Tuesday’s 10: Some Great Classic Novels For You to Consider

As I read Jane Eyre for the first time ((ducking)), it hits me all over again how much I love old novels. A good novel transports you into another world. Another world full of different characters you might never would have encountered otherwise. Another world replete with echoes of all your own hopes and dreams, failures and misfortunes. All of them dressed to the hilt in someone’s skin so different than yourself, either a hero or villain, you never notice till the reality lands on you like a hurricane.

And sometimes they are just fun.
The following are ten of my favorites in no particular order, many I’ve read many times over. And almost all of them you can read for free on your e-reader.
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s been called the greatest novel in the English language. Regardless, it’s my favorite. I’ll move along since I talk about my love for Austen a lot here.
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens – I know Dickens fans who have never even heard of this one. But I think about it all the time. We watched the incredible BBC adaptation and I knew I had to read it. Bought it used off ebay and settled in to read this huge wonderful story. Great characters mired in existential difficulty dealing with tragedy, betrayal and deception.
3. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This is another book, whose scenes swirl in my head often. I used to work in the BBQ restaurant in college. One guy I worked with was a self-proclaimed redneck who was majoring in Russian Lit. And he could play the guitar like gabriel could play the harp. Anyway, he introduced me Dostoyevsky and Van Morrison. I’ll be forever thankful for both.
4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – The only novel I’ve read more than this one is P&P. It’s an epic story with enough treasure and wonder and ships and grandeur for the kid in you. But the emotional turmoil of Dantes will beat about the soft edges of your heart till you cannot take it and you’ll have to put it down. before you pick it right back up again. Trust me on this one. Read it. The unabridged version.
5. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck – Everyone talks about Of Mice and Men. But I loved this one more. I can only remember a few scenes because it’s been almost twenty years ago since I read it. But every now and then, I’ll see something or here someone say a few words and I’ll immediately think about this novel. I can’t explain it. But that’s a sign of some pretty good writing.
6. Dracula by Bram Stoker – When I decided to read this, I expected to get a chapter or two in and give it up. But I didn’t do that. I cannot recommend a book more highly which you might be doubtful about. It’s genius and beautiful and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I know nothing about Stoker but if I found out he was a Christian I would not be surprised.
7. Phantastes by George Macdonald – It would do no good to tell you anything about this story. It’s so dream-like and surreal and beautiful and poetic and amazing and…I, uh…well, it’s a “a faerie romance.” Last year I was teaching Bible at a Classical School. The headmaster and I were at lunch and doing what I love more than anything, talking books over BBQ. He recommended this one to me. And I owe him.
8. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – Bought this on a whim. Van Morrison has a song called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the chorus is him singing “The Wind in the Willows/And the Piper at the gates of dawn…” over and over. It’s a beautiful tribute to a great book. It’s a children’s book but well worth your time. And when you get to chapter 7, titled The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, you’ll forget your reading a children’s book and you’ll wonder how you wandered into such greatness.
9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne– Another one I think about all the time. And I’ve been thinking about it, ehem, even more in the last week. A classic story of ungrace, one of the seminal American novels.
10. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – If you have not read this, we can’t be friends. OK, that’s harsh, you have one week, and then all bets are off. I read this one every year and live it often. I own four different copies. Wait, five…no six.

DA Carson Responds to Driscoll’s Criticism of Pastoral Ministry in Britain

Since I have been critical of groups like the TGC for silence on controversies bearing on it’s members (CJ Mahaney and Driscoll), I thought it should be pointed out that D.A. Carson has responded to Mark Driscoll’s criticisms of pastoral ministry in Britain. He is, of course, gracious – calling Driscoll a “friend” – and he is exacting, pointing out leaders and movements by name who are doing faithful pastoral in Britain.

Back when I wrote this, my first piece for The Gospel Coalition, Carson’s father, who was a pastor and the subject of Carson’s Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, was in the forefront of my thinking. When Driscoll insulted the work of faithful British pastors working quietly in their little corners of the world, this work was the first I thought of.
So I really, really appreciate Carson’s response.
But (you knew there would be this “But…”) I would have liked to have seen something a little more than a post about him possibly not reading the situation correctly. This was not merely an error born of ignorance but also insults born out of arrogance.  Until someone within TGC takes this head on, the perception will continue – you can be as insulting as you want as long as you are Reformed and missional.

A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Part 2

Since I posted and linked about the church discipline case at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, I have heard from a number of people, nearly all finding this kind of thing abhorrent. But a few others have pushed back a little and defended the actions of Mars Hill. Others think I and others have been too quick to judge. I’ve heard from a few folks once connected with Mars Hill and all were not surprised. I also heard from a Mars Hill pastor. He thinks I have made a mistake in judging them.

I’d like to list out some responses and sundry thoughts which have been brewing in my mind over the last couple of days.

1. The first thing that needs to be discussed is the opinion of those who think this (Andrew’s story) is only one side of the story and we need to reserve judgement till we hear the other side. This is not only ridiculous, it is also false. Andrew’s story is the other side of the story. Remember, the letter was sent out first to thousands of people on The City. Would the Mars Hill leadership have wanted anyone in the congregation to seek out the other side of the story after sending out that letter? Actually, we know the answer. They told them to shun him and to only communicate to him his need of repentance. We already know what the leadership thinks of Andrew and his behavior. The only people who think we need to wait around to hear more from Mars Hill are the kind of people who take the word of the respected megachurch leader over the defenseless.

2. “But Matt, don’t you think he needs accountability?” If by accountability you mean authoritarian control straight out of a cult group’s handbook, then no. No one needs that kind of accountability. There is nothing of the sort laid out for us in Scripture. If Christians want to voluntarily subject themselves to such a thing among friends, then fine. OK, have fun with that. But for a church to require accountability that demands such personal and intimate details has veered into a legalism that only makes sense in the worldview of cult-like leaders and followers.

3. I didn’t have a sister growing up. But Julie “Jules” Head Groves was pretty darn close. Her big brothers are some the best friends a guy could have. When she read about all this, she said, “They might as well have stamped a letter “A” on him.” It’s a brilliant point. I wish I had thought of that literary allusion. It’s perfect. if you’ve read Hawthorne’s sad masterpiece, it would be easy to find the Mars Hill leadership in the story. And the contract. And the “letter” sent out on The City.

4. Who are we to require more signs of repentance than Jesus did? Whatever happened to, “Go and sin no more?” I have not read the parable of the prodigal son in a while but if I remember correctly there was no contract to sign, just grace. I mean, maybe the leadership of Mars Hill thinks asking the repentant to sign a discipline contract is like a hug followed by a party.

5. Where are the voices of reason within my own theological tribe? Where is John Piper and D.A. Carson, et al? Do they not care about this? Do they only care if Driscoll cusses but not about the church culture he has created? If TGC and T4G and all the Reformed bigwigs say nothing, then we can assume they have no problem with Mars Hill’s discipline contracts.

6. The neo-calvinistic folks love to wield the word gospel around like a whip with which to keep others in line. OK, let’s do it. This is a gospel issue. Either he is forgiven by God without having to jump through hoops or not. Andrew is either repentant or not. Why the need for hoops? When I read Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace years ago, I remember one particular chapter in particular. It was all about the hoops we all felt like we had to jump through to gain God’s favor. Why should Mars Hill require hoops when God required Jesus? John Piper once asked what I thought was a great question, “Why should the doors of the church be more narrow than the gates of heaven?” So I ask “Why should any church require hoops God does not?” “I know Jesus forgives you but, well, we need you to sign a contract to make sure you really, really mean it. Really.”

7. I am now part of the story of two Acts 29 churches. One’s core group was a ministry I started. The other is the church I recently resigned from but has not been an Acts 29 church for almost a year. The reason I was attracted to this church planting group was the prophetic urgency of the gospel of grace. But even though there are certainly very good pastors involved with Acts 29, I would not attend one of their churches. The prophetic voice is always directed elsewhere. Where is the Paul, who will look in the eye of Peter and call him on it? For some reason we think it’s so courageous to have a famous Acts 29 pastor go to a very broad conference and hit a home run and blow away the ones with poorer theology. What’s so courageous about that? Courage would be saying publicly, “I am an Acts 29 pastor and I’ve had enough.” Why will this not happen? Because they are either afraid or think it is no big deal. Or church discipline contracts are laudable.

8. Last thing. Let’s assume for a moment that this is an isolated incident. Some seem to be taking it as such. “Why are you so worked up about this?” Just a couple of weeks ago we heard an interview in which the leader of Mars Hill challenged a British interviewer by pointing to the success of Mars Hill compared to the small church the interviewer goes to. Maybe you think that is OK….not sure how, but maybe you do. Here’s the thing, should we not be able to evaluate a church based on how it treats its members? And not only by how many members and attenders there are? If you can point to the numbers and proclaim success to the world, can’t others point to a church discipline contract and say, “legalism?” If this is not legalism, then what is?

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. I’m not a blogger, I’m a banker who blogs.

2. I’m Irish-Native-American. Which is why I prefer to drink my firewater in a pub. With corn beef. Maize beef?

3. Does Mars Hill have a church discipline contract for those struggling with Gluttony?

4. The people I work with keep asking me to do things like count money. And they want me to be precise, because it’s money. It’s pretty frustrating.

5. “Before ordering dinner I will call my Community group leader.”

6. I think I should keep posting this video till all of you admit it is epic music.

7. With so many things that I love, you can almost draw a straight line to Ireland.

8. “I will not serve in any capacity at Mars Hill…unless it involves heavy physical labor wherein I might lose some weight.”

9. Don’t think of this as a blog so much as your conscience.

10. I was about to confess to you I have not had bacon in days but I’m afraid of what y’all will require from me in the name of love for me to demonstrate my sincere love of bacon. Unless it is eating bacon, crispy bacon. Not afraid of that.

A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle

One of my favorite bloggers has posted links detailing a case of church discipline at Mars Hills Church in Seattle. I was not an Acts 29 pastor but I was a pastor at a church that was planted as one and now no longer is. Get all that?

Regardless, this has the ring of truth to my ears. And not just because I’m cynical. Or disgruntled.

There is a breed of person who should probably not read this story. At least not yet. If you think it cannot be true or you are blinded by celebrity worship, then move along to the bow of the ship with your instruments.

Those who want to proceed, go ahead and hit the link above and then come back here…

Are you back? There are a lot of things wrong with this but in my mind the gravest is the letter sent out on The City. But maybe that’s because I’ve been the subject of discussion on The City. And it was not edifying discussion. Only because a good friend alerted me to it, did I know and was able to defend myself. I was not able to access site personally.

I’d much rather write about Flannery O’Connor than this. But these kinds of things need to be discussed, especially if Driscoll is going to hold up his congregation for the world to see as the standard.

Let me make myself clear hear. I believe in church discipline. The great majority of the theology taught at Mars Hill, I adhere to. And love.

But this reeks of something other than caring discipline. It has all the hallmarks of authoritarianism. Or something worse. Remember this guy went to them and confessed. Again. And again.

Feel free to discuss in the comments. All attempts to go after me will be left up and laughed at. 😉

Tuesday’s 10: Reasons to Read Flannery O’Connor

I’ve been enthralled with the writings of Flannery O’Connor for about 15 years now. Her short stories and essays have become companions. A couple of months ago, I was having lunch with a friend, who also likes her work. He asked me pointedly, “Why O’Connor?” I cannot remember what I said but the question keeps getting asked and answered in my own head. This past week I sat down, while sick, and read her novel, The Violent Bear It Away. The question came again. Here are ten reasons to consider giving her a try.

1. She’s a great writer. This may seem the most obvious. But I am not so sure. Oftentimes, her southern gothic stories and the characters within overshadow how well she wrote. She didn’t just create great characters and memorable stories, she surrounded them with incredible sceneries of words and sentences. I can picture the Geranium sitting on the window sill.

2. She wrote short stories. Now, you may think the shorter the story, the easier it is to write. Short story writers like O’Connor would disagree. Creating something of lasting value with limited length is no easy task. She did this masterfully, every short story a snapshot into realities which we might not have noticed otherwise. Every year an award is given in her name to a short story writer.

3. Every story is one of faith. Sometimes it’s front and center and at others, faith is in the corners lurking. Waiting. But its always there. This is not to say her stories should be seen as morality tales. She would not appreciate that. But she was a woman of deep faith and she wrote as if.

4. She nails language. If you are a writer and you want to write novels, study O’Connor. She dignifies all the contours of Southern speech and thought with writing which distinguishes the region’s accent and colloquialisms from everywhere else.

5. She’s funny. Her stories are full of humor. Not because she tells jokes of any kind but because they are full of everyday ridiculousness. The kind we laugh at in ourselves and others. her most horrific and most popular story, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, stands this kind of humor right up against the invasion of grace in a haunting final scene.

6. Her stories are not easy. Yes, this is an actual reason to read her, not to avoid her. Learning and stretching your tastes is not just for High School and College students. It’s true, you may read a story of hers and wonder what the point is. But there you have already missed the point. Her stories are not morality tales. They are stories. And hers will stick with you for years after you’ve read them. And chances are at some point you will see something in the real world you would have missed had you not read Good Country People or Everything That Rises Must Converge. Often parts of our own lives only make sense years later. Why should fiction be so different?

7. She’s Southern. In my opinion, this may be the greatest thing about her. But forgive me, I’m Southern and we are not used to being proud of people or happenings in which  the rest of world is also. But while many from the South long to escape the stereotypes and the distinctives, she embraced them and in a way she has been an instrument for redeeming them. She doesn’t romanticize, she merely points.

8. She’s Catholic. This may turn you off but in my mind it’s an asset. She is able to show me things I might not see without her eyes. Her eyes, so full of the sacramental, help me see the echoes of grace and the mercy of God, not just in her stories but everywhere.

9. Her characters are grotesque. This does not mean they are all ugly. This does not mean they are all bad. But their extremes show us more of them than we might see otherwise. She draws them in stark relief to all the heroes we are accustomed to staring at. They can help us understand other people and they can help us understand ourselves.

10. This was her life. That’s not an entirely fair statement. And this is hard to explain, but when you read about her life, her writing defines it. She never married. There are no romances, really. There is very little drama. She was single and lived a short life. And no beauty by the world’s standards. It is all about the words picked up by the winds of her mind and then laid down in these stories. She was devoted to these stories with routine and affection. And I think the stories find their most potent power in the context of her life.

The House of Truth and the Hearth of Kindness

“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them.” 

“What we tell you is for your good,” added Bessie, in no harsh voice, “you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, Missis will send you away, I am sure.”     – from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 

This scene is early in the story of Jane Eyre, orphaned and taken in by an uncle, now dead. The uncle exacted a promise of kindness from his wife on behalf of Jane. Attacked by her older male cousin and now sentenced to a room for hours, one rumored to be haunted, she is scolded by the servants.

The Reed family, along with all the servants, even the one servant who deigned to speak tenderly to Jane Eyre, understood that as long as they housed her, there was no other kindness needed. This was sufficient.

She is ridiculed when not ignored. Lied about often and left out of festivities such as Christmas, she seeks warmth where it may be found – a ragged toy, a borrowed book or a quickly fading hearth.

As soon as I read the above the other night, I knew I had seen in this story what I’d been seeing in the church.

The current evangelical disposition is to act, preach and lecture as if all we must do is dispense truth. This is kindness enough. As long as we have the house of truth we can wink at ridicule. Brash is celebrated as boldness. Lack of kindness is applauded as being the passionate convictions of a straight-shooter.

The Reed family thought housing Jane was enough.

We evangelicals think the truth is plenty kind.

Prognosticators, who I agree with in almost every way have decried the loss of absolute truth and prophesied the impending doom of evangelicalism because of it. But I think they are wrong on this. Evangelicalism’s great threat is not merely error for which we must erect battlements. It is the loss of loving-kindness within its own walls. The doctrinal bombs thrown up against the walls of orthodoxy are not nearly as deafening as the clanging gongs of our words of truth without love.

When the first opportunity presented itself, for her to leave the only real house she knew, Jane Eyre took it. She knew she could be cared for with a roof over her head at Gateshead. She would eat well enough. She would be clothed. She would have a comfortable bed. But she chose to leave Gateshead because this kind of care without kindness was not enough.

I cannot help but think we are headed in this direction. Maybe we are already there. Some say the mass exodus has already begun. While Christians young and old yearn for steadfast convictions in this world set upon a sea with no anchors to be found, they also long for some kindness. They ache for kindness.

You may disagree. You may think this is not what people really want. Those who say they want kindness really want a wishy-washy faith. They are limp-wristed momma’s boys who want a hippie Jesus.

How kind.

My response is to think we should be kind regardless whether it is what they want or not. Whether they are our brothers and sisters in Christ or we are not sure of their salvation or they are our enemies. Whether they have women pastors or not. Whether they disagree with us on essentials or peripherals.

For some reason this is controversial to many people. My guess? We think if we are kind to them, they will think we are accepting them in their errors. So we correct them and call it “tough love.” We don’t want them to think they can get away with error or sin.

But maybe this is exactly how it’s supposed to be?
Isn’t this what grace is at its core? God loving us in a way that looks like we are getting away with something? If we cannot see this, how can we be sure we have not drawn people into a house of legalism in the name of truth?

Jane’s aunt held Jane’s living in her house over her. The grace of kindness was not known. She had a luxurious roof over her head but had not earned by blood anything like kindness. Just like how those we disagree with have not earned kindness through correct doctrine or acceptable convictions.

We are happy to invite them into the house of truth but an invite to sit around the hearth of kindness is becoming more and more unusual as it becomes more and more crucial.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Got another tweet from Dale Murphy last night. Which is a dream come true. As a kid back in the 80s I’d watch him play on TBS and think, “Wow, I’d love to get a tweet from him.”

2. Grammar rules are for the little people. We can’t say ‘midgets’ anymore, right?

3. This week I’ve eaten quiche twice, drank hot tea, read a poem and started Jane Eyre. I’m afraid Driscoll is going to tweet, “Farewell Matt Redmond.”

4. You don’t think Murph thinks I’m the Christian singer, do you?

5. I go back and forth with Gingrich…I mean sometimes I’m reminded of Monty Python but sometimes I immediately think of fruit cookies.

6. I may or may not be looking over my wife’s shoulder while she peruses Pinterest right now.

7. Not all that glitters is glitter.

8. Wait, do Mormons listen to CCM?

9. My wife showed me a bacon recipe on Pinterest and didn’t pin it. I don’t even know her anymore.

10. The laughter of my children has all the magic of stars at eye-level.

Looking Over My Shoulder at Eden

I hadn’t read to my kids in over a week. It’s possible it’s been closer to two. This cold won’t exit the premises and everyday I’ve come home from work, my voice has. But last night I was determined.

So I picked up our well-worn copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible and we started from the beginning. My eight year old sat in rapt attention as always and my 5 year old checked out about 2 pages in. Until we got to this part-

“And Adam and Eve joined in the song of the stars and the streams and the wind in the trees, the wonderful song of love to the one who made them. Their hearts were filled with happiness. And nothing ever made them sad or lonely or sick or afraid.”

By this time our attention fixed like predators on prey. And my eyes in collusion with my heart almost caused the embarrassment of me losing it completely in front of my kids.

Maybe it’s because I don’t feel well. Maybe it was the moment, sitting there in solemn silence with those two holy persons so close I could smell the shampoo in their hair and feel the softness of their pajamas.

Or maybe I’m tired. And this sounded like the vacation we all hope for but never really materializes. The dream of so much good invading our senses the bad is crowded out.

Just imagining such a time is incredible and also painful. Sure, I’ve thought about it before but sometimes, like last night, boom, it lands on me in a way I can almost taste. So the heart aches. Because it is not really within reach. And so we gotta look forward.

But I kept looking back.

No colds, for me or my family.
No worries about the future.
No worries about now.
The bills.
The needs.
No wondering if my kids will turn out alright.
No taking dessert away from kids.
No not being able to afford it.
No broken sinks.
Or cars.
Or bones
Lives.

All the hurt was unknown for Adam and Eve. My wife and I think a Hampton Inn is the lap of luxury. Can you imagine having the world to yourself and no pain or sickness or hunger or jealousy or frustration or futility in work or sadness or cancer or loss or death?

This is not to say my life is hard – though every life has some hard, jagged edges. But sometimes the difficulties are in technicolor brilliance and the good stuff is playing on a crappy black and white TV with 3 channels.

And I know I’m looking back at what was and I need to look forward at will be. I assume it will be better. That’s pretty hard to believe though. I’d just be happy with Eden at this point.

I suppose this is what the stories are for and why they’ve been given. So we can pine. So the muscles of faith can be stretched in the world we know as we prepare for the moments coming full of a world we can hardly imagine.

Tuesday’s 10: Thoughts on the Newest Mark Driscoll Controversy

In case you have not yet heard about the interview Mark Driscoll did over in Britain – wait, are you sitting down? – he needlessly offends a number of people, namely all the not-famous pastors throughout the UK. Especially the old ones who wear clerical robes.

If you want to read up on it, go here, here and here.

Following are 10 thoughts on all of this.

1. This is getting very predictable. About every six months, Driscoll says something ridiculous, gets a lot of attention, blames others, does not apologize and no one within his own tribe ever calls him on it. You see, only if he uses really bad language is anyone going to call him on it publicly. Because the fruit of the Spirit is clean language.

2. The celebrity pastor. Driscoll sees the presence of the Spirit in the life of a church through the singular phenomenon of young, well-known male preachers. In other words we are no longer discussing the celebrity pastor as an underlying issue which we need to careful of. It is now the clear standard by which we measure faithfulness and success in ministry.

3. The missional problem. Obviously as long as you are missional (whatever that means), you can be insulting. You can go too far and justify your actions by your works as a pastor. You can be unkind but it’s OK because you have a big church with a lot of conversions.

4. Actually. I would love to live in a culture where there were no famous young pastors. Just faithful ones.

5. “But you used to love Driscoll.” I also used to need a diaper.  Both have a lot of crap in common. And I grew out of both in just a few years.

6. I am not a liberal in my theology. I’m very conservative in my theology. But I am also broad in my desire for unity. I’m getting to the point where I would rather be associated with some of the more liberal theologians than guys like Driscoll who bully and ridicule and defend themselves with their spiritual bona fides.

7. Jesus or Mesus? Go listen to the interview and you will wonder. Or not.

8. Was the interview combative? Nope. But what if it was? Shouldn’t that be OK? Or should Driscoll assume all interviewers agree with him. He could have easily just said, “Hey, you are going to disagree with me on this but here is what I believe…” But he didn’t. He called the interviewer annoying. That was before he insulted the interviewer’s wife.

9. Jonathan Edwards was a sissy. I mean, he wore one of those “dresses” too. Didn’t he? As well as Calvin. And all the reformers. Too bad they didn’t live in a  culture where it was acceptably masculine to wear a Mickey Mouse shirt.

10. The great problem. The great problem for the church is not that we aren’t sufficiently missions-oriented or don’t evangelize enough. It seems if that should be our focus Paul would have said something about our need for it. But he did say a lot about love and kindness and patience and peace and unity. The only reason this will not be a big deal to many people is because we don’t care about what Paul cared about. We would rather correct people than be kind to them. And it will continue.