10 Favorite Reads of 2015

Dec 17, 2015 | Trevin Wax

IMG_0713It’s that time of year again – time for me to look through my reading log for 2015 and pick the ten books I most enjoyed reading!

A number of other writers do “end of year” lists of the best books released in a given year. I don’t feel adequate to that task, since there’s no way I could possibly read and review even a sliver of the great books released each year. Instead, I have selected the ten books that I most enjoyed (and an honorable mention.) Put these on your wish list and maybe this Christmas you’ll enjoy them too.

If you are interested, you can check out the books I’ve selected in previous years (2014201320122011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006) as well as my Hubworthy page of “Essential” recommendations.

Performing the Drama of Doctrine
by Kevin Vanhoozer


I assumed this book would be just a popular level version of Vanhoozer’s massive Drama of Doctrine. I was wrong. Vanhoozer builds upon and goes beyond his earlier work in ways that help us see what it means to be “in Christ.” No book better demonstrates how the drama of everyday life is shaped by doctrine, and no author is better at presenting the reality of discipleship with fresh and engaging metaphors that increase your understanding and joy in following Jesus.

A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hyper-Sexualized Age
Jonathan Grant


Jonathan Grant, an Anglican leader in New Zealand, goes beyond debates over gay marriage or homosexuality to the bigger picture of sexuality, marriage, singleness, and how these fit together according to our culture, in contrast to how the Church is to put these things together within the framework of a biblical worldview. If you want to understand the plausibility and power of the Sexual Revolution in our culture today, start here. Grant offers us the foundational pieces of the puzzle that help us understand our context and how we can be faithful in it. Really, get this book and read it twice.

G. K. Chesterton


 This is the only book that I read twice this year – first on Kindle and then in paperback. Don’t go to Chesterton if you’re looking for an exhaustive and accurate account of Francis’ life story. Go to this book for insight into the appeal of Francis, the beauty of God, the love of God’s world, and the discovery of joy in being utterly dependent upon Christ. The chapter “Jongleurs de Dieu” (The Jugglers of God) itself is worth the price of the book. 

Salem, 1692
Stacy Schiff


How did widespread panic descend upon Salem in 1692, leading to confusion, accusation, and the execution of devout Christians as if they were witches?  Stacy Schiff offers a riveting account of the trials in New England at the dawn of the American experiment. Schiff certainly knows how to cast a spell on her reader; she is an expert at painting scenes and crafting sentences. Some of her biases as an historian surface, but on the whole, she is sympathetic to her cast of characters. This book drops you into the supernatural world of religious villagers seeking to survive their stark and dangerous surroundings. You won’t get all your questions about Salem answered, but you’ll understand something more of human nature and how even the most passionate and devoted Christians can be both perpetrators and victims of fear.

Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Tim Keller


Don’t let the simplicity of the title fool you. Keller’s manual on preaching offers an astute analysis of our current cultural moment and how God’s messengers can and should contextualize the truth of the gospel in order to affirm and subvert the dominant worldviews of our society. I expected to find a good book with one or two chapters to be indispensable for preachers, but I found this to be a great book, and so I kept underlining all the way through. From the proper and balanced approach to preaching Christ from all of Scripture, to offering application and apologetics, Preaching encapsulates Keller’s way of engaging people with biblical truth.

Thomas Watson


This is the oldest book on my list, and also the most relevant to everyday Christian experience. The Puritan preacher differentiates between true and counterfeit repentance, and turns to a wealth of biblical illustrations to communicate the beauty and necessity of turning from sin to God. Watson is a master of the one-liner; I found myself pausing and pondering sentence after sentence in this sparkling work of pastoral theology. Imagine Luther’s first of 95 theses (“the whole of Christian life is to be one of repentance”) stretched into 100 pages or so, and you have the gist of this excellent work.

Sigrid Unset


The only fiction book to make my list this year (forgive me, but I wrote a dissertation!), Norwegian author Sigrid Unset’s trilogy is rich in character development and bursting with beauty in her descriptions of medieval Norway. The world she creates is full of faith and feeling, superstition and shame, love and lust, loyalty and honor.

#8. ONWARD by Russell Moore
and ONE NATION UNDER GOD by Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo



We are entering a presidential election year, and I can’t think of two better books to pass along to believers grappling with how to engage in politics. Moore’s work is a manifesto for Christian action as a distinct minority within an increasingly hostile culture. Ashford and Pappalardo introduce the different ways Christians have engaged in politics and then offer brief thoughts on some of the most controversial issues of our day. Both of these books appeal to principles and demonstrate a posture that transcends the polarities of “right” and “left” or “conservative” and “liberal.” Both books demonstrate the way to engage the world as ambassadors of King Jesus.

Individualism and Commitment in American Life
by Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven Tipton


For years I have seen this book referenced and quoted in various books. This year, I finally got around to reading it, and now I understand what all the fuss is about. Here is a book of sociology that illuminates the underlying premises and practices of American citizens. While I do not agree with all their prescriptions for the future, I do believe these sociologists have their finger on the pulse of American culture – the individualism that motivates and shapes us, as well as hinders our ability to construct and maintain important social communities.

The Secret History of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China

by Liao Yiwu


I am always encouraged by stories of Christians where persecution or oppression is rampant. Sometimes these books border on hagiography because the author’s affinity and sympathy for the oppressed is so strong. God is Red is different, primarily because the author is a dissident journalist but not a believer. This makes Yiwu’s reporting all the more powerful because he is recounting and telling stories of persecution, though not persuaded (yet!) of the central truth claims of Christianity. A fascinating glimpse into the Christians in Communist China – those that belong to registered and unregistered churches.

Honorable Mention
Ethics as Theology
by Oliver O’Donovan


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“The View” On “Being Good” vs. The Gospel

Dec 15, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 2.19.50 PMA remarkable conversation took place on ABC’s The View last week.

It began with an American Atheists billboard featuring a picture of Santa Claus that says, “Go ahead and skip church. Be good for goodness’ sake.” One of the hosts, Joy Behar, wondered if religious people would take offense at such a statement.

In the conversation that followed, we catch a glimpse of how people view the role and place of religion in society, as well as the counter-intuitive nature of the gospel of God’s grace.

Approach #1: “Let’s Talk”

Should Christians be offended by the atheist’s billboard? Not at all, claimed Candace Cameron Bure, an evangelical Christian. On the contrary, she mentioned how grateful she was for the billboard because it leads naturally to conversations about the gospel.

“Go be good,” she said, summarizing the billboard. “What is good? What is the standard of goodness? What is God’s standard of goodness?”

Candace’s approach is to use the atheist’s statement as a springboard for exploring what “goodness” really means. She sees this as a great way of presenting God’s Law as a prelude to the good news of Christianity.

Candace’s response demonstrates confidence in the power in the gospel. That’s why she looks at the atheist’s statement and says, “Great! Let’s talk.”

Approach #2: “Live and Let Live” 

Sunny Hostin, the pro-life, church-going Catholic on the panel, disagreed with Candace. She doesn’t like the billboard because it reminds her of the Christians who put up “Repent or go to hell” signs.

Joy Behar, certainly no friend to evangelical beliefs, seemed to agree with Sunny, even if evangelicals were the target of this particular sign. “Why don’t they mind their own business?” she asks. Joy and Sunny seem to think that these atheists are a little too active; they are causing trouble when, instead, they should just leave people alone.

We could sum up this view as “live and let live.” It’s the idea that religion is off limits for proselytism or persuasion. Believe what you want to believe, let others believe what they want to believe, and heaven forbid anyone try to change anyone else’s views.

Approach #3: “Be who you are.”

Paula Faris presents a third view. In a world in which everyone is on edge and easily offended, we should take a deep breath. Why? Because no one can change what Christmas means to you.

Why get bent out of shape over messages you disagree with? Just be confident in whatever you believe the Christmas spirit to be. A billboard shouldn’t threaten who you are and what you feel deep down inside.

Analyzing the Approaches

The third option – “be who you are” – is right to remind us that we shouldn’t give in to the outrage culture. Why be threatened by an opposing viewpoint? But this approach could be misconstrued as if to say that the meaning of Christmas is something we decide, rather than what truly happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

The second option – “live and let live” – only works if you believe religion is a private matter and not a question of public truth. Our culture thrives on debate and discussion in so many spheres. But, for many, in the area of religion, we suddenly get sensitive and the conversation stops. It’s ironic to see the “live and let live” perspective advocated so strongly on a show, aptly titled The View, where the premise is that the cohosts will banter back and forth and try to persuade.

So, now we’re back to Candace Cameron Bure’s evangelistic approach. I appreciate her lack of defensiveness and her willingness to look for opportunities to proclaim the core message of Christianity. And that’s when this conversation takes a remarkable turn.

“Being Good” vs. “The Gospel”

Raven-Symone speaks up and says the atheist billboard is not offensive or threatening because its message promotes goodness. After all, the whole point of religion is being good.

According to Raven’s worldview, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in Jesus or in Allah or Hindu gods or in no god at all. What matters is that you try to be a good person. “That’s what all religions are about anyway.”

Candace and Paula immediately push back: “That’s not true.”

Raven is taken aback by the disagreement. “You don’t think all religions are about being a good person?” she asks.

“Not Christianity,” explains Paula. “It’s by grace through faith.”

Suddenly, both Joy and Raven are puzzled. It’s as if the announcement of grace has stunned the panel. It’s a “Wait – what?” moment.

“It’s by grace through faith you have been saved,” Paula says. “It’s nothing that we can do.”

Seeking the Safety of Self-Justification 

In response to the message of sheer grace, Joy decides to steer the conversation back to the safer territory of being a good person. “I’m a good girl,” she says. “I don’t know what they’re worried about.”

That’s when Candace raises the issue of God’s standard to show that simply being “a good person” isn’t safe ground either. The good news of grace rises only after the hammer of God’s law falls. Candace turns the conversation back to God’s standard of goodness – the Ten Commandments. “If you disobey one commandment, it’s as if you disobeyed all of them,” she says, paraphrasing James, the brother of Jesus. That, after all, is why we need the gospel.

As the hosts begin to check off the commandments, Joy admits that she has lied before and that she does indeed covet. Suddenly, she’s not “a good girl” when compared to the standard of God’s law.

Right before the video ends, Raven retreats from her earlier comments about goodness and the real meaning of Christmas to the safer ground of relativism. What about when you need to tell “a white lie?” Or when circumstances lead you to break a rule?

Appealing to “goodness” hasn’t softened the judgment of God’s law or the startling nature of God’s grace. The only other place to turn is to run down the path of self-justification. Well, goodness must be relative, not absolute! There is a good reason for my not being a good person.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

In just a few minutes on The View, we’ve seen three different ways of viewing religion, as well as the counter-intuitive nature of the gospel.

Across the country, millions of people will ignore the billboard from the American Atheists and will attend worship services this Christmas. For many of these people, their Christmas visit may be the first and last visit to church all year.

Perhaps these rare churchgoers expect to hear a message from the Bible that sounds a lot like Santa Claus: “Just be good for goodness’ sake.” They may expect to hear a personal message of private faith, not a public announcement about the world’s true King. They may expect their views on faith and society to be confirmed and their consciences to be consoled.

I’m praying they will have their own “Wait – what?” moment in church this year.

I’m praying this will be the year they hear the counter-intuitive, grace-filled call to repentance and faith we find in the New Testament.

I’m praying that, in sermons across America, the wrecking ball of God’s standard of goodness will demolish our self-justifying attempts to be “good” and bulldoze the way for the scandalous flood of God’s grace in Christ.

Here’s hoping that, this Christmas, thousands of people will hear true “tidings of comfort and joy” and discover that salvation isn’t because we’ve been good for God, but because God’s been good to us.

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Trevin’s Seven

Dec 11, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Real Christianity by William Wilberforce. $1.99.

1. Andree Seu Peterson – The Real Me. A Christian is a new creation. Let’s act like who we are, not who we

2. BBC – The 100 Greatest British NovelsThe list is put together by people outside the UK. Now, I have to read George Eliot, apparently! 

3. Love and Loss in Syria’s Refugee CrisisA bright spot amid all the tragedy. Disciple-making, evangelism, and service goes on. 

4. Peter Blair – A Preacher without a CongregationAn analysis of Marilynne Robinson’s liberal Calvinism within the American context.

5. Kevin Flatt – Lessons for an Amnesiac SocietyWhy history matters – more than you realize.

6. Chris Martin – 3 Simple Ways to Encourage People in a World of NegativityDon’t give in to darker side of online interaction. Look for ways to lift others up.

7. David Murray – The Most Essential Life Skill is Teachability. Great post from David on why teachability is so important.

I answered a few questions about the books I’m currently reading for TGC’s “On My Shelf” series. Check it out here.

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The Missing Strand in Much of Our Discipleship

Dec 10, 2015 | Trevin Wax

light_my_path_____by_vaggelisf-d330ne5If you are a disciple-maker, you should want people to think like you.

I realize that statement may come across as counter-cultural in our day. In our society, we praise non-conformity and consider expressing one’s own unique essence to be the purpose of life.

To say you want people to think like you is to cramp their style and squelch their originality. It is “indoctrination” in the negative sense of the word, a way of rubber-stamping your identity onto someone else instead of letting their uniqueness shine through.

But here, I’m afraid the non-conformist impulse in our culture clouds our vision so that we are unable to see a very important aspect of disciple-making.

Followers of Jesus are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, demonstrate the mind of Christ, and discern, with biblical wisdom and guided by the Spirit, what it means to live faithfully in the 21st century. It follows, then, that our responsibility to those we disciple includes an element of getting them to reason a certain way.

3 Strands of Disciple-Making

1. Informing – What We Believe

Part of disciple-making is helping people understand what they believe. It includes the inculcation of information, the teaching of biblical facts and Christian doctrines.

2. Instructing – What We Do

Another part of disciple-making is helping people adopt the practices that make up the Christian life. We walk alongside others, modeling for them what it looks like to live the way of Christ.

3. Imitating – How We Reason

But there’s a third part of disciple-making that is necessary, something a full-orbed vision of “imitation” gives us. This strand refers to helping people reason like Christians who have been formed by “what we believe” and “what we do.” The imitation of reasoning is especially needed on issues where clear instructions are not present in Scripture.

The Missing Strand 

If you only focus on the first two elements (informing and instructing), then you wind up with people who are not fully equipped to respond to the conundrums they encounter in life.

What does your disciple do when he or she confronts an issue that isn’t resolved by the checklist of doctrines to believe, or the common practices of the Christian life?

Here is where your disciple needs biblical wisdom. The information of Bible doctrine and the instructions of Christian practice aren’t enough. Discernment is required. The believer must apply the wisdom of Scripture to a new situation and discern the way forward.

When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him, he was not telling them to join him on his missionary journeys. The context for his command comes within a section of the letter in which he was applying biblical wisdom to a new situation. Apparently, one of Paul’s goals was to help his disciples reason the way he did.

When Paul called others to imitate his Christian walk, he was saying more than simply “Take the same steps I do.” Paul wanted the people to follow the same reasoning process that led him to such actions. In this context, “Follow me as I follow Christ” means more than “do what I do.” It also means “think like I think, so you can reason with me to the same outcome of wise and faithful living.”

The Need for Biblical Reasoning 

So, back to the statement I kicked off this article with: Disciple-makers should want their disciples to think the way they do. It’s not enough to hope that they will believe the same things, or behave the same way; we want to see them reason forward as Christians.

Inculcating Christian doctrine and imitating Christian behavior only takes you so far. If that is all you strive for in discipleship, you may wind up with mindless mimicry instead of thoughtful imitation.

Discipleship includes helping people learn the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). The mind of Christ helps us to respond to new circumstances with the humility and wisdom of the Savior who indwells us by His Spirit.

Imitation in the Christian life includes the cultivation of wisdom from within a biblical framework, wisdom that leads to the right decisions when the circumstances are difficult. Passing on the capability of wise reflection is an important aspect of discipleship. Ignoring this responsibility is disastrous for the future of the church.

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How Twitter Helped Fred Phelps’ Granddaughter Walk Away from Westboro

Dec 08, 2015 | Trevin Wax


Megan Phelps-Roper, from “The New Yorker” profile

Why did the granddaughter of infamous preacher and cult-leader Fred Phelps walk away from Westboro Baptist Church?

That is the question that drives a 10,000-word profile on Megan Phelps-Roper in The New Yorker last month. And the answer, according to the essay, is Twitter. Megan’s interactions on social media helped her see her opponents as truly human and prompted her to walk away from the only home she had ever known.

Much of our talk about social media and its influence concerns the negative – the anonymous commenter, the Facebook debate threads, the dehumanization and debasement of others. Just last week, we saw the inability of our society to stop, pause, grieve, or pray in the midst of a tragedy. Social media sites were immediately summoned as weapons for a political cause.

But what if we are so accustomed to the bad of online interaction that we miss the flip side – a glimpse of the humanity we share with others? The story of one woman’s defection from Westboro Baptist lends credence to the rarely-discussed positive side of social media.

The Marketing of a Cult

I hesitate to grant the name “Westboro Baptist Church” to an organization that is not a church, not Baptist, and not in Westboro. A classic example of false advertising, the name of Fred Phelps’ cult draws energy from the very associations it spurns. If there is any lesson to be learned from Westboro, it is that virtually any organization can market itself and “win” by being recognized as whatever it pretends to be.

My only run-in with Westboro-type folks was in the late 1990’s at a Billy Graham crusade. They were protesting Graham’s message of God’s loving invitation to sinners. A family friend who had once belonged to our church was part of the group now condemning us as compromisers. It was the first time I saw, up close, how cults target people in vibrant Christian fellowships and slowly isolate them until any independence of thought is condemned as rebellion.

Westboro’s Bible in 3 Words

Controlling one’s thoughts is an aspect that comes to the surface in The New Yorker’s profile of Phelps-Roper, which shows just how steeped she was in the beliefs of her family. There was no good news in her “church,” only a distorted version of God’s Law and a gleeful presentation of God’s judgment. Her mother summed up the Bible in three words: “Obey. Obey. Obey.”

“I wanted to do everything right,” she said. “I wanted to be good, and I wanted to be obedient, and I wanted to be the object of my parents’ pride. I wanted to go to Heaven.”

This is works-based salvation amped up to the highest degree, a perverse moralism that confuses obedience with goodness, and submission with love. The flip side of the focus on “obedience” is how any hint of questioning was condemned as sin.

The smallest hint of dissent was seen as an intolerable act of rebellion against God. Megan was taught that there would always be a tension between what she felt and thought as a human and what the Bible required of her. But giving place to rebellious thoughts was the first step down the path toward Hell. 

Independent thoughts and feelings were temptations or tests. One of Westboro’s protest signs proclaimed, “GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS.” It’s no wonder that Phelps and his kin were fine hurting other people’s feelings; they saw suppression of their own emotion as a necessary part of the quest for holiness.

The Marketing of God’s Hate

Westboro’s theological contagion originated in a version of hyper-Calvinism and then mutated into an apocalyptic urgency that narrowed the “faithful” to the small number of people associated with Phelps’ family. Christians were wrong to emphasize God’s love, Fred Phelps preached. God didn’t love the world; He hated unrepentant sinners and the political leaders who glorified sin and who permitted immorality, especially homosexuality, to spread throughout American society.

But unlike other cults, Westboro was not shut off from the outside world. In 1994, the church began to use the Internet to spread their message of hate and judgment. The children of Westboro went to public schools, participated in sports, listened to popular music and read Stephen King novels. “If you knew the truth in your heart, Westboro believed, even the filthiest products of pop culture couldn’t defile you.”

So, by 2009, Megan was tweeting for the church. In an email to the church, Megan’s sister described Twitter as an avenue for spreading “first hand gospel commentary.”

When I came across that comment, I thought to myself, What gospel? There is simply no good news in Westboro’s celebration of God’s judgment. Where is the gospel in tweeting casual comments of judgment, along with celebrations of horrible events?

The Opponent as Human

The break-through for Megan was when she began to see her online opponents as human – that is, in some way, lovable.

When the god you worship is a fiery deity who hates all the same sinners you hate, it is natural to see those sinners as somehow subhuman, worthless and disgusting. But Phelps-Roper felt a pang of remorse in hearing that a famous actress she admired had died at a young age. Her mother brushed off the death as another joyful moment of God’s righteous judgment. But this was a turning point for Phelps-Roper. For the first time, she couldn’t thank God for someone else’s death. Instead, she resonated with the grief and mourning expressed on Twitter.

Here is where The New Yorker claims Twitter opened up the world to Phelps-Roper and paved the way for her eventual defection.

By following her opponents’ feeds, she absorbed their thoughts on the world, learned what food they ate, and saw photographs of their babies. “I was beginning to see them as human,” she said. 

Back to the Bible

Phelps-Roper’s interactions online led her back to the Bible, where she began to see discrepancies between Westboro’s biblical interpretation and Bible passages in which major characters expressed heartfelt sorrow over sin and judgment in the world. She saw the difference between the Bible’s portrayal of judgment and her church’s. Later, she watched as her cousin was expelled from the church, against members’ objections, and against the process laid out in the Gospel of Matthew. Her faith in her church’s untainted version of Christianity fell apart. She walked away.

Unfortunately, Phelps-Roper did not walk toward genuine Christianity. Her only encounter with the Bible today is to look for Scriptural arguments to encourage Westboro people to treat others humanely. She once used the Bible as a weapon to strike at outsiders. Now, the outsider, she uses the Bible as a weapon to strike back at her former “church.”

The Crack in Westboro’s Foundation

The New Yorker does not attribute Phelps-Roper’s defection only to Twitter, although the title of the profile and the rest of the article lean in that direction. Most likely, her departure is a result of Twitter opening up her world to people with various beliefs, which led her back to the Scriptures, where she began to notice discrepancies in what she heard preached and what she read.

The combination of these two elements – online interaction and biblical interpretation – left a crack in the foundation of her worldview, which gradually grew until she had to walk away. The moment she refused to carry a particular sign for her church (one calling for the “death penalty for gays”) she was well on her way to leaving Westboro. The seed of internal dissent sprouted into public resistance.

Social Media’s Good Opportunity

Evangelicals often decry the depersonalizing, dehumanizing effect of social media for reducing people to avatars and leading to hate-filled anonymous comment streams. As someone who has blogged regularly for nine years, I can testify to the vitriol I have seen.

But in the case of Phelps-Roper, social media was a tool that led her to see her opponents as more human, not less. Is her story an aberration, since (thankfully) most Americans don’t belong to cults that dehumanize their opponents to this extent? Or is it true that there is an often-unspoken, underlying good side to social media?

For all the times I have talked about hateful and hurtful comments spewed toward me online, I should also recognize how many times I have been encouraged and blessed by people’s words on social media. In my interaction with other people on Twitter and in blogs, I have sometimes been disarmed by the gracious manner in which my opponents have disagreed with me.

This interaction has made a more careful reader and a more persuasive writer. For example, when I review books today, I usually know something more about the author than the brief bio on the back cover. I can often see the author online – their family, their interests, their hobbies, and their friends. As a result, I take greater care to read charitably people with whom I disagree.

We are never merely dealing with ideas in the abstract; we debate people who put forth these ideas. Our reasoning and debating should always be rigorous, but our posture toward those who disagree with us should be one of persuasion – where we are arguing towards the truth, following arguments and not succumbing to quarrels.

Social media deserves much of the criticism it receives. I’ve written about the uselessness of Twitter battles and I dread the black hole of some Facebook comment streams. But in the case of Megan Phelps-Roper, Twitter opened the world up to a cult member. And when she saw the humanity of her opponents, her hate melted away.

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Trevin’s Seven

Dec 04, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie. $1.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. Andy Crouch – On “Thoughts and Prayers” after the San Bernadino ShootingIt was stunning to watch the Twitter world erupt in protest, in response to the San Bernadino shooting, against people sending “thoughts and prayers.” Andy Crouch explains why prayer and lament is the best, first response.

2. Russell Moore – What We Lose When We Prayer Shame Politicians After a Mass ShootingHashtag activism has become, in many ways, our new secularized form of praying.

3. Pankaj Mishra – The Last Dalai Lama? An interesting profile concerning the Buddhist monk who is an international icon, and the shaky future of his world.

4. Kate Shellnutt – The Divine Rise of Multilevel MarketingThe inside scoop on the sales phenomenon – an industry sweeping through churches.

5. David Fagerberg in First Things – The Essential Chesterton. The opportunities for happiness are coterminous with being itself. We have been given a world crammed with a million means to beatitude.” This is why rarely a day goes by I have not read something by Chesterton.

6. Dustin Messer – Following Rob Bell: The Edges of Faith and the Center of the Zeitgeist. Rob Bell’s successor is stepping down. The author of this article makes the case that it is more risky to sail toward orthodoxy than to the fringes of faith.

7. Ray Ortlund – How to “Rescue” Your Church in Three Weeks. An older post from Ray that shows how quickly church divisions can escalate.

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Grief and Gratitude in the Ashes of Life

Dec 03, 2015 | Trevin Wax


Monday was a bittersweet day our family will never forget. While my youngest brother and his wife were at the hospital, awaiting the arrival of their second son, my younger sister and her husband were escaping a fire that consumed their house and all their belongings.

The day moved forward with waves of grief and joy, happiness and sorrow. One family forever changed by a new addition, the other forever changed by a catastrophic loss.

Many of you have asked about my sister and her family and how they are holding up. I cannot sugarcoat the situation or gloss over the heartbreaking sense of disorientation they are experiencing. You make your house your home, your place of refuge in the world. To watch it go up in flames strikes at the heart of your sense of security and identity.

This was the house my sister planned from the ground up. For months, they observed its construction. Since moving in last summer, they had already opened the doors for church functions, for pro-life charity events, for anniversaries and celebrations. We spent much of Thanksgiving weekend there, playing games together, feasting on turkey and ham, playing foosball in the bonus room, and watching all the cousins play on the porch. To think of this joyful home – already overflowing with good memories – consumed by flames makes my heart stop.

Yet there is so much gratitude in the midst of this grief. It’s not the grief that surprises you, but the moments of gratitude.

When you realize the gas leak that caused the explosion could have instantly killed my brother-in-law…

When you realize the fire could have injured my sister or any of her kids…

When you realize that in many house fires, not everyone makes it out alive…

I can’t help but look around my own house and think, I need to hold my kids a little tighter and all this stuff a little looser.

Grief and gratitude in the ashes of life. I’ve seen those sentiments on display in how my sister and her husband are responding to the situation.

Just take a look at some of my sister’s Facebook updates. Here, I see a robust theological interpretation of suffering – how God is building our character, how nothing comes to us that hasn’t passed through His hand, and why His character is good even when our circumstances are bad.







When I see this kind of response, I can’t help but be inspired by my little sis. She’s not even 30 years old yet, and she is moving forward as a strong woman of faith. It’s when you’re walking through the smoldering ruins of your home, grieving your loss and grateful for life, that you see what someone is made of. The combination of toughness and tenderness I see in my sister and her husband inspires me. As one of her Facebook friends wrote: “The house may be gone but the people in it are still here to serve. Satan loses again.”

None of us know why this tragedy took place, but all of us know Who is in control. And knowing the Who is more satisfying than answering the why anyway.

[At this time, my sister’s family has housing and many gifts of clothes, food, etc. If you would like to help, please do so by praying for them as they deal with this loss.]

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Advocating for Life, After Colorado Springs

Dec 01, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Colorado Springs Continues To Recover After ShootingPro-life voices across the country are singing in unison as they condemn the actions of a man who opened fire at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last week. The only and best description of such violence perpetrated against helpless bystanders and a noble police officer is evil. As the result of this atrocity, three families are entering this holiday season with unspeakable sadness.

In recent months, we have witnessed a number of shootings across the country, and perhaps because of the politicized air we breathe, people from different political camps have been outrunning each other to turn each tragedy into a weapon to advance their own causes. The shooting at Planned Parenthood is even more explosive – igniting the tinder of our country’s ongoing abortion debates.

What does this do for “the cause?”

That is a question that presents itself to both pro-life and pro-choice people following last Friday’s rampage. Pro-choice people will be tempted to seize the opportunity to strike a blow for a woman’s “reproductive health” and use the shooting as a way of painting all abortion opponents as violent religious extremists. Pro-life people will feel the weight of that question from the other side, wondering how this might serve as a setback in advocating justice for the unborn and the protection of human life at all stages.

I believe the question about how these events impact “the cause” only adds to the weight of the tragedy. Our concern is not for a cause but for the people that cause represents. If, when we see the violence of last week’s attack, we first wonder about its impact on the broader pro-life movement, we resemble our pro-choice opponents who, when confronted with grisly videos of underground trafficking in fetal remains, fall back on the righteousness of their “cause” and suppress any doubts that something unethical may be taking place. No, our concern cannot be first about the impact on a cause, but the impact on the families of the victims.

Over the weekend, a pro-choice friend of mine commented on how pro-life people should be even more upset about the attack, considering one of the victims was an evangelical police officer who was also a pro-life pastor. In other words, One of the victims believed like you. As if political and religious agreement would make the death of that victim more tragic.

This logic makes sense from a pro-choice perspective, but not to a consistently pro-life person. Had the police officer had been an activist for abortion rights, we would still mourn his death because we deplore any and all violence against others. All three deaths are tragic because all three people bore the image of God. Their lives were sacred. One’s political persuasion, opinion, background, ethnicity, or disability does not change the intrinsic value of every human life. In fact, the very idea that one’s life is more valuable than another’s is what we so forcefully oppose when we stand up for the rights of the unborn.

We should not be surprised to see pro-choice cheerleaders among the mainstream media and Planned Parenthood’s well-endowed politicians exploiting this tragedy, weaponizing the tragedy against the wider pro-life movement and painting all pro-life people as wild and zealous fanatics.

But our response should be different. We should grieve with those who grieve, mourn the loss of innocent life and consider the victims – the families who will pass through the weeks, months, and years ahead with a sense of loss and longing that will far surpass the volcano of words in our 24-hour news cycle.

My pro-choice friends pin the blame of last week’s attack on the renewed wave of activism in light of the recent Planned Parenthood videos. That is a simplistic and unprovable assumption, one that is directly countered by the example of selfless officer who, while deploring the abortion industry, raced inside to rescue its employees.

It also fails to reckon with an uncomfortable and grisly truth: in the aftermath of every abortion, there is a dead human body. Indeed, the question of what to do with the corpses of the unborn has led to our most recent debates – whether the outcry in Great Britain over aborted fetuses being used to aid in the heating of buildings, or the American outcry over dissecting and selling fetal remains.

What do we do with the bodies?

That may be a controversial question, but only because it goes to the heart of the American conflict over the morality and legality of the abortion procedure. Is this a question of women’s rights or human rights? Are all human beings persons? What is the unborn? What do we do with the unborn after we have stopped their beating hearts?

These questions will not go away in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs shooting. As long as there are people who believe in human rights for all, the pro-life movement will insist on asking such questions. Because all human life is sacred, we oppose the violent outburst against Planned Parenthood last Friday, as well as the violence that goes on against helpless victims every day their doors are open.

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In Defense of Christmas Cheer

Nov 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Merry-Christmas-holiday-family-fun-time-lifepopper-food-magic-gathering-6‘Tis the season to be jolly!

Strike that. First, we need a few evangelical leaders to register complaints about our culture’s overly sentimentalized, consumerist take on Christmas.

It seems that every year I come across blog posts chiding Christians for allowing the shopping season to overtake the church’s calendar. Or bemoaning the early encroachment of Christmas music (“It’s the most wonderful time of the” — NOT YET!). Or reminding us that the real reason for the season must remain front and center in a world of sentimental mush.

The most recent take comes from Scot McKnight, who says that the Charles Dickens vision of Christmas (“about joy and singing and big family dinners and dashing to and fro giving and receiving, and caring for the poor and turkeys and frosty windows”) isn’t really Christian at all. In contrast, Scot lays out all the themes of the first Christmas, and these themes are about Israel, the Messiah, and a family under threat; they have nothing to do with snuggled up families watching snow and decorating Christmas trees.

Scot is absolutely right about Charles Dickens’ view of Christmas not being synonymous with the Bible’s. But behold a very good point, with a perfectly wrong conclusion! “I say the less Dickens the better,” he writes.

Bah humbug to Scot’s bah humbug!

I agree we need more emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas, but I believe, in this, Dickens is our ally, not our foe. Why? Because the Dickens vision of Christmas would be impossible apart from a society in which the values of Christianity had taken root. G. K. Chesterton described Dickens’ Christmas as a defense of “eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.”

“Joy and singing and big family dinners and giving and receiving and caring for the poor” may not be what the original Christmas was all about, but it’s certainly part of Christianity as an atmosphere, is it not? And no one succeeded at creating “atmosphere” better than Dickens.

Should we not marvel that even in our increasingly secular age people still sing carols packed with biblical truth every year? “Joy to the world,” indeed. As a fragmented society, we’ve lost the shared culture of “music that everyone knows,” except in those rare instances when a song communicates such joy that everyone starts to sing along. (Cue Pharrell’s “Happy,” please!) And except, once a year, when we reach back in time and listen to holiday recordings older than our parents, and sing along to hymns older than our great-grandparents. Sing along, ye cluttered aisles of Walmart!

Should we not marvel that in a world of broken homes that big family dinners still take place? That reunions still happen, and that people put aside their differences to share a meal? When Jesus spoke about His coming kingdom, He talked about food and drink, and the table. Surely in our Christmas celebrations we can hear a faint echo pointing us to the Church’s great feast at the end of time!

Should we not marvel that, in a dog-eat-dog world of competition run by the evolutionary motto of “survival of the fittest,” our culture devotes time to running “to and fro giving and receiving and caring for the poor?” It was Dickens who wrote of Christmas from the perspective of the poor, lifting up the needs of the forgotten in a bold challenge to the powers that be. Surely, we can see in this the image of the mother and Child, unknown the world, known to the heavens.

Christianity is not generosity, but generosity is part of Christianity. Who knows? Perhaps when caught up in the moment of cultural gratitude, the secular heart may long for Someone to thank.

But what of the sentimental mush included on the table for Christmas? What of the dangers of consumerism that infiltrate our Christmas cheer?

There’s no doubt those problems exist, but at the Christmas table, I’m not one to insist that the only thing we eat is carved turkey and mashed potatoes. Pass the banana pudding and Grandma’s sweet potato casserole, please. Yes, let’s make sure to glean sustenance from the main dish, but a few sugar cookies won’t ruin the meal.

Scot is right to remind the church about our mission “to tell the real story about Christmas, about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” Yes and Amen.

Playing Scrooge to his Scrooge, however, I would only add: the Dickens vision of Christmas does not take away from the truth, but complements it. ‘Tis the season for joy and feasting! So give me a hearty helping of meat and potatoes, and another slice of Dickens’ pie.

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Trevin’s Seven

Nov 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture by Stephen Smith. Excellent book I consult often. Only $4.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. The Atlantic – What ISIS Really Wants. I’ve linked it before, and I’ll link it again. The best place to get an intro into the aims of this wave of Islamic terrorism.

2. Mark Amstutz – Two Theories of ImmigrationThe debate between cosmopolitans and communitarians raged fiercely this week, with evangelicals “all over the place” on the issue. Amstutz explains what the major theories are.

3. Victoria Le Sweatman – How To Be a Christian in the Era of Cable News FightsIt’s easy to get riled up online. Here are some ways to consider other perspectives and respond with wisdom and charity.

4. Allen Guelzo – The Illusion of RespectabilityA lengthy and challenging article that calls evangelicals to move beyond their “original sin.”

5. What You Should Know about the Biggest Pro-Life Case to Go to the Supreme Court in 25 Years.

6. Jamie Dean – Who Is My Neighbor? World Magazine reports on evangelicals across the country looking for ways to serve and influx of refugees.

7. The Seven Most Fascinating Letters from the Time Archives. I like this line from a letter written by Harry Truman about General Douglas MacArthur. “His blow-up was expected, of course, and it seems to be more personal than factual. When an egotist is punctured, a lot of noise and whistling always accompanies the escaping air.”

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