalmist recounts in Psalm 32 how his body wasted away before he confessed his sin, but now God has become his hiding place and preserver. He concludes with the observation that “many are the torments of the wicked.”

We may share the Psalmist’s mixed feelings. We, too, can think of successful people who, if not utterly wicked, seem to live lives far from the will of God — and yet they seem happy and fulfilled. This can drive us to discount the present and focus entirely on the afterlife. “They’re living high now,” we think, “but someday they will be brought low.”

True as that may be, it isn’t really helpful. First, Peter reminds us the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). We can hardly desire damnation for those God wants to be saved.

But second, God doesn’t want us to be focused on our eternal reward. Instead, God wants us to change our definition of success. If the wicked seem to prosper, our definition of success is false. “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Matt 16:26)

The danger, though, is that we should turn our backs not on the world but on the present. If we focus all our effort and our obedience on a reward we only be able to enjoy in heaven, we have become like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, who complains he has “worked like a slave” for the Father, but lived miserably (“you never gave me a goat to celebrate”) (see Luke 15:25-32).

God doesn’t want us to be miserable. Jesus came that “we might have life, and in abundance.” My prayer is that as we read Screwtape together, we can gain a better perspective about that kind of abundant living. I hope to see you there!

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Interviews with N.T.Wright

The Presbytery next door had a pastor’s retreat with N.T. Wright as a guest speaker. Great chunks (all?) of his talks are now on YouTube at LRPtv (Los Ranchos Presbytery TV). If you’ve never heard of Wright, you owe it to yourself to listen to some of these.

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Read and Comment

From Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy:

The “real” world has little room for a God of sparrows and children. To it, Jesus can only seem “otherworldly” — a good-hearted person out of touch with reality. Yes, it must be admitted that he is influential, but only because he affirms what weak-minded and fainthearted individuals fantasize in the face of a brutal world. He is like a cheerleader who continues to shout, “We are going to win,” though the score is 98 to 3 against us in the last minute of the game.

When this cheerleading approach to the “real world” triumphs among those who profess Christ, they may then have faith in faith but will have little faith in God. For God and his world are just not “real” to them. They may believe in believing but not be able to rely on God — like many in our current culture who love love but in practice are unable to love real people. They may believe in prayer, think it quite a good thing, but be unable to pray believing and so will rarely, if ever, pray at all.

(On pp. 90-91.)

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