From the Garden 🌳
Releasing July 5, 2022, from Tyndale. Scroll to the bottom for a final score and link to purchase.
If you have a young adult struggling with how to engage the world as a Christian, you should hand him Sean McDowell’s new book, A Rebel’s Manifesto: Choosing Truth, Real Justice, and Love amid the Noise of Today’s World. With that recommendation out of the way, I want to overview the book, point out some positives and negatives, and tell you why I think it hits the mark it’s aiming for.
What’s It About?
McDowell’s new book is primarily aimed at teens and young adults who are Christians but are struggling with what it means to live Christianly in the world. McDowell’s book is broken into 26 quick eight to ten-page chapters and so it cannot be a deep dive into any particular topic. It is, rather, a look at how Christians should approach various important cultural topics.
McDowell opens the book with Part 1, “The Challenge.” He covers the basics of the Gospel and basic principles of being a Christian (loving our neighbors, thinking Christianly), and gives a defense of judging others while being aware of our potential hypocrisy.
In the second part of the book, McDowell opens up into his primary format of engaging with a particular issue from a Christian perspective to encourage students to confidently engage culture as an outgrowth of their Christianity. Part 2 is “Culture” and covers topics like smartphones, social media, and politics. Part 3 covers “Relationships” such as the epidemic of loneliness, suicide, and racial tensions. Part 4 is “Sexuality,” covering sex, homosexuality, transgenderism, and more. Part 5 is “Ethics,” and covers the environment, guns and violence, immigration, and more. The final section is “Cultural Engagement” and talks about how students should approach knowing God’s will and how to have conversations with non-Christians.
Hopefully, that gives you a broad idea of what the book covers and how it does so. Below will be a more critical engagement with the ideas in the book.
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
In the age of harsh tones and even harsher words, how can we be expected to treat well and respect those who revile Christians for their convictions? Darling argues that while it may be difficult, respect for those who disagree with us is not optional.
He offers us four principles of engagement:
- Don’t be afraid of substantive disagreement
- Understand that Christians can be both courageous and civil
- Recognize the dignity of those who disagree
- Engage arguments and resist caricatures.
In the church, we are too eager to build friendships and “tribe” only around the people who think like us. This is not Christian. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. He told us that we would be known for our unity and love for one another. We have to hold our disagreements as important but nonetheless be willing to be unified with believers who don’t think like us and hold friendships with unbelievers who think differently.
Listen and Learn 🎧
This look at the problem of suffering is framed by the heartbreaking story of Amity, a five-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a fatal neurological disease. Her family’s story reminds us that the problem of suffering and evil is not a mere intellectual exercise.
This is one of the most compelling explorations of the problem that I’ve seen. It doesn’t “answer” the question, but it does provide the listener with several options to consider.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
This has to be one of the most fascinating articles about the ascension, which is so often overlooked in favor of Christ’s death and resurrection. If you want to understand why Jesus ascended, Burden does a wonderful job of laying out the story of the Bible that Jesus is fulfilling.
The Bible, however, stubbornly refuses to agree with my sensibilities. Far from treating the Ascension as a weird stage exit whose main function is to explain why Jesus isn’t around anymore, Scripture speaks of it as a necessary part of God’s plan. Not only is it necessary, but the disciples even refer to it as a primary proof of Jesus’ messianic identity.
Rather than trying to explain away his absence, they tout it with vigor. The Ascension stands on equal footing with the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the earliest declarations of the gospel (Acts 2:33–36; 3:18–21; 5:30–31).
In trying to explain the Ascension, theologians are quick to point out the things Jesus does afterward: it is the gateway to his priestly work of intercession, a prerequisite for his sending of the Holy Spirit, and the commencement of his heavenly reign. That’s all true.
Still, I never quite understood why Jesus had to leave to do those things. Intercession, bestowing the Spirit, and even reigning—all these things could be realized in the earthly ministry of a vindicated, glorious Messiah. So why did he have to go?
Biblical theology offers us startlingly clear answers to that question, answers that enable us to see the Ascension in its proper context. The Ascension is not some strange vanishing act Jesus does at the end—like a magician finishing his show in a puff of smoke—but the capstone of everything he has done in his passion.
Christianity Is True ✝️
In this video, professors Sean McDowell and Titus Kennedy walk through Kennedy’s top 10 archaeological discoveries that relate to Jesus and his life.
- Excavating the Evidence for Jesus: The Archaeology and History of Christ and the Gospels | Titus Kennedy 📚 (Affiliate Link)
Read and Reflect 📖
If I were to poll you on what you think the Bible book we need right now is, I’m guessing the book Tabb argues would be pretty low on the list.
In these difficult days marked by deep divisions, deadly diseases, and societal decay, we need discerning wisdom and dogged hope. There’s often more heat than light in our social media feeds and news cycles, which offer vast oceans of drama and worry but with tiny islands of wisdom and hope. As Jeffrey Bilbro writes, “We don’t just need the media to cast a more piercing light; . . . we need to reevaluate the light we rely on to understand our times and discern how to respond.”
To that end, let’s reflect together on the Bible’s last word in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. My claim, as suggested in the title, is that Revelation offers God’s people wisdom and hope in difficult days.
For many Christians, Revelation is a fascinating yet frustrating puzzle. Interpreters have proposed different keys to unlock this enigmatic book. Many popular authors and speakers commend reading Revelation in the light of current world events.
Tabb goes on to argue that is not the right way to read Revelation, but that it is nevertheless a book that Christians today need because of what it does tell us.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
Continuing with the theme of respect amid disagreement, I enjoyed this podcast with Dr. Alastair Roberts, a Bible scholar with whom I disagree on some things, but whose work I have nevertheless found helpful.
This is a challenging podcast because they dive fairly deep into psychological concepts like “self-differentiation, gridlock, and the difference between reactivity and response.” They still approach it in an accessible way that I found helpful.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
In the late summer of 1991 I arrived at Harvard Law School a devout Evangelical, conservative Republican. I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, attended a private Christian college in Nashville, and then walked into an intellectual home for a new theory I’d never encountered: critical race theory.
I remember being both challenged and frustrated by CRT. There were elements that, even in the moment, were immediately enlightening, such as Crenshaw’s discussion of the inability of contemporary antidiscrimination law to grapple with the nuances of “intersecting” identities.
There were also troubling elements, including a pervasive pessimism about the ability of America’s classical liberal structures to achieve true racial equality and an unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of America’s racial progress. In addition, some of CRT’s most ardent adherents could be remarkably intolerant, sometimes even seeking to shout down competing ideas or suppress dissent.
What I did not think, at any point, was that I was reading an idea fundamentally at odds with orthodox Christianity.
French then goes on to explain why critical race theory has become such a hot-button topic for conservative Christians.
First, there was and is an interesting and highly technical academic and theological debate about the compatibility of Christianity and CRT, with a number of voices arguing that CRT clashed with the Christian faith.
Second, the definition of CRT was fundamentally and intentionally changed by conservative activists to encompass an enormous number of arguments and ideas about race, including arguments and ideas that have nothing to do with CRT.
Third, the result is that large numbers of Christians who now hear unfamiliar or unpopular arguments about race not only think those ideas are “CRT” but also that they’re positively unchristian and poisonous to their souls.
French goes on to explain what the good, nuanced Christian arguments are against CRT, as well as what the good, nuanced Christian arguments in favor of using aspects of CRT are. He notes that he has argued that extreme forms of CRT do collide with orthodox Christian teaching, but also describes how political activists have seized upon creating fear within Christians about CRT to motivate their votes politically. For example, he quotes Christopher Rufo:
We have successfully frozen their brand—“critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.
In this quote, Rufo is saying that they’ve created a marketing “brand” out of the term “critical race theory,” turned it toxic for conservative Christians, and now he and other “conservative” (in scare quotes because this is fascism, not true conservatism) political activists can jam more things they want Christians to be fearful of under that umbrella.
Really, please do read the entire article. It’s somewhat lengthy for what I usually share at about 15 minutes to read, but it deserves a long cup of tea and thought while reading it. Have conservative Christians been too quick to believe what those who think like us tell us about what the other side believes? Have we been careful thinkers dedicated to understanding those we disagree with? Or are we too quick to only listen to one side? Have we loved even our (political) enemies as Jesus commanded?
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock.
— Matthew 7:24–25 (CSB)