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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: an instructive, inspiring, downright intimidating look at Christian hospitality 

by Rosaria Butterfield 2018 / 240 pages

*****

This is a scary book. I have heard of several people putting it down after only reading a chapter or two of it, feeling overwhelmed by Rosaria Butterfield’s seemingly heroic examples of daily hospitality to her numerous neighbors and friends. As Carl Trueman states in his recommendation, “She sets the bar very high - and there is plenty of room here for disagreement on some of the proposals and details.” But fear not! As Trueman goes on to say, “The basic case, that church is to be a community marked by hospitality, is powerfully presented and persuasively argued.” Think of it this way. One of your friends just memorized the entire book of Ephesians. You think that’s admirable, but it sounds like more than you can handle. Yet, there are some verses in Psalm 4 that you want to memorize because they comfort you, so this reminds you to do it already. Or maybe your cousin enthusiastically tells you he is part of a “Read the Bible in 90 Days” group that really helped him see the connections between Scripture portions and helped him improve his Bible-reading habit. But when you hear he was reading one hour each day, that sounds like more than you can do. Yet, his example encourages you to increase the amount you are currently reading. Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key is about using hospitality to spread the gospel. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself and thus spreading God’s love, peace, and salvation to the dying world that is next to you. It is about viewing where you live as the location where God placed you and figuring out how you can, as the saying goes, “bloom where you are planted.” Whose house is it? Hospitality is similar to the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.” The hospitality Rosaria is encouraging is not about inviting your relatives and fellow church members over for coffee or soup and buns on a Sunday, or taking them a casserole at a difficult time. What Butterfield is talking about is what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.”

Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality (ROH) see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged. They know that the gospel comes with a house key. They take biblical theology seriously, as well as Christian creeds and confessions and traditions…. Engaging in ROH means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God.

Cost in time and money But how can we manage this, when we are already so very busy, and finances may be tight? Rosaria gives the answer:

Practicing ROH necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill – to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share because we intentionally live below our means.

In other words, we may need to learn to leave some space and not to schedule every moment of every day, filling it up with things that we desire to do. Those who become parents find that life cannot follow a strict schedule, because children have a way of barfing, bruising themselves, or battling with siblings that is always unscheduled. In the same way that we scaled back our desired goals then, we ought to do it to allow for hospitality. If we truly believe that we should “be there” for others, then we may need to be open to the unusual and unexpected. On the other hand, it is possible as well to set aside a period of time each week in which you reach out to your neighbors. Rosaria and her husband started this by putting a picnic table on their front lawn on Thursday evenings and providing food for whoever wandered by and wanted to join them. This eventually grew into a well-attended and beloved activity for a lot of their neighbors, but it started with one dinner time. If you don’t have a house or a picnic table, why not try to visit a neighbor or invite a coworker to have lunch or dinner with you? As for cost, all of our money comes from the Lord – might He not want you to allocate some of it for the hospitality that He asks you to do? Rosaria writes:

Daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world. Our monthly grocery bill alone reminds us that what humbles us cannot hurt us, but what puffs up our pride unwaveringly will.

But what if we run into people who have different viewpoints than ours? What kind of example will that be for our children? Here is where we really need to believe that hospitality is something that God calls us to do.

The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different. They don’t buy the world’s bunk about this. They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world. This is the Jesus paradox. And it defines those who are willing to suffer with others for the sake of gospel sharing and gospel living, those who care more for integrity than appearances…. the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear.

What will I say to them? If you feel like you don't know what to say to a stranger, just remember that people always like to talk about themselves. Get to know them. Ask about their interests and try to find a common ground in gardening, cars, sports, cooking, knitting, reading, or whatever. If they have a difficulty they are enduring, offer to pray for them before you end your visit – just a simple prayer. Be friendly. This isn’t the type of evangelism where you have to lead them down the Romans Road and get them to sign on the dotted line at the end of your time together. Jesus is the one who saves. The Holy Spirit will draw some people to God, and we are just planting or watering the seeds. We may or may not get to do the harvesting. But the reason we want to be hospitable is because people need to be rescued from their sin, just as Jesus rescued us from our sin. We are living examples of what God has done, and what He can do for others. Hospitality, then, is a chance to put God’s work in us on display.

Radical hospitality shines through those who are no longer enslaved by the sin that once beckoned and bound them, wrapping its allegiance around their throat, even though old sins still know their name and address.

Used by God Rosaria gives a list of how she hopes and prays that her book may inspire us to: Use our home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, gym, or garden to make strangers into neighbors and neighbors into friends and friends into the family of God Build the church by living like the family of God Stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous Grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality Be richly blessed by the Lord as He adds to His kingdom Be an example of what it truly means to be a Christian to the watching world Have purpose, instead of casting about for our own identity, or wondering what to do with our time Conclusion Let’s not be sidelined by fear that people will hurt us or that we won’t know what to do or say. Using our home regularly to show hospitality brings glory to God, serves others, and is a way of living out the Gospel. It may seem sacrificial, but then aren’t we called to die to ourselves and live for God? So don’t be afraid to read the book. Be inspired, and pray over what God would use you to do.

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of "neutral" perspective that doesn't elevate one group's beliefs over another's?  In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn't possible, and isn't desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a "Principled Pluralism" that recognizes God as supreme.

*****

"Principled pluralism" recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other. Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles. 1) No neutral “non-religious” ground    There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions. Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word. 2) All know God’s law Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19). 3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised. Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it:

“The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.”

4) Government’s authority is limited Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere. Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health. 5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

News

Dawkins on eugenics: evil uncloaked

Richard Dawkins has been called one of the “Four horsemen of atheism” and is famed, as well, for being one of Charles Darwin’s most ardent defenders. In February he got himself into trouble for this tweet:

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology."

While eugenics – controlled human breeding – has been popular in the past, its best-known proponents were the Nazis, and that’s an association no one wants. That’s why Dawkins’ atheist and evolutionist cohorts didn’t like his endorsement of eugenics’ practical possibilities – it made them all look bad. And they jumped on him. But on what grounds could they attack him? As Dawkins made clear in follow up tweets, he thinks eugenics immoral.

“For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.”

“A eugenic policy would be bad. I’m combating the illogical step from ‘X would be bad’ to ‘So X is impossible’. It would work in the same sense as it works for cows. Let’s fight it on moral grounds….”

But there is a problem with an atheist evolutionist taking a moral stand against eugenics. As Dawkins highlighted in his 1994 book, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, his worldview doesn’t allow for a wrong and right.

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

If there really were no good, no evil, and nothing but pitiless indifference, then on what moral basis can we stand against eugenics? One fellow scientist, Dave Curtis, took a different tack, making the case that eugenics wouldn’t practically work, what with human being’s “long generational times and small numbers of offspring.” But this practical objection to eugenics doesn’t make atheist evolutionists look any better. Since when do we object to evil on the basis of how difficult it is to successfully pull off? What would we say of a man who objects to murder on the basis of how hard it is to dispose of the body? While his fellow atheists and evolutionists might not appreciate how Dawkins is sidling up to der Fuhrer, we can be grateful for the illumination he provided. As Discrn.com’s Peter Heck noted:

"It's one thing for Christians like myself to offer hypothetical illustrations to the world showing what happens to human ethics apart from God's moral authority. It is another for Richard Dawkins to actually demonstrate them personally."

Assorted

The good lie? Calvin vs. Luther

During World War II, when my dad was just three, the Nazis came to his house looking for my grandfather. My grandmother, in a very convincing fashion, told them they had just missed him, and that he had headed out to the next house a quarter mile or so away. Well, my dad knew this simply wasn’t true and so he tried to be helpful and let everyone know where my grandfather really was. All he got for his efforts was a hard cuff to the head from my grandmother who, fortunately, cut him off in time.

But that left him confused, as he realized my grandmother wasn’t just mistaken but was actually lying to the Nazis. And as every little kid knows, lying is always wrong.

Or is it?

Is there ever a time when lying can be the right thing to do? Most people seem to think so, and would, like my grandmother, lie shamelessly in a similar situation. At first glance, Scripture seems to back up this position.

Rahab and the midwives

In Exodus 1:15-22, for example, Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Israelite babies as they’re being born. The midwives refuse. When Pharaoh asks them why they disobeyed they lie to him and tell him that the Hebrew women were so strong they gave birth before the midwives even got there. The midwives are then rewarded by the Lord with families of their own.

Another relevant passage occurs in Joshua 2. Two Israelite spies hide on the roof of Rahab the harlot’s house. When the king of Jericho asks her if she knows where the spies are, Rahab lies to him and tells him that he just missed the spies. She too, is rewarded by the Lord.

So the midwives lied, and Rahab lied, and they were both rewarded. Case closed? Not so fast!

Calvin vs. Luther

In his commentaries, John Calvin writes about both these passages and insists the women were rewarded despite their lies, not for them. As he puts it, “those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God…..God is truth.”

While it might seem the women are rewarded for their lies that isn’t actually what the Bible says. In Exodus 1:21 it states that: “because the midwives feared God he gave them families.” Their fear of God was the basis for their reward. In Hebrews 11:31 Rahab is praised for giving “friendly welcome to the spies” and for her faith, but her lie is not mentioned. James 2:25 similarly praises Rahab for receiving the spies and sending them back another way, and again her lie is not mentioned. In fact, nowhere in Scripture does it ever say the women were rewarded for their lies.

It’s worth noting, however, that nowhere in Scripture are the women ever admonished for their lies either.

And while Calvin thinks lying is always wrong, another Reformation heavyweight disagreed.

Martin Luther once told a supporter, “What harm could it do, if a man told a good lusty lie in a worthy cause and for the sake of the Christian Church?” Now, the context of this statement was a messy, complicated situation, and, Luther’s political and religious battles also made it pressure-packed. So Luther was dealing with a lot and it might not represent the man at his best. A key supporter had pressed Luther to sanction his bigamous marriage and Luther agreed, justifying it on the basis of there being no explicit condemnation of bigamy in the Bible. But the law of the time made it a capital crime. So when this second marriage was discovered, Luther urged the man, Philip of Hesse, to lie about it…for the sake of the Church.

This is quite the contrast to Calvin’s hard-line stance.

Two thoughts

So can lying ever be good? We can say confidently that 99 percent of the time it will not be. Luther’s lying certainly wasn’t and got him in a lot of trouble. Though this lie was supposed to do no harm, it cost him supporters and credibility. We can learn from Luther’s life and see his approach to lying is not one we want to imitate.

At the same time, I think lying might sometimes be necessary and my grandmother did the right thing. There are two different reasons.

First, the Ninth Commandment forbids bearing false witness against our neighbor, and I do wonder if God stated it just so for a reason. My grandmother was lying, yes, but not to the harm of her neighbor – she was, in fact, bearing false witness for her neighbor. This, too, was what the Hebrew midwives and Rahab did. They lied, but in the service of their neighbor. A more current example of this would be the undercover work of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), where they exposed that Planned Parenthood clinics were selling aborted babies’ body parts. This undercover work involved CMP members posing as interested buyers and secretly videotaping the conversations. Lying was involved, but this was also done, not against, but for their unborn neighbors.

Of course, the Ninth Commandment isn’t the only condemnation of lying in the Bible. But if we read the others in the context of the specific wording of the Ninth Commandment, then there is an argument to be made for this type of lying done in service to our neighbor, and, in the case of the CMP, even done in the service of uncovering the truth.

(Luther justified his lie as being in the service of something good – the good of the Church. But this was very different; this was only an excuse. Hesse had done wrong and Luther was involved in it. The lying here would be done, not in service of the neighbor, or truth, but simply to cover-up evil done.)

Second, I think there is an argument to be made that when my grandmother lied it was the Nazis who were at fault. They put her in a situation in which she had to break one of God’s commands. She had to choose between either her husband’s life or the truth, between God’s command to love her neighbor as herself, or God’s admonishment not to lie. One of God’s laws was going to be broken. And by putting her in that situation, the Nazis were the ones sinning.

We said earlier that Rahab and the midwives were never commended for their lies, nor admonished for them. You’d almost expect something to be said, one way or the other, and yet there is nothing. Could that be because the lies weren’t really theirs? Will Pharaoh have to bear the responsibility for the midwives’ lie, and will the King of Jericho pay the penalty for Rahab’s lie?

Maybe Calvin was right and lying is always sinful…but God may not always hold the liar responsible for the lie. If there was sin involved when my grandmother misdirected the Nazis, then I think it is these Germans soldiers who will be called to account for the lie.


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