Real men read, and they read to others

This morning, I participated in the Real Men Read event as part of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s Give a Day volunteer project. I was assigned an elementary school near my apartment to read Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life for a group of third-graders. For some reason, despite my developing laryngitis and the two sharp-dressed men who also volunteered, the principal assigned me to read in the library for the largest group of students.

My voice made it through the entire book, but more incredibly, all of the children were completely attentive and respectful the entire time. At first, I thought the kids mistakenly assumed I was a local celebrity (probably true). I then realized, however, that the school employed no male teachers aside from the principal.

And considering the state of fatherhood (and literacy) in today’s age, this may have been the first time a man read a story to some of these children. I walked into that school with a geeky excitement that I was volunteering as a reader, but left with a sobering reminder that real men do read, and they teach children of its lasting value.

Deadbeat fathers and idle mothers who never open a book in leisure or read to their children at night will root out and destroy the seeds of learning, especially reading.

These reminders bother and burden me to a great degree. My parents read to me so often as a child, that I can hardly remember a time in my elementary years when they neglected this task. I so treasured these moments that one of the most delightful nights of my childhood was when my father read Tarzan and the Lost Safari to me and my friends at a sleepover. Sure, he read these books to me each night, but now my closest friends had the opportunity to hear this jungle adventure read aloud.

If I could use 10 words to describe myself, bibliophile and bookworm would be among them, the redundancy best explained by how reading has permeated my life and habits. I owe to my parents not just the ability to read before I started school but all of my academic and professional accomplishments achieved because of a high proficiency in reading and writing.

Literacy can be taught in the classroom, but a love for literature can only be exemplified in the home.

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A review of Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church

An excellent new resource on the doctrine of the church

An excellent new resource on the doctrine of the church

Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Crossway 2012, $40) Gregg R. Allison

Gifted theologians offer much guidance in areas like biblical theology, Christology and ethics, but resources that set forth ecclesiology are rarer, particularly from a robust Baptist perspective.

Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, fills that void with his latest book, Sojourners and Strangers.

“The church is the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit,” he writes.

Though written for a wider evangelical audience, Allison maintains a firm commitment to Baptist ecclesiology in regard to the ordinances and church polity.

Observing that church experience often influences the development of ecclesiology, he examines the sufficiency of Scripture in forming this doctrine and offers helpful tips for distinguishing between normative and relative passages of instruction in the New Testament.

“The church of Jesus Christ itself is a necessary reality,” Allison writes. Emphasizing the role of the church in Christian life, he describes seven characteristics of the church’s origin and vision: doxological, logocentric, pneumadynamic, covenantal, confessional, missional and eschatological.

Implementing these seven characteristics is the mark of pure churches, and Allison affirms the reality of false churches and the need for evaluating pure churches.

Allison identified a lack of church discipline as the greatest problem in American evangelical churches and a hindrance to achieving purity. Allison urges churches to practice discipline as a future warning and reminds them of the presence of Christ through this difficult process.

“Failure on the part of Christ-followers to [pursue holiness] should lead to their being disciplined by the church as  proleptic and declarative sign of the divine eschatological judgment.”

Since church polity is a defining mark of Baptist ecclesiology, Allison surveys the various offices of the church and summarizes the main forms of church government. Allison advocates plural-elder-led congregationalism, which he argues has historical precedence in Baptist life.

Readers may be surprised to find an academic endorsement of multi-site churches, and should eagerly examine the biblical basis for Allison’s arguments; Allison is an elder at Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Ky.

Countering the apathy in administering ordinances in many churches, Allison offers a theological basis for a careful and deliberate approach to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

“To the church Christ has given two signs of this new covenant relationship: baptism, the sign of entrance into the new covenant relationship with God and into the covenant community, the church; and the Lord’s Supper, the sign of ongoing new covenant relationship with God and the covenant community, the church.”

The final section of the book handles the ministries of the church, which encompasses not only spiritual gifts but also worship, preaching, evangelism, discipleship and member care. Ultimately, according to Allison, “the church is a paradox,” loving her neighbors through culture-building while opposing the fallen world.

Sojourners and Strangers is an indispensable tonic for weary churches, and it will serve pastors and lay leaders as they learn from and administer its wisdom to their flocks.

An interview with Gregg R. Allison on his new book is available by clicking this link. To buy a copy of Allison’s book, click here.

How I became The Man Who Was Thursday

Why am I so fearful of God’s peace?

Since my father’s suicide in September, the pain and suffering encompassing my grief have instilled in the seat of my affection a fear of approaching God’s peace. I possess a mental assurance of rest, but my soul wrestles with restlessness.

During this time I have found solace, an escape route, in the works of G.K. Chesterton.

The Man Who Was Thursday, first editionChesterton, the master of all things paradoxical, explored man’s rejection of God’s reconciliation in the fantasy-suspense novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.

Published in 1907, this surprising twist on the detective novel offers an allegorical approach to understanding God’s acquaintance with suffering. Chesterton had also been studying the Book of Job around this time, the theme of which is evident in the journey of Thursday’s protagonist Gabriel Syme.

“If you were from the first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered into our souls—and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace.”

The accusations leveled against the “antagonist” Sunday in the climax of the novel reflect the clever paradox Chesterton designed in this narrative: those who sought to uphold order were, in fact, attempting to destroy ultimate peace.

Confronted with the revelation that their enemy was indeed their greatest ally, each of the undercover detectives expresses resentment and pain, even childlike hurt, as they come to terms with reality. Then the accuser par excellence approaches to slander Sunday for his alleged inability to suffer.

But it is the paranoia of Gabriel Syme that I found most captivating as I read the novel. As an undercover detective posing as an anarchist, Syme found himself isolated and afraid of death. He could trust no one, and the person he set out to defeat was his greatest comfort.

“It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into hell.”

Syme’s chief occupation was a poet, communicating thoughts and ideals in abstract. This obscure nightmare, on the other hand, offered him the concrete reality of human suffering.

“The central idea of the great part of the Old Testament may be called the idea of the loneliness of God,” writes Chesterton in his introduction to the Book of Job. In this essay, Chesterton explores the role of human suffering in the divine and unbending purpose of God. Or, as Chesterton said, “the book is so intent upon asserting the personality of God that it almost asserts the impersonality of man.”

But what are the purposes of God in Job’s suffering? The account of Job does not answer this question, despite the fact that God rebukes both Job’s accusations and his friends’ defenses. Chesterton uses this omission to draw a typology between Job and Christ.

“In the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best…I need not suggest what high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best man in the worst fortune,” Chesterton concludes.

Chesterton himself would never expound on the meaning of Thursday, too humble to admit his genius and his ability to craft a soul-wrenching allegory on the suffering Messiah.

What is clear in the nightmarish haze of Thursday, however, is that the loneliness of God described in Job’s suffering is reversed in the loneliness of the Incarnation — God’s suffering. This loneliness accomplished peace for his people, so that in our pain and suffering we have an Advocate.

The year following the publication of The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton released his most important work, Orthodoxy. In some ways his spiritual autobiography, Chesterton explored the various paradoxes of the Christian faith.

In the closing chapter, Chesterton marveled over the paradox of joy in the Christian faith. Suffering and sorrow is commonplace for the Christian, but everlasting joy is unique and extraordinary. In Jesus, Chesterton points out the visibility of his sadness and imagines the source of his joy.

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth,” Chesterton ponders in the closing words of Orthodoxy.

Jesus, my source of peace and rest. The God-Man who bears my affliction.

Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?”

The loneliness of suffering forces us to reckon with ourselves, naked and bare. The horror of self-realization and temptation of pity cause us, and have caused me, to resist reconciliation. Sabbath with God only comes through abandoning the notion that we have everything figured out and running toward the One we used to hate.

And just as Gabriel Syme, fear captures my heart as I approach from behind the peace of God, yet I know joy will overcome me when I look back upon his face.