Book Highlights & Reviews

Desiring the Kingdom (Book Highlights)

Desiring the Kingdom (Book Highlights)

“What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?  That is actually the wager of this book:  It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as formative rather than just an informative project.” 

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

by James K. A. Smith


Introduction

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith sets forth a vision of Christian formation that seeks to challenge preconceived notions of what education should be and the assumptions that undergird those conceptions.  He envisions his work being used by pastors, campus ministers, worship leaders, and others who are in charge of forming worship in local congregations.

Two assumptions shape the book and guide the discussion.  First, in part one, Smith contests one common understanding of human beings (anthropology) which sees them primarily as “knowing” individuals.  Instead Smith asks, “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?  That is actually the wager of this book:  It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as formative rather than just an informative project.” (17-18).  Second, in part two, Smith challenges the idea that education or any other practice can be religiously “neutral,” and argues for an expansive understanding of “liturgy” as love shaping habits:  “The core claim of this book is that liturgies – whether “sacred” or “secular” – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world.  In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love” (25).

Part One

Chapter One outlines Smith’s theological anthropology.  In contrast to both “person-as-thinker” and “person-as believer” models of the human person, he articulates what he refers to as a “more robustly Augustinian anthropology” which “sees humans as most fundamentally oriented by love” (46).  Because humans are most properly defined by these loves and their pursuit, Christian education is best conceived as a set of practices that form and shape what a person desires.  Smith identifies several elements in the “person-as-lover” model:  “Human persons are intentional creatures whose fundamental way of ‘intending’ the world is love or desire. This love or desire—which is unconscious or noncognitive—is always aimed as some vision of the good life, some particular articulation of the kingdom. What primes us to be so oriented—and act accordingly—is a set of habits or dispositions that are formed in us through affective, bodily means, especially bodily practices, routines, or rituals that grab hold of our hearts through our imagination, which is closely lined to our bodily senses” (62-63).  This “person-as lover” model suggests an alternative set of assumptions that should shape Christian education and offers what Smith calls a “social imaginary view.”  Rather than focusing merely on the content of education and ignoring the practices by which this content is communicated (and the everyday activities with which it competes), Smith states that on the social imaginary view, the imagination takes place over the intellect. By implication this means first that humans are typically religious well before they develop a theology, and second that formative practices cannot be reduced into mere ideas, belief, or doctrines.  Practices, habits, and routines of worship and life shape who we are, what we love, and how we believe.  Finally, he emphasizes that this process is not merely one that people experience as individuals, but through relationships and institutions.

Therefore, and with this understanding of the human person in mind, in Chapter Two Smith argues that the church should address desires in order to channel them into a desire for God.  In order to describe how the church should do this he makes a distinction between “thick” (meaningful) and “thin” (mundane) practices.  Although this distinction may at times be somewhat blurry its purpose is to emphasize that “no habit or practice is neutral” (83).  Furthermore, it is important to remember that some practices that may superficially seem “thin” are in reality “thick.”  Research has shown that the way our “dispositions toward goals” become “habituated” in us is often automatic and unintentional, and therefore proper Christian education must appreciate that many of our loves are acquired unintentionally through everyday practices which we take for granted (85).  Therefore, Smith invokes the concept of “liturgy” in an innovative way.  He writes, “I want to ramp this up just one more notch and suggest that our thickest practices constitute and function as liturgies” (85). While we typically think of liturgies in terms of religious practice, Smith says that “some so-called secular rituals actually constitute liturgies” (86).  Smith defines liturgies as “species of practice” or “rituals of ultimate concern” which are “formative for identity,” “inculcate particular visions of the good life,” and “do so in a way that means to trump other ritual formations” (86).  The reason Smith thinks using the term liturgy is important is because it raises the stakes of what is taking place in our cultural practices and rituals.

In Chapter Three, Smith models what he refers to as a “cultural exegesis” of our secular rituals and practices.  This cultural exegesis involves asking “What vision of human flourishing is implicit in this or that practice? What does the good life look like as embedded in cultural rituals? What sort of person will I become after being immersed in this or that cultural liturgy?” (89).  Therefore, cultural exegesis, much like biblical apocalyptic literature, is a mode of “unmasking” or “unveiling the realities around us for what they really are” (92).  Smith’s hope is that “the shift of focus from ideas to practices, from beliefs to liturgy, will function as a methodological jolt that gets us into a position to see cultural practices and institutions in ways we’ve never seen them before” (92-93).  By way of example, he offers three liturgical analyses of cultural institutions by examining the mall, the stadium, and the modern university demonstrating that “implicit in their liturgies are visions of the kingdom—visions of human flourishing—that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom” (121). However, even these secular liturgies point to the fact that we are liturgical animals.  “Secular liturgies don’t create our desire; they point it, aim it, direct it to certain ends” (122).  Here Smith appeals to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, which he suggests—differing from the popular interpretation—speaks of our proclivity towards worship (as opposed to theistic belief/knowledge).

Part Two

Whereas Part One formed the theoretical groundwork for Smith’s argument, Part Two consists of his constructive task.  Chapter Four introduces this constructive account of Christian worship and formation by arguing for the primacy of sacramental worship over and against the communication of a particular worldview.  Smith claims that the anthropology of Part One demands not a “top-down, ideas first picture that prioritizes beliefs and doctrines (‘worldview’) but rather a bottom-up, practices-first model that prioritizes worship as a practice of desire” (136).  Eschewing what he asserts to be “dualistic” or “Gnostic” worship, he argues for a sacramental understanding of the world that resists the temptation to separate nature from grace (141).  Smith writes that “Aspects of the material world like bread and water are not “made” to be sacramental by some kind of magical divine fiat that transforms their created nature; rather, when they are taken up as sacraments in the context of worship, their ‘natural sacramentality’ is simply intensified and completed. So, too, worship is not some odd, extravagant, extra-human thing we do as an add-on to our earthly, physical, material nature; rather worship is the epiphany of the world” (143).  This sacramental leveling entails the twin temptations to marginalize the church or to minimize the significance of the liturgy of Christian worship, and both temptations ought to be resisted (148-9).  Finally, he points out that all Christian worship is “liturgical in the sense that it is governed by norms, draws on a tradition, includes bodily rituals or routines, and involves formative practices” (152).  The question is not whether we have a liturgy, but what the liturgy which we necessarily have says about who we are being shaped to be.

Chapter Five in Smith’s own words consists of the “heart of the book,” (131) and presents the best and most easily accessible summary of his constructive project. In this chapter, Smith exegetes what he understands to be the standard practices of the Christian liturgy:  The Christian Calendar, The Call to Worship, God’s Greeting and Mutual Greeting, Singing, The Reading of the Law, The Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon, Baptism, The Creed, Prayer, The Scripture and Sermon, Eucharist, Offering, and Sending as Witnesses.  In each case his purpose is to articulate how the presence or absence of the given aspect of the liturgy and the manner in which it is carried out will affect those who participate.  Finally, Smith concludes the chapter by considering that Christian worship entails a relatively brief portion of the week.  However, this reality can be moderated by the power of carefully attended Christian worship practices coupled with sensitivity to (and frequently avoidance of) the power of secular liturgies.  Additionally the power of corporate worship practices should be supplemented with habits of daily devotion that also take place in the context of families and other relationships along the lines of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.

Finally, in Chapter 6 Smith outlines the implications of his project for the Christian University.  Returning to the his opening question, “What is education for?”, Smith now asks “What is a Christian college for?”  Whereas Christian universities are most commonly thought to provide a Christian perspective on the world to their students, according to Smith merely thinking “from a Christian perspective” often does little to transform practice.  So then what is the goal of Christian education? “Its goal, I’m suggesting, is the same goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation—but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s cruciform cultural labor…In short, the task of Christian education needs to be reconnected to the thick practices of the church” (220).  Instead of speaking of “Christian colleges” Smith wishes that we would speak of “ecclesial colleges” and “ecclesial universities.”  In this way he wishes to express the notion that the university should be nourished by the heart of the church.  He sees this happening in at least three practical “monastic” ways.  First, he desires to reconnect the church with the chapel (as a mediating institution) and the classroom, thus making worship more directly connected with education.  Second, he wishes to reconnect the classroom with the dorm room and the neighborhood (as well as relationships between students and faculty outside of the classroom), hence avoiding the disconnect from “real life” relationships often experienced by college students.  Third he desires to reconnect the body and the mind, which would involve a pedagogy that is “liturgically informed,” thus enabling Christian education to be primarily concerned with formation and not just information.

Summary

By way of Summary, Smith makes three primary claims in this book:  first, we are liturgical animals formed by what we desire; second, some practices are thicker than others, carrying more formative weight; and third, Christianity is not fundamentally a worldview but rather what we believe and think grows out of what we do.

Desiring the Kingdom is not so much about what Christians think—that is, a book about “worldview”—but rather on what Christians love and then do, which articulates, “the shape of a Christian ‘social imaginary’ as it is embedded in the practices of Christian worship” 911). Smith’s goal is “to push down through worldview to worship as the matrix from which a Christian worldview is born—and to consider what that means for the task of Christian education and the shape of Christian worship” (11).

Learning must not be limited to practices that view humans as merely thinking things. Christian education needs to be primarily concerned with formation, not just information, which Smith summarizes clearly, “Any Christian scholarship worth the name must emerge from the matrix of worship. In short, Christian scholarship must be ecclesial scholarship” (230).

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp

New Growth Press, 2006


The central theme of How People Change is that much of the time, Christians live with a “gospel gap.” We believe the gospel intellectually, but we don’t live out its implications practically. This gospel gap “subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God” as it “undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others” (p. 2).

The Gospel Gap

The gospel gap produces three kinds of blindness: “blindness of identity,” when we underestimate the power of indwelling sin and misunderstand our identity in Christ Jesus; “blindness of God’s provision,” when we do not understand that God has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3); and “blindness to God’s process,” when we forget that the Christian life is one of “constant work, constant growth, and constant confession and repentance” (p. 6).

Many external things can wrongly fill the gap of the gospel for us:

  • Formalism reduces the gospel to church attendance and spiritual disciplines.
  • Legalism adds to the gospel law-keeping and rule-keeping.
  • Mysticism reduces the gospel to personal experience.
  • Activism reduces the gospel to doing social justice.
  • Biblicism reduces the gospel to loving theology more than Jesus.
  • Psychology-ism reduces the gospel to therapy.
  • Socialism reduces the gospel to being accepted by a particular Christian community.

By contrast, the authors offer five gospel perspectives that fill the gospel gap:

  1. Awareness of “the extent and gravity of our sin” because we cannot be properly cured without a correct diagnosis.
  2. A focus on “the centrality of the heart” which emphasizes that sin corrupts not only our behaviors but our motivations.
  3. Attention to “the present benefits of Christ” because the gospel is the root not only of our justification but also our sanctification.
  4. A reminder of “God’s call to growth and change” because Christian growth requires self-conscious attention.
  5. A call to “a lifestyle of repentance and faith” because the grace of God is not merely the experience of forgiveness but also the enabling power of change.

According to Tripp and Lane, there are five common “deceitful” teachings that Christians sometime believe which cause us to lose gospel perspective and falsely attribute the root of our problems to our 1) circumstances, 2) behavior, 3) negative thinking, 4) low self-concept, or 5) the idea that we “just need to trust Jesus more.” Understanding the gospel helps us see that none of these can be the ultimate root of our sin or lack of Christian growth.

How God Changes Us

Christian “change is a community product” (p. 73). We can’t change ourselves or fix our problems alone. God intends that we change with others and that others change with us. Community has been ordained by God because God himself lives in community. Although relationships are always messy, personal change happens in community because God gives a diversity of gifts to individuals in the community. No one has the same gift, and everyone needs a diversity of gifts to grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not primarily a set of ways to live but a “big picture book.” The big picture of the Bible is the story of redemption. It is panoramic as it “introduces us to God, defines our identity, lays out the meaning and purpose of life, and shows us where to find help for the one disease that infects us all—sin” (p. 92). This picture tells us what life in a fallen world is like, who we are as fallen human beings, who Jesus is as Savior and Lord of all things, and how he progressively transforms us by grace.

You can respond to the heat of life with fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5–10 provides four images which create a model for appropriating the big picture of the Bible for our own lives:

  1. Heat represents “life in a fallen world,” and in the authors’ model it stands for a person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations (pp. 95–96). It asks the question: “What is your situation?” (p. 105) An honest assessment of your experience is important to personal change.
  2. Thorns represent “the ungodly person who turns away from God” and in their model it stands for a person’s “ungodly response to the situation. [This] includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result” (pp. 95–96) It asks the questions: “How do you react? What do you want and believe?” (p. 106) Life doesn’t just happen to you. You react to it, and you are not forced to react the way you do. Your heart determines your reactions.
  3. The Cross is not explicitly found in the text but shows God as the Redeemer who “comforts, cleanses, and empowers those who trust him.” In the authors’ model it stands for “the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love. Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change” (p. 96). It asks the question: “Who is God and what does he say and do in Christ?” (p. 106) God is with you now and there is grace to change. Jesus is remaking and renewing you.
  4. Fruit in the text represents “the godly person who trusts the Lord,” and in their model it stands for the person’s “new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart [including] behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow” (p. 96). It asks the question: “How is God calling me to seek him in repentance and faith?” (p. 107) Because of God’s grace in your life, you can change. You can respond to the heat of life without thorns but with fruit.

The Ten Commandments illustrate that our sinful actions towards others (commandments 6–10) are the result of our tendency to worship something other than God (commandments 1–4). A grace-centered life of pursuing change is being honest about our sin, and being overwhelmed by God’s great love for us and promise to redeem us fully from sin.

Finally, Lane and Tripp offer five realities to remember as God changes our hearts:

  1. You are already a fruit tree because of what Christ has done for you.
  2. The Christian life is about living by faith in Christ, with the possibilities and privileges he brings.
  3. Because Christ has made you a new creation, good things are possible even in difficulty.
  4. Because you are united with Christ and his Spirit lives in you, trials and temptations are opportunities to experience the power of God at work.

God calls you to a new identity in Christ (“This is who I am”) and therefore a new way of living (“This is what I can be”) (pp. 220–221).

 

 

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The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

by G. K. Beale

Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004.


 

In The Temple and the Church’s Mission, biblical theologian Gregory Beale answers two major questions. First, why does “a new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21:1 appear as a garden-like temple (Rev. 21:2–3, Rev. 10–22:3)? Second, how does this vision relate “to Christians and their role in fulfilling the mission of the church” (23–25)?

Beale’s thesis is “that the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s tabernacling presence, formerly limited to the holy of holies, was to be extended throughout the whole earth” (26).

The Symbolism of a Temple

In the first portion of the book, Beale examines the cosmic symbolism found in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern temples. He argues that “the Garden of Eden was the first archetypal temple, and that it was the model for all subsequent temples . . . the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolical microcosms of the whole creation. As microcosmic symbolic structures they were designed to point to a worldwide eschatological temple that perfectly reflects God’s glory. It is this universally expanded eschatological temple that is pictured in Revelation’s last vision” (26).

As Beale shows, “Ezekiel 28 explicitly calls Eden the first sanctuary, which substantiates that Eden is described as a temple because it is the first temple, albeit a ‘garden-temple.’ Early Judaism confirms this identification. Indeed, it is probable that even the similar ancient Near Eastern temples can trace their roots back to the original primeval garden” (79–80).

The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God.

Adam, the kingly gardener, priest, and watchman over Eden, was to subdue the earth as God’s image-bearer (Gen. 1:26–28). Adam and Eve “were to reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth” (81). Israel is also depicted as “corporate Adam,” as Beal calls it. “The nation’s task was to do what Adam had first been commissioned to do. Israel failed even as had Adam. And like Adam, Israel was also cast out of their ‘garden land’ into exile” (119–121).

Both Adam and Israel were given the role of expanding God’s temple on the earth: “Eden and the temple signified a divine mandate to enlarge the boundaries of the temple until they formed the borders around the whole earth. Sometimes the thought may be that the entire land of Israel, conceived as a large Garden of Eden, was to be expanded” (123). As Habakkuk writes, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Christ and His Church: The Ultimate Temple

The role given to Adam and Israel—to expand God’s temple into all the earth—is fulfilled in the ultimate Israelite, Jesus Christ, and his church: “The New Testament pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah, and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world. Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23 picture Christ as fulfilling this commission to be a ‘light’ to the end of the earth (an allusion to the Servant Israel’s commission in Isa. 49:6)” (169). Jesus’ Great Commission promise to go with his disciples to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28) gives further support to this conclusion.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with people from a multitude of languages being drawn in, is a reversal of Babel. Moreover, there are hints of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the new temple at Pentecost: “The coming of the Spirit indicates a shift in redemptive history whereby forgiveness of sins derives from Jesus instead of Israel’s temple priests” (204).

We will not bear fruit unless we stay out of the shadows.

From the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, we see that the church is the temple of God. “Just as God’s glory uniquely dwelt in Israel’s old temple, so the glorious attributes of God are to be manifested in the Corinthians both individually and corporately, since they are the new temple. Similarly, the consummated temple in the new creation will perfectly reflect ‘the glory of God (Rev. 21:11), and ‘nothing unclean . . . shall ever come into it’ (Rev. 21:27)” (252). The temple of God has received its fulfillment not in a literal structure but instead in the church.

In Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as the veil of the heavenly end-time tabernacle as well as the end-time tabernacle itself. Moreover, “Mount Zion” and the “heavenly Jerusalem” are pictured as equivalent to the end-time temple. Significant to this is the fact that “Hebrews 12:22–28 says that believers have begun to participate in an unshakeable mountain, temple, and kingdom, which are different images for the same one reality of God’s glorious kingship in a new creation” (306).

In Revelation, the Eden-like imagery describing the city-temple (Rev. 22:1–3) shows that the building of the temple that began in Genesis 2 but was abandoned will be commenced again and completed in Christ and his people, and will encompass the whole new creation. In addition, the Revelation imagery of lampstands points to the church’s temple-expanding mission: “The church symbolized as a ‘lampstand’ in Revelation 11 represents God’s temple-presence that is given power by ‘the seven lamps’ . . . a power primarily to witness as a light uncompromisingly to the world so that the gates of hell (Rev. 2:9–11, 13) would not prevail against the building of God’s temple. . . . The lampstands represent the church as the true temple and the totality of the people of God witnessing between the period of Christ’s resurrection and his final coming” (327).

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

Beale’s conclusion is that all Christians are now spiritual priests serving God in his temple, of which we are part. As priests we are called to fulfill the role originally given to Adam, “to keep the order and peace of the spiritual sanctuary by learning and teaching God’s word, by praying always, and by being vigilant in keeping out unclean moral and spiritual things,” and to continually offer our own bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), following the example of Jesus” (398–399). Moreover, “Believers are priests in that they serve as mediators between God and the unbelieving world. When unbelievers accept the church’s mediating witness, they not only come into God’s presence, but they begin to participate themselves as mediating priests who witness” (400).

In conclusion, “We as the church will not bear fruit and grow and extend across the earth in the way God intends unless we stay out of the shadows of the world and remain in the light of God’s presence—in his word and prayer and in fellowship with other believers in the church, the temple of God. The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God: first to our families, then to others in the church, then to our neighborhood, then to our city, then the country, and ultimately the whole earth” (401).

 

 

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Finally Alive (Book Highlights)

Finally Alive (Book Highlights)

Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

–John 3:7–8

Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again

by John Piper


In his book Finally Alive, John Piper aims to recover a phrase that has lost some of its power—“born again.” These days, being “born again” is often equated with attending church, but the term itself has entered popular culture and often refers to any mystical experience or new lease on life. Piper reminds his readers that being born again is not merely flowery language, but describes the crucial moment of salvation. He sets out to describe the new birth by answering a series of questions:

  • What is the new birth?
  • Why must we be born again?
  • How does the new birth come about?
  • What are the effects of the new birth?
  • How can we help others be born again?

What is the new birth?

Piper begins by exploring the story of Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3, the most famous instance of the born again language in Scripture. Using this conversation as a template for new birth, Piper answers his first question—What is the new birth? As Piper describes it, the new birth is an act of the Holy Spirit, not of an individual person. When we say that a person has been born again, we mean that the Holy Spirit has supernaturally intervened in their lives to give them new life.

The new life that the Spirit gives to believers is not just a feeling or a renewed vigor to live rightly—the life which the Spirit gives is Jesus Christ himself. What Jesus offered Nicodemus and what we receive when we are born again is the new life of Christ. This means that we do not just experience an improvement on our previously broken selves; we become an entirely new person, still recognizable, yet completely changed. As Piper writes, this new self is “a nature that is really you, and is forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, and is being formed by the indwelling Spirit of God” (28).

Why must we be born again?

Why must the cure for our situation be as radical as a new birth? Piper asks, “Do we really need to be changed? Can’t we just be forgiven?” (48). To answer this, he turns to a litany of biblical passages to highlight the hopeless situation of those without the new life of Christ. From Ephesians, he notes that apart from the new birth, we are dead in trespasses, are by nature children of wrath, and are slaves to Satan. From Romans, he points out that apart from the new birth, we are slaves to sin, unable to submit to God. From the gospel of John, he shows that apart from the new birth, we are unable to come to Christ because we love darkness and hate the light. The overwhelming sensation is that human life outside of the new birth is really no life at all. A new birth is absolutely necessary.

How does the new birth come about?

As the imagery of birth shows, there is a certain passive element to being born again. It is the primary work of the Holy Spirit, and a person has as much control over being born as a physical child does in childbirth. Yet Piper balances the work of the Spirit with the simultaneous action that occurs in the life of the individual—faith in Christ. The new birth comes about because of the work of the Spirit, but from our perspective, we see evidence of the new birth when a person places their faith in Christ. As Piper explains it, “Our first experience of this [new birth] is the faith in Jesus that this life brings. There is no separation of time here. When we are born again, we believe. And when we believe, we know we have been born again. When there is fire, there is heat. When there is new birth, there is faith” (78). Piper acknowledges that this balance reflects a mystery, but that this accurately reflects the biblical depiction of the new birth.

The new birth that God creates in believers is part of the broader work of God in renewing and restoring all of his fallen creation. The new life of Christ that springs up in believers is like a down-payment, a promise of the future regeneration of both our bodies and this physical world. The new birth is “the first installment of what’s coming.” New birth gives us the confidence that “God’s final purpose is not spiritually renewed souls inhabiting decrepit bodies in a disease and disaster-ravaged world. His purpose is a renewed world with renewed bodies and renewed souls that take all our renewed senses and make them a means of enjoying and praising God” (89).

All of this regeneration occurs as a result of the character of God, not because of any worthiness in creation or in us. The result of the new birth is our faith in Christ, not the other way around. “In other words,” he writes, “‘hearing with faith’ is what happens when we are ‘born again through the living and abiding word of God.’ The gospel—the news about Jesus Christ—is preached, we hear it, and through it we are born again. Faith is brought into being” (114).

What are the effects of the new birth?

Piper draws eleven principles from the book of 1 John to illustrate how the life of believers differs from the life of non-believers. Most importantly, those who are born of God believe in Jesus and love other people. Faith in Christ stands above our love for others, since our love may waver, but believers can always trust in the unchanging Christ. “Even if you have failed to love as you ought,” he writes, “he has never failed to love as he ought. And this perfect one stands before God and advocates for you” (140). As believers grow in the new birth, we want to imitate the love of God more and more in our daily lives. We will not achieve perfection in this life, and we need to constantly turn to Christ for forgiveness, but the new birth has definite and distinct results.

How can we help others be born again?

The final portion of the book is focused outward: How can we help others be born again? “The biblical answer is not obscure, and it’s not complicated. The answer is: Tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service” (166). In all of his emphasis on the work of God in the new birth, Piper ends with a stirring call to personal evangelism. He encourages his readers to treasure the Word of God until they cannot help but share that truth with others. A lost world desperately needs the truth that can make them finally alive.

 

 

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Culture Making (Book Highlights)

Culture Making (Book Highlights)

“Culture—making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility—is what human beings do and were meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”  –Andy Crouch

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2008.


Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making has three main purposes: First, he offers Christians a new vocabulary to talk about “culture.” Second, he provides a new look at the “old story”—the Christian gospel. Third, he presents a new way of thinking about the calling of Christians in the world.

What is culture?

In Part 1: Culture, Crouch begins by defining culture, a term often used but rarely understood. For Crouch, culture has two aspects. On one hand, “Culture is what we make of the world” (23). On the other, “it is in fact part of the world that every human being has to make something of” (25). Culture defines the boundaries between what is possible and what is impossible, between what is real and what is not. It is the construct within which we live, and is as inescapable as the air we breathe.

While culture forms the realm of possibilities for each of us, this does not mean that culture is a monolithic and unchanging entity. Culture comes in a variety of scales, ranging in size from the family to whole civilizations. As these families or civilizations interact, they inevitably change their respective cultures. Most of these changes are imperceptible at the time, but Crouch notes that the most enduring cultural changes are those that take place over a long period of time.

Only when creating cultural products in the public spheres of art, science, education, music, and politics can Christians hope to truly transform prevailing cultural models.

Christians have long assumed one of four postures towards culture—either condemning it, critiquing it, copying it, or consuming it wholesale. While each of these stances can be appropriate towards certain cultural goods, none ought to become the default posture of a Christian in society. Instead, Crouch commends cultivation: “The only way to change culture,” he says, “is to create more of it” (67). Only when creating cultural products in the public spheres of art, science, education, music, and politics can Christians hope to truly transform prevailing cultural models.

The gospel and culture

In Part 2: Gospel, Crouch turns to the Bible to inform his discussion of culture. God, as Creator, made culture, which is seen in his decision to place Adam in a garden, itself a cultural artifact. Culture, then, was no accident, but an intentional feature of God’s creation. And in commanding Adam to work the Garden of Eden, God invited him—as he invites us—to share in the task of culture-making.

Even though culture was initially part of God’s good creation, it soured with the Fall. But God continued to use culture even in his plan of redemption, choosing the people of Israel to carry his message to the world, eventually orchestrating the coming of his Son, Jesus.

Jesus’ existence was thoroughly cultural. He came at a definite time, in a definite geographical area, and lived a culturally Jewish life. Yet within this culture, Jesus offered a new cultural pattern, one of obedience to God rather than disobedience. Both Adam and Israel had failed in this: “The first Adam took his God-given freedom to make something of the world and chose a course that distorted the world; the second Adam laid aside both his human and divine creative powers” (142).

Culture will not disappear, but rather will find its rightful place within God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ new cultural pattern most often manifested itself in his teaching on the Kingdom of God: “In the kingdom of God a new kind of life and a new kind of culture become possible—not by abandoning the old but by transforming it” (146). Jesus, by willingly suffering on the cross, offered a creative cultural replacement that had not been seen before.

The gospel story ends with an unveiling of God’s final restorative act as depicted in Revelation. As Crouch reads it, not merely humanity but culture itself will be fully and finally restored in the new heavens and new earth. Culture will not disappear, but rather will find its rightful place within God’s kingdom. Our activity in heaven will be full of redeemed and God-honoring culture.

Christian life in culture

Crouch ends with Part 3: Calling, examining how Christians ought to live in light of the biblical picture of culture. He believes that while we can change the immediate culture around us, it is presumptuous and impossible to “change the world,” as Christians are often urged to do. The larger the scale of a certain culture, the less likely it is that one person can truly impact it. However, this is cause not for defeatism, but humility. While we cannot change the world, we can make real changes in the small culture around us: “Every cultural good, whether a new word, law, recipe, song or gadget, begins with a small group of people” (239).

The distinction between secular and sacred will dissolve as Christians seek to live lives of love in all spheres of culture.

The challenge for Christians, then, is to find their calling in the midst of their culture. To do this, Crouch recommends looking to where God is at work in redeeming culture and to join him there. “God is at work precisely in these places where the impossible seems absolute. Our calling is to join him in what he is already doing—to make visible what, in exodus and resurrection, he has already done” (216). God invites us to challenge the reigning power structures by living according to a biblical culture, one in which power is not wielded for personal gain, but is used in the service of others and for the glory of God.

Once we recognize that God is the one who is truly at work in any area of culture, our efforts to join him there will be taken with gratitude and humility. They will also be taken with a measure of freedom, since Crouch believes that “our most important cultural contribution will very likely come from doing whatever keeps us precisely in the center of delight and surprise” (252). The distinction between secular and sacred will dissolve as Christians seek to live lives of love in all spheres of culture. Christians will ask themselves where they find God multiplying their efforts, where the world is in great pain, and where they feel God quickening their heart to joy. And they will gladly take up their calling, knowing that while they cannot “change the world,” they can join God as he transforms the culture around them.

 


 

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Made To Stick (Book Highlights)

Made To Stick (Book Highlights)

“Business managers seem to believe that, once they’ve clicked through a PowerPoint presentation showcasing their conclusions, they’ve successfully communicated their ideas. What they’ve done is share data. . . . but they haven’t created ideas that are useful and lasting. Nothing stuck” (245–246). 

Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

by Chip and Dan Heath


What is it that makes some ideas persist, while others simply fade away? Why are certain urban legends memorable upon one hearing, while important information can be studied for hours while still not finding a place in a person’s mind? In short, what makes an idea stick in a person’s head?

The Curse of Knowledge

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath conducted their research in order to answer these questions, and the result was Made to Stick. Heath and Heath identify the persistent enemy of “sticky” ideas as the “Curse of Knowledge.” That is, those who know something well have a hard time remembering what it is like not to know it and can often have great difficulty in communicating.

While they warn their readers that creating sticky ideas is not a foolproof method, the Heath brothers do identify six features common to sticky ideas, principles that can help overcome the Curse of Knowledge. They maintain that following these six principles can help anyone transform their idea into a sticky one: “That’s the great thing about the world of ideas—any of us, with the right insight and the right message, can make an idea stick” (252). The six principles of sticky ideas spell out the acronym SUCCESs: Sticky ideas are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and packaged as Stories.

Simple

First, sticky ideas are simple. This does not imply, of course, that complex ideas can never become sticky. It rather recognizes that any idea, regardless of its complexity, must be stripped down to its core if it is to be memorable. This is why good news writers begin their articles with a “lead,” the single most gripping aspect of the story. No matter how complicated the article or situation is, it must be reduced to a single core message. As Heath and Heath put it, “If you say three things, you don’t say anything” (33). The simple idea, however, must also be profound. Proverbs are a prime example of sticky ideas, simple in their structure, but profound in their meaning.

Unexpected

Second, sticky ideas are unexpected. People quickly recognize patterns and are accustomed to filing new ideas into their existing mental framework, so for a new idea to stick, it must surprise them. It must create a void in their knowledge that they desire to be filled, a problem that they feel must be solved. Otherwise, the idea will be forgotten almost as soon as it is heard. Here the Curse of Knowledge becomes particularly meddlesome, since in the mind of the communicator, the idea is so obvious as to be common sense. “Common sense,” however, “is the enemy of sticky ideas” (72). Instead, communicators should emphasize what is counterintuitive about their idea to heighten feelings of surprise.

Concrete

Third, sticky ideas are concrete. As the Heath brothers write, “Abstraction is the luxury of the expert. If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language” (104). Concrete examples take advantage of everyday experiences as hooks on which to hang abstract ideas. People may have a hard time understanding what “prejudice” is, but they are not likely to forget an exercise in which they are split into two groups and treated differently based on an arbitrary feature. The concrete experience makes the abstract idea familiar, and thus, more memorable.

Credible

Fourth, sticky ideas are credible. Two types of credibility can aid a person in presenting their ideas. One is external: Cite an authority on a matter, or have a celebrity speak in favor of a position. Certain people might be perceived as credible “authorities” if they seem to be representative of the audience in question, as when actors portraying mothers star in laundry advertisements. The other type of credibility is internal, in which the idea is shown to be credible on its own merits. Several tools can aid in this credibility, including the Sinatra test. As Frank Sinatra sang of New York, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” The same can be applied to an idea—if it can work in one instance, that provides credibility that the same idea can make it anywhere.

Emotional

Fifth, sticky ideas are emotional. Rational belief alone is not enough to prompt people to act; they must also care. Sticky ideas appeal to the emotion of the audience, whether that emotion is one of pity, envy, pride, love, or even fear. One of the most common examples of using emotion to create a sticky idea is in personalizing an idea. As Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will” (165). Thus an appeal for money to help starving African children finds less success than an appeal which includes the story of a 7-year-old African girl, complete with a picture of her and her family history. While such appeals are useful and necessary to make an idea stick, the brothers Heath warn that people are suspicious of emotional manipulation and quick to resist it. Emotion should not be overplayed.

Stories

Sixth, sticky ideas are packaged as stories. Stories can unite all of the previous five principles of sticky ideas comfortably and easily, as they provide both simulation and inspiration. In hearing a story, listeners simulate the events and place themselves in the narrative. Stories create in the listener’s mind a credible, concrete situation, disarming plausible objections that would arise if the same material were presented in argument form. At the same time, stories are easy to remember because they are simple, and they create an environment for unexpected twists to occur easily. In addition to simulation, stories create inspiration, drawing in the emotions of the listener. This is why urban legends—like the one about infamous kidney thieves leaving people in a bathtub full of ice—can thrive with literally no evidence to support them at all.

 


 

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The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

“It’s horrifying and absurd to think that there are currently more slaves on earth than at any other time in human history.”[1]

–Louie Giglio

“Outside of my home, I lived a normal life. I made good grades, played sports, and had a few close friends. But on the inside, I felt dirty and worthless. I felt like I needed to hide. Sometimes I wanted to die. If anyone had paid attention, they might have noticed how the light in my face had been extinguished.”[2]

–Sex trafficking survivor

–Mary Frances Bowley. The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.

 

Sex trafficking and sexual assault occur every day in our communities and all around us. Every year, thousands of girls are forced into sexual exploitation, most of them under the age of 18. The emotional and spiritual suffering this causes is immeasurable, but there is hope.

The White Umbrella is an important new book in the fight to raise awareness about the horrors of the sex trade. Authored by the founder of an Atlanta organization fighting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation, the book tells the true stories of victims, survivors, volunteers, and experts in order to bring the painful human reality of the sex industry into sharp relief.

The book tells stories of survivors as well as those who came alongside to help them to recovery. It describes the pain and the strength of these young women and those who held a “white umbrella” of protection and purity over them on the road to restoration—all realizing that it is the God who loves us, enters into our suffering, and stands with us that makes hope, healing, and new life possible.

In The White Umbrella, we meet Shelia, who at the age of twelve was kidnapped, gang-raped, and forced to sell her body for months before she escaped; Jessica, a girl who’d been abused so often she was afraid to speak; Angela, a woman who was abused as a girl and who became a second mom to a survivor named Shelby; and Mary Frances, who leads a model program for survivors of sex trafficking. Each has a dramatic story of both suffering and hope to tell.

The stories highlight the way that our stereotypes often blind us to the suffering occurring right around us. As the author writes, “Most abuse victims are not easy to spot, and there is no stereotype for a sexual abuse victim. She does not necessarily have to come from a single-parent household with a low socioeconomic status. Her ethnicity does not make her trauma more likely, nor does the city where she lives. Instead, she could be a work associate, a child in Sunday school, or a kid at the neighborhood bus stop. Well-meaning people often act upon misguided assumptions about who is abused, yet so many of these hurting children are slipping right under their good natured noses. The reality is that there is no profile for these silent sufferers.”[3]

The stereotypes about those exploited in the sex trade have tragically often led to misguided crackdowns that treat the victims as criminals, further alienating them and doing more harm than good. One of the stories here is a heartbreaking example, as an underage girl survives kidnapping, gang-rape, forced drugging, and imprisonment, and finally escapes to find help, only to be “arrested and put in a juvenile detention facility—all for a crime she never wanted to commit.”[4] The tragedy is increased when survivors are faced with such shame and judgment not only in society, but in the church: “Girls who are survivors of sex trafficking are branded on the streets as prostitutes, sometimes quite literally as their pimp burns his mark on their neck or ankles. But they did not choose this work, and it is doubly tragic when these young women are branded once again by stigma and shame when they walk into the wider community, and even the church.”[5]

Thankfully, The White Umbrella offers more than just stories of exploitation and suffering, but concrete advice for how to connect with and come alongside survivors on their road to healing. Drawing from her own experience, the author shows that “we have seen the most effective recovery by our girls take place in the context of relationships. We have the credibility to help girls and women only when we offer them an authentic, ongoing connection. After all, it is only through our relationship with Jesus that we are restored to our Father.”[6] Entering into someone’s deep pain as a conduit of God’s love is difficult, but ultimately rewarding: “Walking with someone through crisis recovery is scary, disappointing, exciting, and thrilling. Most of the time, you feel helpless and out of control. That’s where your dependence on God can flourish—and you can both get more out of it.”[7]

This book offers principles and guidance to anyone with a heart for these hurting young women and children and a desire to help. It is a resource for individuals or organizations seeking to learn what they can do to assist these victims in becoming whole again, and will help anyone trying to connect in a meaningful way with someone who is in crisis. Crucially, it points to Jesus as the healer and redeemer of the abused and the suffering, the one who is both the source of hope and healing and the motivation for us to wake up and work for freedom for those in captivity: “Jesus Christ came to set the captives free, and Christians have the amazing and humbling opportunity to be His hands and feet in this redemptive rescue. Christ calls us to reach out not only to those who are in physical captivity in brothels and bad situations, but also to those who are captives in their own minds to lies and distorted understanding that was formed by terrible experiences in their past.”[8]

God loves to set captives free and bring hope to the suffering, and as Christians we are invited to join him on that mission.

 

Download Chapter 1 here.

Check out The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. For more resources on sexual abuse, browse the Human Trafficking and Sexual Assault categories on the Resurg, and see Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.



[1] Mary Frances Bowley, The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 13.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Ibid., 62.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 62.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Ibid., 194.

[8] Ibid., 71.

God In A Brothel (Book Review)

God In A Brothel (Book Review)

Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue (InterVarsity, 2011), 209 pages

Human trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking, has risen into public consciousness over the past decade. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of persons by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. The United Nations estimates that worldwide more than 2.5 million people are trafficked annually and more than half are children. Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor operations to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations.

Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation in prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. While awareness of sex trafficking has increased recently, with the number of children enslaved topping 2 million, this type of sexual exploitation has been a global phenomenon for more than four decades.

Organizations like International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and others combat sex trafficking and care for and rehabilitate victims. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Daryl Hannah are activists. Taken and Trade are examples of popular movies that depict the exploitation and horror of sex trafficking. Authors like Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Carolyn James, Kathryn Farr, Patricia McCormick, Siddharth Kara, Kevin Bales, E. Benjamin Skinner, Victor Malarek, and now Daniel Walker, with his book God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking, are informing millions of readers about sex trafficking and inspiring them to respond.

 

The Global Sex Industry

Walker is an undercover investigator who infiltrated the multi-billion-dollar global sex industry for the purpose of freeing women and children from sex trafficking. Walker tells of horrific exploitation and abuse. Children and young teens are raped multiple times a day by evil men participating in the brutal and corrupt sex industry. Many parts of the book are exhilarating and joyful as hundred of sex slaves are set free thanks for Walker’s dedication and courage. There are dramatic rescues in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States. There is also a haunting darkness about those left behind to suffer or die in the brothel or at the hands of corrupt systems of law enforcement. But Walker’s story is not only about the sex slaves and the sex trade. He also reveals the intimate personal pain and loss of fighting this evil on the front lines.

Combating sex trafficking is one issue that Republican, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, atheists, British, Chinese, and just about everyone else can all rhetorically shake hands on. Sex trafficking has taken center stage in many nations as an issue of a threat to national security and societal cohesion. But with all the consensus about the evils of sex trafficking, why does this industry continue to flourish?

 

Supply and Demand

It flourishes because there is a wall of complacency, complicity, and corruption. Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. Demand is generated by thousands of men around the world. Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make women and children vulnerable to being exploited as an endless supply.

The international political economy of sex includes the supply side—the women and children raped and abused multiple times daily. But this side cannot maintain itself without the demand from the organizers of the trade. These evildoers pay from a few dollars to thousands of dollars to rape and abuse women and children. The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains misogyny, abuse, sexual assault, and exploitation of millions of women and children worldwide.

God in a Brothel addresses rescuing sex slaves (engaging the supply side) and investigating and prosecuting those who exploit the weak and vulnerable (attacking the demand side). I have waited for years for a book like this and thank God for Walker’s work. With God in a Brothel and Half the Churchfrom Carolyn James, Christians now have great resources to learn about sex trafficking from Christian perspectives that avoid both shallow theological platitudes and non-theological pleas for activism.

In response to sin and its effects, Walker clearly celebrates the furious love and radical grace of God while at the same time declaring that God hates injustice and saves his harshest words in the Bible for those who exploit the innocent and vulnerable (Isaiah 59:15-16). Walker insightfully writes: “We tend to fear evil or trivialize it” (134). Rather than calling the church to non-reflective activism, he offers biblical wisdom: “Fear of our sinful nature, fear of the world, fear of evil, and our fear of failure can only be conquered when we fear God alone” (136). Walker invites Christians to become abolitionists in a way that inspires instead of using condescending brow-beating and guilt. Referring to the Christian tradition, he writes: “Indeed the church has a rich history of courageous men and women who have selflessly rescued and restored the exploited women and children of their day. . . . The church has played an integral part in setting captives free from slavery and injustice” (132). Instead of motivating by guilt, he inspires the church to respond in ways that is true to its calling, identity, and history.

I applaud Walker for his work on the field and the sacrifices he made. Additionally, I am thankful for a well-researched book on the issue that approaches the reality and brutally of sex trafficking from a Christian perspective. I admire him for his transparency and honesty about his agonizing failure. It was risky to tell that part of the story, and I am thankful that he has received and experienced the forgiveness of God.

 

Solidarity and Redemption

One weakness of the book is his description of God’s response to the darkness of sex trafficking and his sin. He presents well the fact that God is in solidarity with those who suffer. I think his point is deeply biblical and the starting point for discussing God’s response to evil and suffering. Through Jesus, God identifies with and has compassion for those who suffer. At the root of God’s compassion is the fact that he witnesses the suffering of the abused. His compassion for and solidarity with the oppressed is embodied in Jesus Christ.

However, solidarity is not enough for a full-orbed, biblical view of redemption. More should be said on how Jesus accomplished redemption and overcame evil and sin, specifically in his death and resurrection. His incarnation and crucifixion are not just examples of Jesus being in solidarity with us and feeling the pain of sin’s effects. Jesus’ incarnation communicates God’s solidarity with and compassion for those suffering. It also offers hope that God see, hears, and knows the sufferings of his creatures. More explicitly, it is by the death and resurrection of Christ that sin and guilt are destroyed. It is only by absorbing the effects of sin and law breaking that Jesus, the only one who was sinless and fulfills the law, can free the world from its curse.

God, in Christ, runs the world by coming into the world and being roughed up by it. God the Son took the evil on himself and redeemed it by letting it play itself out on him and then being raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the core of the whole thing. Death is swallowed up in the victory of life.

 

God’s Final Word

Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, exploitation is clearly depicted throughout the Bible as sin against God and neighbor, and is referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation.

The victim’s experience of trafficking is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation. And that should be the church’s response.

Evil and violence are not the final word. They are not capable of creating or ultimately defining reality. That is God’s prerogative alone. However, evil and violence can pervert, distort, and destroy. They are parasitic on the original good of God’s creation. In this way, evil serves as the backdrop on the stage where God’s redemption shines with even greater brilliance and pronounced drama. What evil uses to destroy, God uses to expose, excise, and then heal.