Flexing Your Muscles

Strong male arm shows biceps. Close-up photo isolated on whiteAs I’ve grown in my faith as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that faith can be a lot like working out. When you are trying to get stronger and build muscles, you have to add more weight, do more repetitions, be persistent. If you simply just lift the same thing day after day, you may remain somewhat strong, but you will never get stronger. You certainly won’t grow and gain additional muscle.

Faith is similar, it’s like a muscle. If you continue to limit yourself in your faith-stretching situations, your “faith muscle” will stay the same, it won’t grow. But if you allow yourself to step out in faith further than you have done before, you will see growth and you will get stronger.

Throughout the last fifteen years of my life, I have reminded myself (and those around me) of this time and time again. Fifteen years ago, I left behind a successful career in engineering to pursue a career in full-time vocational ministry. It was a step of faith. It was scary. It was a sacrifice. But if all I did over these last fifteen years was point to that, it would be like lifting the same amount of weight day after day, it wouldn’t make me stronger, it wouldn’t make me grow.

Instead, I’ve had to step out further and further, grab a little extra weight to grow and get stronger. I can’t keep relying on faith stories and faith leaps that happened a while ago, I need to allow God to grow me as I stretch further and further.

In Christian circles, people will talk about sharing their testimony. Growing up, that came to mean telling the story about when a person first met Jesus. Those stories were always great to hear, but I also wanted to know how that decision that had been made years ago was impacting them today. In other words, did it make a difference?

Where were the stories of God working now? Where was the evidence that what had happened so long ago was still having a profound impact on the present day?

That’s what I am constantly striving for. I want to make sure that I’m telling current stories of what God is doing. I want to make sure that I’m lifting a little more weight today than I did yesterday. It’s gradual and I think there can be a danger of getting excessive with it, doing it for the wrong reason or motivation. I don’t want to flex my muscles for my own glory, to win accolades and attention for me.

So, what kind of stories are you sharing? Are you still telling stories of years ago, about what God did a long time ago? Or are you adding on some additional spiritual and faith weight, letting God grow you in new ways so that you can share current stories of what God is doing today?

 

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How Are You Different? – The Parish Model

Have you ever had someone give you language to describe something that you’ve known or sensed for a long time but could never describe? For me, it’s happened a few times.

One of the most significant cases of this for me was with StrengthsFinders. I always sensed that there were things that I was really good at and things that I was really bad at, but I never had the language to talk about it and describe it.

The Enneagram is another example of this, giving me language to describe my personality so that people can understand me better. It’s been helpful to describe myself in a way that people can see, hear, and understand (hopefully) that it’s something deeper than me just trying to offend and tick off as many people as possible.

A month ago, I was speaking at my denominational meeting, giving an update about what we are doing in the area of church planting and casting vision for where we are headed. I’ve been known to be passionate when I speak and this was no exception. Couple that with the fact that it’s been quite some time since I’ve preached in a church (going on five months) and I was probably pretty fiery.

After I got finished, I headed to the back of the auditorium where I was promptly approached by a gentleman I had never seen before. We made our way out into the foyer and began a conversation that started with him asking me what my dinner plans were that evening.

As we began talking, I was captivated by the ideas that he was throwing out. He was one of the keynote speakers for the afternoon and I was disappointed to have missed most of his talks because of another meeting that I had. But we talked long enough that afternoon (and then again at dinner) for me to fixate on one idea and concept that he shared.

He said that the new model of church was a parish model. Well, I had heard similar concepts before, but his concept was different. The idea of a parish church is hundreds of years old. The Episcopal Church still uses this idea in naming some of their churches. I grew up in a town with St. Luke’s Parish and I’ve seen that multiple times. Churches function in a geographic area as a parish, ministering to the people within that specific area.

But my new friend cast a different idea. He said that  today is different than it once was. He ministers in blues bars and other places where the people to whom he ministers may never darken the door of a church building. At the same time, the people who come to his church on a Sunday may never darken the doors of these blues bars and other places. It makes for separate ministry spaces with the understanding that there may never be overlap between the areas.

As I’ve been ministering in the community where we are planting, I’ve had this underlying sense more than once, but I could never quite articulate it the way that my new friend did. There are countless new people that I am meeting. I’ve enjoyed these new friendships. I have no hesitation to invite them to come once we launch out this new church, but there is no expectation that they will all be there. So what do I do with that?

It’s amazing to me how often it seems that we embrace the notion of a Triune God in evangelical circles and then live as if only two of those three persons of God are legitimate and real. Francis Chan wrote about it in “Forgotten God.” We talk a good game about the Holy Spirit and then we proceed to live as if he doesn’t exist or as if the same power that raised Christ from the dead is unavailable to him.

If I really trust that some plant seeds, some water seeds, but only God makes them grow, then I need to rely way more on the Holy Spirit than I may be willing to admit. Yes, I need to be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I need to teach people the ways of Jesus. But I also need to trust that behind the scenes in ways unknown to me and outside of my own control, God is at work through the Holy Spirit doing a work that I could never do on my own.

I believe that community is important. I believe that being part of a community significantly impacts the way that I live my life. I believe that there are benefits when I give myself fully to community. I can’t make everyone believe that same thing. I can earn trust. I can share when asked about what I believe. But I can never make them embrace this for their own. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

There should always be an urgency in those of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That urgency can often spring up in us in a way that ignites our passion to see others come to that same acknowledgement and confession. But if I don’t let the Holy Spirit do the work that he needs to do in them and simply try to argue them or convince them to that conclusion, then I can’t expect good things to be the outcome.

I said it earlier in this series, the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet part of it. Am I okay with spending time and ministering to people who will never darken the doors of my church? I better be, because if I’m not, then I probably shouldn’t say that I believe in the Holy Spirit and the work that he is capable of accomplishing.

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

 

How Are You Different? – Trust Matters

The place of the church in American society has significantly diminished from what it was 50 years ago. Where once churches held central places in cities and towns, not only geographically but socially as well, they no longer hold that same place of esteem that they once did. The process of this fall from esteem was not a fast one. Tim Keller, in his book “Center Church,” describes this societal change.

The problem is, the church’s response to this societal fall has been more complaint than correction. Instead of saying, “What can we do to adapt to this fall?” the church has instead said, “How do we get back to our place of esteem and glory?”

This fall from esteem has helped the church to garner a look of suspicion from most of society, not just from those who are not a part of it but also those who are or at one time have been a part of it. Because of its stance on various issues, the church has been labeled as prejudiced, bigoted, and closed-minded.

It’s really easy to lament this change and wish for the golden days when the church was respected and esteemed, but what will that lament change? Will it be helpful? Or the church can do the hard work of building trust in its community, seeking to build relationships with people who have become skeptical and calloused towards the church.

In this day and age, I am constantly reminded of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (bold and italics mine)

I’ve heard this verse quoted many times and it seems that many people have neglected to include that bold phrase, “to everyone who asks you.” I’ve heard people say, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” and then they do just that, giving everyone around them an answer to their hope without building a relationship or earning their trust. They just launch into answering questions that are never asked.

We live in a day and age of skepticism where people are not as trusting as they once may have been. Taking that into consideration, trust is something that is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and slow, cumulative process. It can’t be microwaved, it needs to simmer and soak through interactions and conversations.

This has been one of the major growing areas for me during this church planting journey. I’ve written before about my personal journey of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, this is part of it. If people think that I am only listening so that I can get a word in, there will be no trust built. But if I listen to understand and hear what others are saying, if I show genuine concern for them and the things that they are concerned for, trust is built.

The last thing that I ever want someone to think is that I’m just a salesman who is “selling Jesus.” I’ve seen this happen all too often, Jesus becomes a bargaining chip for people. Come to be part of our party, but first you need to listen to our “Jesus pitch” before we let you enjoy yourself. Worse than this is when people come to have some of their physical needs met and we tell them, “We’ll give you what you need when you listen to what we want you to listen to.”

Treating Jesus and the gospel like a bargaining chip cheapens the message of grace behind it. If we don’t earn trust and earn our voice, why should people listen to us? If we simply listen so that we can get our moment in the spotlight, people will sniff out the disingenuousness of our listening and we will be even further from gaining their trust or earning a right to be heard.

Trust matters and this is a part of the process that can’t be skipped or fast-tracked. It needs to be entered into authentically, organically, and with the utmost patience and care.

As I’ve been building relationships within the community, this is forefront on my radar screen. I want to hear about the things that people care about. I want to hear their hearts, know their fears, know their joys, know their passions. I don’t want to know or hear these things so that I can use them as collateral to negotiate, I want to know and hear these things so that I genuinely care about these new friends I am meeting. If I don’t care about these things, then I am just a salesman, selling Jesus, doing my best to convince people of something.

Jesus said to love my neighbor, and it seems that one of the most loving things that I can do is to listen, care, and build trust with people, letting them know that I’m for them and about them, not simply wanting to tell them what I need to tell them and then move on.

Building trust leads to the last significant difference which is also the newest one for me: establishing a parish model of church. We’ll talk about that in our next and final installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

Traditional

This being a place for confessions, I thought that I would bring one today: I can’t stand the word “traditional.” While we’re at it, I don’t think I can much tolerate the word “contemporary” either. Over the fifteen years that I have been in full-time vocational ministry, I can only think of a handful of other words that have generated and evoked the same amount of emotion, vitriol, and downright hate as these two words.

If you want to go into a church and stir things up, you probably want to use these two words in your conversation.

While I appreciate our need to define and label things in order to give an honest description of who we are and what we do in our various churches, the definitions of these words are moving targets, defined by a specific context, not only geographically, but also individually. You could probably poll one hundred people and get one hundred separate definitions of these two words.

I was hanging out in my local coffee shop the other day and as I was having a conversation with my friends there, I said that I was not a very traditional person. One of my friends laughed and said something to the equivalent of, “Tell us something we don’t know.” His reply sort of surprised me and I wondered what was underneath it.

As I thought about it more, I realized how broadly my statement could be taken. What was I not traditional about? Politics? Marriage? Relationships? Music? Gender roles? What? It was a stark reminder that in this day and age of constantly changing definitions, we need to be as clear as possible explaining what we mean when we say something, even when we think that our definition is clear, chances are that we may be speaking with someone whose definition differs in some way from ours.

When I’ve heard the word “traditional” thrown around, some have meant it as if to say, “old and tired.” Others have meant it to mean, “tried and true.” Still other will interpret it as saying, “outdated and bigoted.”

As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I realize more and more just how much clarity I need to bring to my terms and definitions. I need to assume less and explain more. I need to do more than just lay down blanket and broad generalizing terms, both for myself and for others. When I generalize, I have to realize that I’m probably selling someone short in one way or another.

I’m doing my best to look past terms and see to the person behind them. Who are they? What does their heart beat for? What are they passionate about? After all, I would hope that they would do the same with me. I’ve been so frustrated in the past by people painting with their broad brush strokes all over me, I better not do the same to others.

No, I don’t think that “traditional” is always a helpful word to use. Like so many words, it’s definition has been distorted. At the same time, I’m not into abandoning words simply because they’ve been hijacked by others. I’m much more comfortable trying to redeem things and I think the best way to redeem them is to actually have a conversation about what we mean when we use them.

How Are You Different? – Partnership Is Key

If there is one thing that I’ve seen done both well and horribly, from one extreme to the other, in all of my time within the church, it’s this one. Partnership.

When I say partnership, there are two different aspects that I am talking about: within the community and with other churches.

Henry Blackaby wrote a book years ago called “Experiencing God.” The premise of the book was one big idea: find out where God is moving and working and go there.

As big of a book as “Experiencing God” was among churches that I was a part of, I was amazed that more didn’t really embrace the premise that it proposed. So, as I’ve begun the work of starting something new in a community, this has been at the forefront of my mind in both organizations and churches.

I should give a little aside to the fact that Gallup’s StrengthsFinders has been a significant part of my own journey. In a word, the premise behind StrengthsFinders is that we are all good at something and we should focus on those things in which we do our best work, leaving the things that are not in our wheelhouse to those who possess the strengths to do them well.

As I look at communities, I see so many different organizations. There is the school system, full of teachers, administrators, and other committed workers who have the best interest of the children of the community in mind. There is the emergency response workers who also have the best interest of the community in mind. There are community focused organizations. There are small businesses. There are hosts of others organizations who have a primary focus and a skillset that lies outside of the church community which is being built.

In my opinion, it would be absolutely stupid for me not to consider the strengths of these organizations. To hear what they are doing and to find out ways that we can come alongside what they are already doing seems to be one of the wisest things that we could do. I’ve always said to my wife, “We are better together.” It’s true in a marriage and I believe it’s true in communities. Coming alongside other organizations to find ways in which we can work together is a crucial piece of building this new church.

But the partnerships don’t stop there. In fact, it may be easier to think about partnering with organizations than to think about partnering with other faith communities.

In the past, this kind of work may have been called ecumenical. Like so many other words, ecumenical has inherited a host of baggage along the way. While I think the word is more loaded than it should be, my own denomination has helped me to see the value of ecumenicism. Our motto is, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

If each church is living into the phrase that my friend shared years ago, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” then they all have something that they do really well while there are other things that they don’t do so well.

So what happens when they work together?

Honestly, to enter into any community, town, or city and think that your church alone is the answer to all of its problems has to be one of the most arrogant and egotistical approaches I’ve seen, and God knows that I’ve seen it more times than I would be willing to admit.

But the experience that I have been having thus far is that some of the churches in the community (not all of the churches) really want to see how they can encourage each other and help each other, looking at the mission of God as significantly bigger than just their local church.

Honestly, I have just not seen this happen very often. There was one church that I was part of in another state in which I experienced the polar opposite of this. All I will say is that it felt like the equivalent of a boys’ locker room with everyone trying to outdo each other. Instead of working together, it felt like everyone was trying to outdo each other and compete with one another.

Last time I checked, the mission of God was what the Church was called to, the whole Church. To think that one church could single-handedly accomplish that just doesn’t make sense. Partnership is key.

For partnership to work though, trust matters. And that’s what we will look at in the next installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2

 

How Are You Different? – A Redefined Mission

During this church planting journey that we are on, I’ve been doing a magical mystery tour of some of the other church plants that meet in non-traditional locations around the Richmond area. I’ve been taking note of the things that I have liked, the things that I haven’t liked, and doing my best to remember what stands out the most that I think would fit well in this new community that we are hoping that God builds through us.

A few weeks ago, we visited a church where the pastor spoke as they segued into their offering time. For those not familiar with this, most churches have a time set aside to gather up funds in what they call “the offering.” Some pass offering plates, others pass baskets. Some invite people to the front. Others have boxes at the exits for people to deposit donations to the church and its mission as they leave the worship service.

This pastor spoke of how they give 20% of their offerings to better the community of which they are a part. As he talked about the joy it gives him to contribute to these missions, I couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah 29:7, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

As he talked about these missions, I wasn’t completely sure that all of those missions were “Christian” missions. Now, I could write a whole blog post or series about what that actually means, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say that it has to do with the mission and vision and whether or not there is some importance given to an evangelistic focus. In other words, is it a concern for an organization that people’s physical needs alone are met or is there emphasis given to people’s spiritual needs as well?

All that being said, it really got me thinking about how important this is.

While this is a significant part of who we will be as a church, I don’t think it means that the mission of God cannot be accomplished through people who don’t have that same focus. Seeking the peace and prosperity of the community, if we are really thinking holistically, involves physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s possible that missions can be supported who do this better than the local church does.

This really plays into the next significant difference which is that partnership is key.

We’ll talk about that in the next post of “How are you different?”

This is part 2 of a 5 part series. You can read Part 1 here.

 

What We Leave Behind

Last year, a family in the faith community that I was a part of lost their house in a fire. This family had experienced a significant amount of loss before the fire and it was heartbreaking to see them experience one more tragedy in their lives. It was even more heartbreaking because I stood with them watching their house burn.

It was one of those surreal moments where you scroll your social media feed and see something that stands out, kind of like “Which of these things is not like the others.” The wife had said her house was on fire. Before I knew it, I had a message from someone else confirming that it was true.

There have been multiple times in my life when I have felt completely helpless. Hearing my mom’s cancer diagnosis was one time. Knowing her treatments were done and her death was imminent was another. Standing with these friends in front of their house as it burned was another. I felt speechless and I doubted my presence there multiple times, wondering if they really wanted me there.

As the fire was brought under control, the firemen brought out personal items and it was excruciating. Family photos. Jewelry. Other items. The remnants of memories that had stood as markers were tainted. It was a hard thing to watch as it unfolded.

Last month, when news broke that Notre Dame Cathedral was burning, I had that same helpless feeling. It was hard to watch the flames uncontrollably lick the spire and roof of this centuries old cathedral, engulfing this sacred monument.

Through it all, I thought about legacy and what we leave behind. Buildings can burn, that became abundantly clear to me as I watched these buildings, but was that the limit of what was left? Memories are sometimes reliant on space, marked by some geographical location in which they took place. While those spaces and locations may change or cease to exist, the memories remain, they are imprinted within the very core of our being.

On a small scale, it begs the question to me, “What do I leave behind?” When I’m gone, returning to dust, what is left? Are there memories still burned on the minds of the people who are left? Did I make an impact, a mark, a difference?

I can’t help but think about this in the context of the Church as well. People were sad and heartbroken that Notre Dame was burning but I don’t think it was because a sacred space was gone or because they had experienced significant life change within those walls or even because hundreds of worshippers would now be forced to relocate. I think it was because a cultural icon was harmed, damaged, diminished (thankfully, not beyond repair).

When it comes to our local churches, what would happen if our buildings or meeting places were gone? What would be the evidence that we had once been there? Would we need to have pictures or a building or other tangible artifacts and remnants? Or would we find the evidence and artifacts on the hearts of the people whose lives had been changed by our presence there?

I want to be known for the difference that I have made. When I am gone, I don’t want people hanging onto only tangible things to remember. My hope and prayer is that the difference I made went far beyond the physically tangible and to the heart and soul.

Did I listen? Did I care? Did I love? Was Christ present in me? These are the questions that are significant to me, the ones that I hope can be answered in the affirmative.

What do we leave behind? My hope and prayer for myself and for the church that we are building is that what we are building goes far beyond a physical building. I hope and pray that we are helping to build a community with love, with listening, with care, and with Christ.

 

How Are You Different? – Who We Are For

Over the years that I have been in ministry as a full-time vocation (15 years this month), one of the quotes I’ve been known to use over and over again is that the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet here.

When Jesus left his disciples, his commission to them was to go and make disciples, teaching people to obey everything that he commands and baptizing them. So, at any given time, within the church of Jesus Christ, we are raising up disciples and nurturing disciples. Raising disciples happens when we share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who have yet to hear it or yet to embrace it.

Unfortunately, the gravitational pull for most churches is inward. It becomes the default position because once a church is established and begins meeting, sustaining itself can easily become the most important thing, especially for the pastor and everyone who considers that church to be their home and community.

It’s really the difference between being inward facing versus outward facing.

When we are inward facing, we exist for the people who are already part of our community. The programs that we set up and create, the services we provide, the events that we plan, they all focus on those who are already a part of our church and who are most likely funding the mission that we have embraced.

When we are outward facing, we are always asking the question, “Who is it that is not yet here who needs to be part of this community?” We will also be looking through the lens of those who are not yet there as we analyze what we do. Are we speaking language that is easily understood by those who have not grown up in the church? Are we creating an environment that is winsome and welcoming to those who have never darkened our doors before?

As I move towards the launch of this new church plant, one thing that I want to emphasize over and over again is that we are for those who are not yet here and not yet part of our community.

I’ll be honest with you, this scares me, not a little, but a lot. It can get messy. Answers may be elusive at times. We will make mistakes. But we continue to press forward, doing our best to make sure that we are seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ to people who are not yet part of our community.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Jeremiah. In particular, I appreciate the 29th chapter of the book. I was the guy who quoted Jeremiah 29:11 in my senior yearbook quote in high school, but that’s not the verse that stands out to me all these years later. It’s actually the verse that happens just a few sentences before it. Verse 7.

Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

With this verse in mind, this leads me to the second difference that I see as significant: A redefined mission.

We’ll look at that difference in the next installment of “How are you different?”

How Are You Different?

One of the questions that I consistently get in this church planting journey is, “How are you different from every other church out there?”

As I’ve thought about it, it’s a great question. It’s a great question not just for church planters and church plants but also for every local church. What is it about your local church that distinguishes it from every other church?

Years ago, I heard a friend and colleague ask the question (and I’ve blogged about this before), “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” We may not always have that answer at our ready, but it’s one that we certainly should think about because, whether we admit it or not, there should be something unique about us.

All that being said, I was asked this by someone on my team last week. It got me to thinking about it and wondering, what’s the answer to this?

Our experiences are going to dictate our response and approach to the present and the future. That’s certainly the case with church planting as well. The things that I have experienced over the years as I have been a part of churches as a volunteer, an attender, a staff member, and a pastor, those things will dictate how I move forward and what things become most important to me.

As I’ve thought about it, there are five things that I’ve distinguished as different. Now, when I say different, I don’t mean that there are no churches out there that do these things, it’s just that in my experience, they are not always the norm among churches.

The other thing that I think it’s important to point out, these things are not an indictment of every church that I have ever been a part of. Identifying these things does not mean that all the churches that I have been a part of in the past have lacked these qualities, it just means that these are the five things that I have identified as important.

Without further ado, the five qualities and distinguishing factors that I have identified are:

  • Who we are for
  • A redefined mission
  • Partnership is key
  • Trust matters
  • A parish model

Over the next few weeks, I will look at these qualities. So, hope you come back to read what I have to say about these as the weeks go on.

 

Confronting Old Testament Controversies – A Book Review

Confronting OT ControversiesFor anyone who considers themself to be a Christian, they have most likely encountered a verse, a passage, a story, or even a book of the Bible that has had them scratching their head, wondering whether or not it’s true or just how they should be interpreting it. For centuries, people have come to these passages from a variety of different viewpoints.

How do we approach the Bible? What do we do with the sections that seem fairly controversial to us? What happens when parts of it seem to be out of date or irrelevant? What happens when the dominant culture pulls away from what had become the societal norms conveyed in the pages of Scripture?

With his latest book, “Confronting Old Testament Controversies – Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence,” Tremper Longman addresses some of the questions most frequently asked about the Bible and all that is found within its pages.

To start, Longman states in his introduction that, “this book is written for the church and not the broader culture.” This is a helpful statement knowing that he would be writing with a very different approach had his book been targeted at those who did not necessarily subscribe to the Bible’s teachings.

Longman tells his readers what he will be addressing within the book. Creation and evolution. Historicity. Divine Violence. Sexuality.

Longman spends some necessary time addressing the notion of inerrancy.  He writes of interpretation and intended meaning of authors. Basically, he gives a high level overview of hermeneutics. He does a good job of giving this overview as he also addresses context and seeing Scripture through the eyes of those for whom it was originally intended.

God speaks, Longman writes, through nature and through the Bible. While those things are inerrant, our interpretations of both of those may not always be true.

From here, Longman goes on to dig into Genesis. He addresses various teachings that have occurred over the years on the first chapters of the Bible. How should we be interpreting it based upon other writings similar in style to it? Is there figurative language used that is trying to be read more literally than it was intended?

As he lays this all out, Longman writes that Genesis 1 is not giving the reader, “a blow-by-blow account of how God created everything but is using the standard workweek…as a literary device…” He reminds the reader that genre triggers reading strategy. So, we are in error to be reading poetry or analogy as history.

He compares the creation account found in the Bible to other creation accounts found in the ancient near East. He concludes the section saying that there is no reason, in his scholarly opinion, to think that what is found in the pages of Genesis gives a factual report of the specific process of creation. Considering evolution or other secondary causes, Longman suggests, does not undermine God’s role as the divine Creator. He goes on to address the fall of humanity, Adam and Eve, and other ramifications that his interpretation may reveal.

After creation and evolution, Longman addresses the historicity of various sections of the Bible. Did they really happen? If they didn’t happen, does that undermine the validity of Scripture? What do we do when Scripture makes reference to these elsewhere or when Jesus himself makes reference to them?

In this section, Longman, who considers himself a part of the evangelical camp, is critical of evangelicals saying that, “evangelicals have a tendency to treat the Bible as if it were all one genre.” While he addresses a story like Job and says that it did not actually happen historically, he also addresses the exodus and says that the historicity of that story is crucial to establishing a track record for the God of Israel.

Longman gets fairly technical, addressing some of the historic finds that have brought into question the validity and historicity of the Bible. His bottom line is that not all of the sections of the Bible need to be interpreted as having literally and historically taken place in order for the message that is conveyed to be true and important.

He then moves to the section on divine violence. As he enters into this section, he gives his reader the bottom line thesis saying that both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible give a consistent, coherent, and unified picture of God. He addresses the concern that many have had in trying to reconcile the wrath of God shown in the Old Testament with the love of God identified within the New Testament.

He does a good job of conveying his viewpoint as well as contrary viewpoints. He gives reasons for his difference and supports his argument. As he speaks of death, pain, suffering, and violence, Longman reminds his reader that death and suffering were not the purpose or goal of Jesus’ mission but instead that his mission was accomplished through death and suffering.

While there are certainly uncomfortable sections and events in the pages of the Bible which describe the wrath and violence of God, Longman says that we need to interpret God based on his revelation of himself in those pages rather than trying to soften the sections that make us uncomfortable or with which we disagree.

The final section of Longman’s book may very well be the most anticipated and controversial. It seems that the traditional Christian stance on sexuality has become outdated and flies in sharp contrast and opposition to where culture and society are today.

Longman addresses the controversy and argument that many have made regarding the publicness of sex. He writes, “Sex and marriage are public, social acts, not private acts, even if the sexual acts are done behind closed doors.” He also addresses gender and sexuality dysfunction, saying that everyone is sexually dysfunctional at some level.

While Longman addresses the standard laws that have been used in the argument against homosexuality, he also brings focus back to creation and speaks of God’s original intent for things. He reminds them that creation, as we are experiencing it, is not as God originally intended it to be. Therefore, we need to be cautious about not considering that as we look at everything.

He addresses the standard argument of the three types of laws found within the Old Testament: ceremonial, moral, and civil laws. He makes his case that ceremonial and even some civil laws may have been fulfilled but that there is no indication in the Bible that the moral laws that were originally given to the people of God were ever made null and void anywhere in Scripture.

He hits on arguments and questions that have been made by some who support an affirming lifestyle. He writes, “Our problem is that we, as modern Westerners, believe that love should allow us all as individuals to find our own personal happiness in the here and now. But personal happiness is not the greatest good in the Bible.” Ultimately, Longman lands on the traditional side of this argument.

Longman addresses each of these topics in its own chapter, making the chapters fairly long. Each chapter has discussion questions for use by the reader to spend time mulling over these various sections. Some sections get a little heady and he may lose some of his readers in these technical sections. Of course, I could imagine him simply suggesting that readers skip to the sections of which they are most interested.

I was so curious coming to this book as to where he would stand on these four important topics. As I read through the first section on creation and evolution, I was somewhat surprised at where he came down with his conclusion. Then, after reading the first three sections of the book, I was rather surprised to come to Longman’s section on sexuality and read his stance. I had expected, based on what I had encountered in those first three sections, that Longman would be vying for a non-traditional approach towards sexuality and marriage.

Longman treated these topics with academic care, as would be suggested by someone of his educational and professional background. While there were times when he seemed to be belabor the point (in my opinion), I think he did a sufficient job of covering his bases, laying out arguments for and against his case, and clearly giving his final analysis on these topics.

Readers may not hang on for all the depth that Longman gives them in this book. While he comes from the academic world and, at times, he dives fully into that in his writing and explanations, he does a good job not getting too overly academic and is still understandable by the average person.

Longman did not seem to have treated all four of these topics consistently. While there were some sections where he would bring in viewpoints of others, he did not always do that. While I would not say that this impacted his treatment of any of these topics, it would have been nice to have been given some names and viewpoints together rather than going through the bibliography and looking up books and authors individually.

“Confronting Old Testament Controversies” is worth the read. While it may not be for everyone, those who do read through it from front to back, regardless of whether they agree or not, should find themselves walking away having learned something along the way.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)