Finally, a ‘Christian’ diet!

On Monday we learned that pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren was releasing a new “faith-based” diet book. The book is apparently derived from The Daniel Plan, a program which will “transform your spiritual, physical, and emotional health.” Ordinarily, such holistic transformation is beyond the scope of the typical weight-loss plan but how many plans can lay claim to “founding doctors” Rick Warren, Mehmet Oz, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman? [The Merritts almost came to blows at our Thanksgiving meal as we debated the relative greatness of America’s founding fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, & Madison). Once this gift is unwrapped we’ll be doomed to repeat this ordeal over Christmas as we argue about the relative prestige of the founding doctors. Thanks for ruining Christmas, Pastor Rick.]

Some brief thoughts:

1) Disclaimer: my cynicism and/or concern about this book isn’t about content (I haven’t read the book).

2) Gluttony is an “acceptable sin” in many Christian circles and a pastor serves his people well when he exposes it to the light for the good of the church.

3) To say that a program is “founded in faith/on biblical principles” often has more to do with branding than anything else (blame it on the Christian media complex). The unintended consequence is the creation of a kosher market to meet the demand of felt needs under the banner of spirituality (see #4).

4) “Christian” weight loss plans tend to focus on felt needs rather than ultimate needs. I take it that, under normal circumstances, gluttony has less to do with eating habits, loneliness, etc. and more to do with unbelief and/or the “inbred slothfulness of our nature.” Lewis cut to the root of the matter when he called us “half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” The real problem isn’t that we desire food too much but that we desire God too little.

5) I can’t shake the notion that a pastor has far better things to do with his time than to collaborate on a diet program with Dr. Oz. At the end of the day I think this is my biggest hang-up. Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t imagine men like Paul, Augustine, Luther, Wesley, & Edwards sitting down to pen a treatise on dieting. Somehow they found better things to do & the church has been better for it.

Not a censure but a sigh.

 

 

How shall we hear Jesus Calling?

Two recent articles from two radically different publications—Christianity Today and The New York Times—have revisited the phenomena & controversy that is Jesus Calling. Several months back I presented a review of the book to our church after I began to see an increasing number of copies in the hands of church members. At the time I knew nothing about the book. In fact, I assigned myself the review so that I could gain a better sense of what our people were reading and thinking. Since I didn’t want to be affected by other prominent reviews (see here and here) I resisted the temptation to read what others thought of the book.

By now the chief objections are well-known: writing as Jesus (in the first person) creates the impression of authoritative revelation, the paradoxical assertion that the words are from Jesus but that they shouldn’t be considered inerrant, the implication that Christians need something more than Scripture, etc. These objections have been clearly and, I think, convincingly articulated so there’s no need to rehash the arguments here. But at the risk of appearing to pile on I’ll add a few issues I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.

1) The formative influence of God Calling for Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. Young recounts that her reading of the devotional book God Calling “dovetailed remarkably well with my longing to live in Jesus’ Presence” and that, as a result, she “began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God.”  Learning of the significant influence that God Calling had on her, we should note that not only has Young imitated the method of the anonymous “listeners” (i.e. the co-authors) but she appears to have imbibed of the same spirit. Consider the following excerpt from God Calling in the chapter entitled “The Voice Divine”:

We felt all unworthy and overwhelmed by the wonder of it, and could hardly realize that we were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by Him personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their churches, books and other sources. [emphasis mine]

Perhaps Young doesn’t pity those of us who must “settle” for guidance from the Bible but there can be little doubt that she shares something of the sentiment. By her own admission she desires “something more” than God’s communication to her through the Bible. Admittedly, all Christians will know something of this discontent with mediated revelation (see #2) but we must still caution (and encourage) those who would diminish the inestimable value of Christ’s word in pursuit of Christ’s person. The written word of God provokes spiritual hunger but it is also the means by which God graciously offers satisfaction and delight in Christ and his finished work (see Psa 19:7ff; 119; John 5:39-40; 14:21, 23; 2Cor 3:18; 4:6; 2Pet 1:2-4).

2) We should desire more. Young is right to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture but her testimony fails to affirm Scripture’s sufficiency. This strikes me as an intractable problem in light of Scripture’s inerrant claims to sufficiency but since this matter has been addressed in other places I’ll pass over that here. What I haven’t seen, however, is the acknowledgment that Young’s dissatisfaction is reasonable and, in a certain sense, even right. By this I mean that the all-sufficient, inerrant word speaks to the unfulfilled desire of abiding in the presence of Christ. The psalmists sang of future pleasure & satisfaction (Psa 16:11; 17:15), the apostles spoke of our hope (Rom 8:23-25; Titus 2:13; Heb 10:23; 1Pet 1:13), and Jesus himself expresses his desire for his disciples to be with him where he is (Jn 17:24). More could be said about the nature of this “inconsolable longing” but our point is that a biblical balance must be struck between affirming our hunger for something more and acquiring comfort and satisfaction while we wait. Young doesn’t achieve this balance in her testimony or writings.

3) The diminution of the Holy Spirit. We have a penchant for confessing the Trinity even as we practically deny the doctrine in our life & witness. The myopic clamoring for Jesus’ presence is often symptomatic of a deeper problem–dissatisfaction with the presence of the Holy Spirit. How quickly we forget that the Jesus we seek is the same one who claimed that it was to our advantage for him to go away so that the Holy Spirit could take his place (Jn 16:7). Had anyone else made such a claim we would consider it near blasphemy. We must go back to the inerrant word. It can’t be coincidence that John’s account of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples contains more about the Holy Spirit (and the Trinity) than any other passage of Scripture (Jn 14-16). Surely the comfort that Jesus offers through the presence of the Holy Spirit must be accounted for when we engage the devotional aspirations recorded by Young. Otherwise we have the unenviable task of exalting Christ even as we ignore his Gift.

It’s easy to see why Jesus Calling has resonated with so many Christians but I think the book will prove to be an unhelpful diversion in the long run.

Magic & fantasy in Christian perspective

{file under “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”}

We have no shortage of opinion when it comes to a Christian perspective on the arts. In recent memory the most prominent case study was found in the fanfare & furor generated by the Harry Potter series and the prominent place given to magic & wizardry. In light of the biblical injunctions against divination & sorcery all Christians recognize the concern raised by such subject matter even if we arrive at different conclusions.

So does Harry Potter (or Narnia or The Lord of the Rings) cultivate an affinity for the occult? Jerram Barrs thinks not and offers this insight from his recent book Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts:

     We return here to the charge that Harry Potter books are evil because they contain magic, witches, wizards, spells, and the like. As we have seen, the same criticisms have been made of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s books, even though both of these authors are known by the critics to have been committed Christians. Because magic is a part of the Potter books, the Narnia books, and The Lord of the Rings, some claim that these books may have the effect of interesting children in the occult.

…None of these books encourages occult practice. The magic is simply a part of the imaginative worlds that Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling have created. In such an imaginary world, people can become invisible, animals talk, mythical creatures like unicorns and centaurs exist, and rings and spells work wonders. In all of these books the magic serves to help us see the battle between good and evil more clearly. Magic is simply a device to unveil the world of virtue and vice to us. [p 135-136, emphasis added]

‘Give Them Grace’ is gonna be good

I just started reading Give Them Grace, a parenting book I’ll be reviewing for our church Sun night. It’s not often that I find myself amen-ing a book in the introduction but I did on this one. To wit:

This book will provide you with something more than a three-step formula for successful parenting. That’s because even though it might seem counter-intuitive, none of us need more law. In this case, law might masquerade as “easy steps,” “hints for success,” or even “secret formulas,” but make no mistake: at heart it is law. Mormons, Muslims, and moralistic atheists all share the belief that law can perfect us, but Christians don’t. Christians know that the law can’t save us; what we need is a Savior. We need a Savior because every one of us has already demonstrated that we don’t respond well to rules (Rom. 3:23). We’ve been given a perfect law (Rom. 7:12) but none of us-no, not one-has obeyed it (Rom. 3:10). Why would we think that our success rate would be any different if we just had different laws? (16)

and…

It’s the premise of this book that the primary reason the majority of kids from Christian homes stray from the faith is that they never really heard it or had it to begin with. They were taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message. Scratch the surface of the faith of the young people around you and you’ll find a disturbing deficiency of understanding of even the most basic tenets of Christianity. (18)

and…

Although we long to be faithful parents, we also rest in the truth that our faithfulness is not what will save our children. Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting or your children. Our children will be saved only through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, who works at the direction of our faithful heavenly Father. He’s the faithful, powerful, soul-transforming One. Yes, he may use us as means to accomplish his purpose. But salvation is entirely of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). (22)