Archive for September, 2016

Against all the protestations of shame, your past does not define you.

What you have been is not coterminous with who you are. Or will be.

This, at least, is YHWH’s promise to his despondent exiles in Babylon.

‘Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,’ says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1 ESV)

If there is a greater shame than childlessness in the Bible’s Old Testament, it is difficult to say what that should be. Perhaps only having borne children and lost them could compete with never having children at all, so deep does this feature of the cultural realia reach into the Bible’s sacred literature.

In the turn-tables book of Isaiah, YHWH is having none of it.

She who has not split the air with the shrieks of childbirth will find recompense in shouts of joy, late coming.

All of human experience argues that only what has been shall ever be. Again, YHWH is having none of this curiously persuasive logic. He is the Creator of new things, things unspoken, things unimagined, deepest longings too savage and powerful for words. He meets them, satisfies them, creates them, endorses them, then liberates his own to become them.

The Bible’s ‘religion’ is no tame creed.

It is wild, counterintuitive, impossible, then real. Life with YHWH knows no bounds save those that loving providence establishes.

As the barren woman restored in a moment to fecundity finds children streaming to her that she did not bear, so YHWH’s future comes in spades from angles never contemplated. Yet her children are hers, his gift, stomped down, compressed, overflowing.

She forgets to miss the biological progeny of her dashed dream, so occupied with this tumbling, laughing harvest of children unforeseen. They laugh noisily. Only her delight is louder.


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A conversation with the Wheaton College Chinese Students Fellowship

16 September 2016

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3 ESV)

  • You must believe that knowledge is a good thing
  • You must understand that ‘knowledge’ that denigrates another person is not true ‘knowledge’. It is folly masquerading as knowledge.
  • You must acknowledge that the opportunity to dedicate a portion of your life to acquiring knowledge at Wheaton College is a precious and unusual gift.
  • You will carry around the ‘burden’ of knowing more in your area of expertise than most of the people with whom you’ll interact … as well as the ‘burden’ of an inquisitive spirit.
  • You should internalize the fact that knowledge is ‘merely on the way’ to deeper knowledge.
  • You will learn to translate your knowledge for the benefit of those who lack the vocabulary and the abstract concepts that have become natural to you.
  • You must embrace the fact that there are many kinds of intelligence: emotional, intuitive, abstract, concrete, etc. You must not exalt your own strength of knowing over others.
  • You will become more and more contextually aware.
  • You must recall that knowledge proceeds from love and thrives best when encased in love.


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This exceptionally planned and executed visual introduction to the Colombia surpasses any other coffee-table book about a nation or region that I’ve seen.

51ebrfdjyzl-_sx362_bo1204203200_-2Its 333 pages and high-quality paper stock make it an admirably heavy work, a full five pounds in the lifting.

Best of all, its exquisitely photographed images communicate the beauty and stunningly regionalized diversity of this South American nation. The prose does not pander to the reader, but introduces him or her to just enough context to form a helpful setting to the photography, which dominates.

A well-written (in Spanish) ‘Prologue’ and ‘Presentation’ give way to a presentation of one of the signature characteristics of the country: ‘Territorio de Contrastes’ (A Territory of Contrasts). The rest of the work leads the reader across the major regions of this vast country: ‘Altiplano Cundiboyacense y Santanderes’, ‘Region Caribe’, ‘Antioquia y Región Cafeteria’, ‘Pacífico’, ‘Sur Andino’, ‘Alto Magdalena’, ‘Orinoquía’, and finally ‘Amazonía’. (more…)

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Stephen Kinzer’s rambling walk through the saga of modern Turkey will delight the ordinary reader with an interest in this ‘bridge nation’, while occasionally distressing the historian.

The dedication of this revised version (‘To the People of Turkey’) signals that Kinzer writes 51aed7hll-_sx331_bo1204203200_from the heart and with affection rather than from the discipline and precision one expects of the historian. This is not a criticism of Kinzer’s formidable work but rather an attempt to define its genre. Those who come to Kinzer’s writing—as this reviewer did—through his superb treatment of the Nicaraguan conflicts (The Blood of Brothers) will anticipate the bent of Kinzer’s method.

Kinzer, the erstwhile Istanbul Bureau Chief of the New York Times, does not hold back his own views and even prescriptions for the nation that has become his subject. The book’s earliest pages telegraph this. Published in 2008, the book’s introduction observes that ‘(A) new regime has emerged in Turkey that is likely to govern for years to come. This is good, because this regime draws its strength from the people’s will, but it is also disturbing.’ The first chapter’s opening line introduces us to a personal preference: ‘My favorite word in Turkish is istiklal.’ (more…)

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If John Ortberg’s books from the first quarter of the 21st century are still being read—as I suspect they will be—in the century’s second quarter, this achievement will no doubt turn on his remarkable capacity for interweaving careful and disciplined reflection on the biblical text with an uncanny accessibility to the popular reader. What may well distinguish Ortberg from similarly high-achieving peers is his hilariously self-deprecating humor.

51ipoeuikvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Put simply, Ortberg is a very fine thinker and a remarkably intelligent writer.

Borrowing his title not from an obscure theologian but rather from Dr. Seuss, Ortberg in this work explores what one can make of an enduring mystery: the relationship of determinism to human freedom. Christians will make up the majority of his readers. Whether or not they realize it, Christian readers most frequently frame this same philosophical conundrum in terms of God’s sovereignty and free will.

Without falling needlessly into the facile and reductive traps, Ortberg navigates these waters with a particular eye not so much to the philosophical dilemma itself, but rather to what the Christian believer is to make of his or her life’s decisions in the context of this mystery. In this sense—though not in the cheaper sense with which the word is so often deployed these days—Ortberg has given us a profoundly practical book. (more…)

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Near the end of twelve impeccably written lectures delivered to Fuller Theological Seminary in 1964 and published in 1968 as The Inescapable Calling, R. Kenneth Strachan summarizes his work by asking this question: What good is the Christian in the world today?

Strachan’s life ended prematurely in 1965, so this book is in some way the valedictory of a respected mission statesman who had found credibility among both his Latin American and North American constituencies at a time when such an outcome was by no means guaranteed. Indeed, it was doubtful, so tense were the times. The Latin America Mission was taking its first innovative steps towards ‘turning everything over to the nationals’, a step that raised eyebrows among conventional thinkers, put at risk deep institutional legacy, and—in retrospect—defined the genius of the ‘LAM’. (more…)

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