Many of you are likely familiar with the Netflix hit show, "Stranger Things" (season 2 releases in just a couple of days!). I, for one, watched it last year and really enjoyed it.
Surely, part of my enjoyment was nostalgia - since I grew up in the 1980s (the setting of the show). But that's not all. Much of my enjoyment was because of excellent story telling and how Stranger Things helps us picture a "re-enchanted world" where there's more going on than science can fully explain. In the secular West, I wonder if more and more people hunger for this re-enchantment - echoes of a memory instilled in us as image bearers of God. The popularity of Stranger Things suggests that this musing of mine (and many others, including Mike Cosper and James K.A. Smith, both teasing out Charles Taylor) - that people hunger for re-enchantment - is correct.
The story Stranger Things tells is intricate enough that I won't try and reduce it to a few sentences. I'll focus instead on just one feature of it. As season 1 unfolds, the viewer learns that in the world of Stranger Things, there's something of an alternate dimension running alongside our own - a world with its own creatures; a world that's darker and a bit more decayed; a world that sometimes interrupts our own, and has points of contact with it. In Stranger Things, this darker-and-decayed alternate dimension is called "the Upside Down."
Here's where I'll stop describing Stranger Things and draw a connection to our own world, by asking a question: What if OUR world is really the Upside Down?
As the Brookside Institute champions the value of biblical literacy, we don't do this in some abstract or indifferent way. We want to value biblical literacy so that we're transformed by the Bible.
If that's the case, that means there's a whole lot riding on whether the Bible is a trustworthy book. Some version of "Can I trust the Bible?" is being asked in lots of ways today, and so responding to this question is important. Here's why: The greater our confidence IN the Bible, the more we'll base our lives ON the Bible. We'll never base our lives on something we don't have confidence in.
This last weekend, I spent about 30 minutes responding this question, "Can I trust the Bible?" Check out the video below to see what I said.
Interested in more on this? Check out the following posts:
If you ever check out the footer of this site, where we highlight the top 5 posts of the previous month, you'll have seen "What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? And How Does it Stack Up against Biblical Christianity?" has been on a #1 streak for a while (a long while!). And it's understandable why.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is often called the "default religion" of many Americans - whether they consciously articulate it or not. And MTD is definitely NOT a direct overlap of biblical Christianity. To understand the "background noise" that informs the perspective of many Americans - even American Christians - one needs to understand MTD.
If you've not checked out the post, you can do so here.
So as a nod to the popularity of this post, I'm officially going to "retire the jersey." I'll leave the post just as it is on the site and will include it in the "retired jersey" category of this site's "Library" page. However, moving forward I'll no longer include it in numbers 1-5 of each month's top posts (even though it continues to rank highly among the website "hits" for individual posts), thus allowing room for other posts.
Interested in other posts that have gotten a lot of traffic on this site recently? Click here to check 'em out!
Interested in seeing all of the "retired jersey" posts up to this point? Here they are:
Based on the number of "hits" each month, here are the top 5 posts here on the Brookside Institute blog for the last six months - January 2017 through June 2017. Take a minute to scroll through the list below and either catch up on things you may have missed or revisit things that were especially helpful.
Summer is almost upon us!
If you've got some extra time over the next couple of months - maybe you're traveling a bit, or your summer schedule allows you more time to read for other reasons, or you just want some book recommendations as you maintain a habit of reading - here are a few books you may want to consider. These are books that I've either read recently myself, or am hoping to dig into in the next couple of months.
I encourage you to explore these books a bit (each is looked to their Amazon page where you can learn more) and jump in - the water's fine!
Every now and then I try to take some time and reflect on why the intentional teaching ministry of the church remains important. Whatever shape it takes, why is equipping and a teaching in the church, for the church, and by the church valuable?
At least one reason is the growth of secularism, pluralism, and "indifferentism" in America. Very simply stated, secularism is a worldview that pushes God to the margins. It's fine to believe in God on your own, the secularist may say, just don't bring any religious ideas or reasoning into the public square. Pluralism flows out of the reality that we are surrounded by people who believe very different things than than us - and it often goes a step further to say the no one religion can be exclusively true. "Indifferentism" (this is my term, I think) tries to explain the religious apathy of the "nones" and "dones" - those who adhere to no single religious expression (the "nones") or those who have "tried out" some religion and - for whatever reason - didn't stick with it.
So what does all this have to do with catechesis - an intentional and systematic approach to teaching in the local church? Here's what:
As the Brookside Institute works to build and reinforce foundations of the Christain faith, one of the things we keep coming back to is theological formation. And that means I'm always on the lookout for places that champion the value of robut theology.
I found support for strong theology in a place I didn't expect earlier this week: in an article by David Millard Haskill titled "Liberal Churches are Dying. But Conservative Churches are Thriving." The whole article is worth reading - I encourage you to check it out. But I wanted to simple include a few key quotes from the article here:
Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research" (bold emphasis added).
Or a little further down:
Outside our research, when growing churches have been identified by other studies — nationally and internationally — they have been almost exclusively conservative in doctrine. As we explain in our academic work, because of methodological limitations, these other studies did not link growth to theology. But our work suggests this is a fruitful avenue of research to pursue" (bold emphasis added).
The bottom line? This research supports the case that theology matters. And strong theology actually bears fruit and leads to health (rather than the opposite). Let's keep at it!
You May Also be Interested In...
Christmas is officially five days away (!!), and that means many of us are considering last minute gift ideas for others in our lives. If you're looking for ideas for the "reader" you know, here are six accessible suggestions based on books I've read and recommend, or books that are very much on my radar screen to read soon.
Each of these suggestions has been recently published (in the last 2-3 years) and will be linked to an Amazon page where you can learn more. You'll see they're listed under 6 categories that I try and stay loosely tethered to:
What other books (in any of these categories listed above) would you suggest people consider? List 'em here!
Christmas is lots of things. It's devotional - it should stir our hearts, prompting our reflection and worship. It's action-oriented - it should lead us to give of ourselves and serve others.
And along with everything else it is, Christmas is theology. Big theological truths seep out of Christmas like sap comes out of the Christmas trees when they're cut down. In very short order, here are three theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas.
Christmas tells us a lot about God.
God isn't some distant deity or a "capriciously malevolent bully" as some have claimed. In Christmas, we discover that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..." (John 3:16). In Christmas, we see in the biggest way possible that God is a giver. And not only that God is a giver - but that God is a sacrificial, joyful, generous, over-the-top Giver.
Christmas defines the Incarnation.
The incarnation basically means that God became flesh. "Incarnation" helps us understand that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man - both at the same time. (If you want to dig in deeper into the incarnation, read Stephen J. Wellum's recent God the Incarnate Son: The Doctrine of Christ or do some study on the Chalcedonian definition of Christ - a 5th century statement working to theologically articulate Christian orthodoxy around the two natures of Christ in His one person.
Christmas underlines our need for Jesus
When Jesus came into the world, he came into a world that NEEDED to be saved. In John 1 we get this Gospel writer's pespective on Christmas, and it underlines our need for Jesus.
In describing Jesus as light, John 1:5 tells us that Jesus came to shine in the darkness (i.e., evil). John 1:10-11 tells us that Jesus came into a world that was so darkened in its perception, twisted in its desires, and rebellious toward God that though Jesus made the world, "the world didn't recognize him." Instead, v. 11 tells us the world rejected Him. All of these things underline the truth thats sin is THE PROBLEM in our world and our hearts.
Sin is WHY we need Jesus. And so Jesus comes - is born of the Virgin Mary, lives a sinless life, dies on the cross for our sins and is raised to life again on the third day - so that "all who believe in His name can become children of God" (cf. John 1:12).
Let's not forget these (and other!) theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas. Let's allow these truths to fill our minds, stir our devotion, and motivate our own action in line with the good news that Jesus has come, and that He's "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
The weeks leading up to the coming of Christ are known as "Advent" in the Christian church - a period of waiting, anticipation, and reflection.
During this Advent Season, I've been reading through Tim Keller's Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ as one way to foster personal relection on Jesus' coming to earth as a baby. (I'm not all the way through it yet, but I know enough to definitely recommend the book.)
In chapter three ("The Fathers of Jesus"), Keller reminds us what the incarnation (Christ coming to earth as a baby) is all about:
The incarnation did not happen merely to let us know that exists. It happened to bring him near, so that he can be with us and we with him" (p. 55).
And then Keller goes on to write about what it means to be with Jesus, and how can cultivate that "with-ness." The questions he is asking are these: "What does it mean to have Jesus in my life? What does it mean to be with Jesus?"
As he develops his responses, one thing Keller mentions - that we can too easily overlook - is that being with Jesus takes courage. Everything he has to say in this section is worthwhile (again, read the whole book), but let me quote from one of Keller's subpoints, that being with Jesus requires the courages to give up your right to self determination.
As you read through the extended quote I've included below, allow this to shape the way you view Advent, and the way you approach the coming of Jesus (and what that means for your life today).
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.