July 31, 2006


Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Steven Wedgeworth (whom I haven’t actually met, in person or online: Hello, Steven!) and Jeff Meyers tagged me for a book thing that’s going around the web. Ask me again and I could, of course, give different answers to each question.  But these will do for now.  If you want explanations, feel free to ask.  

1. One book that changed your life: The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Lancelot by Walker Percy
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe (but I’d especially want to have The Book of the New Sun and The Book of the Short Sun too)
4. One book that made you laugh: The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
5. One book that made you cry: Born Brothers by Larry Woiwode
6. One book that you wish had been written: Genesis: A Practical and Theological Commentary by James B. Jordan
7. One book that you wish had never been written: The New International Version
8. One book you’re currently reading: Absolute Truths by Susan Howatch
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Introduction to Systematic Theology by Cornelius Van Til
10.  Now tag five people: Actually, I’m tagging seven. Anyone mind?


Posted by John Barach @ 9:56 pm | Discuss (10)
July 16, 2006


Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

I’m currently preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. But when I finish this series, I’d like to start on the book of Genesis. I have a number of commentaries, monographs, and articles on Genesis. But I’d like to know what you would recommend that I read (or hear, for that matter) on Genesis. What would be your “must have” commentaries? What articles provide not-to-be-missed insights?

I’m particularly interested in commentaries that pay close attention to the literary features of the text and to symbolism and typology, and I’d prefer commentaries that make me think, even if they are sometimes quirky and strange.

So … recommendations?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:18 pm | Discuss (5)
July 13, 2006

Divorce Culture

Category: Ethics :: Permalink

The other day, I mentioned that Anthony Bradley had talked at the Reform & Resurge conference about how divorce affects far more people than just the couple divorcing. Wendy Shalit agrees:

I think the significance of divorce for my generation has been underestimated. Those who write about the ill effects of divorce usually write about the children of divorce — on their drug habits, or on the likelihood that they will get divorced too. Most critiques of divorce focus on this or that side effect, and only on the children of the rupture, as if divorce were an unpleasant consideration confined to its most immediate victims. But most of my friends whose parents are not divorced have essentially the same anxieties as children of divorced parents. What’s rarely talked about is what it’s like to grow up in a divorce culture even when your parents are not divorced. For even when they’re happy, they always could get divorced; indeed, statistics say it’s more likely that they will get divorced than stay together (A Return to Modesty, p. 210).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:02 pm | Discuss (0)
July 12, 2006

Plantinga on Shalit

Category: Ethics :: Permalink

In “Difference, Modesty, and Sexuality,” Theodore Plantinga interacts with Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty and points out the connection between modesty and heterosexuality: “I maintain that a society that discourages modesty in the hope of somehow being ‘open’ and ‘liberated’ also — perhaps unconsciously — undermines heterosexuality.”

Posted by John Barach @ 3:41 pm | Discuss (0)

A Return to Modesty

Category: Ethics :: Permalink

Last night, I finished reading Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Moriah had read it last year and recommended it to me. I started it before the move down here but didn’t pick it up again until recently. I’m glad I did.

Shalit provides not only a defense of modesty in general and a summons for people (and girls, in particular) to return to modesty, but also many helpful analyses of what happened in western culture to move people away from modesty and what happens when such a shift takes place.

When so many voices in our culture are urging us to overcome inhibitions and all sense of shame or embarrassment, it’s refreshing to hear Shalit say, “Embarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very significant is going on, that some boundary is being threatened — either by you or by others” (p. 22).

I also appreciated her defense of hard feelings:

All those bad feelings we are too enlightened to feel nowadays — such as resentment, jealousy, betrayal — also signify the capacity to lose yourself in the first place, to fall in love with someone other than yourself. They presuppose that there is a soul to protect, that there are hopes to be shattered, a lost love to guard, even if now only mentally and futilely. No hard feelings? I’m advocating a return to precisely that: hard feelings. At least then you know you’re a person, that you have a heart (p. 34).

Her comments on the social effects of immodesty are also important. When most girls aren’t sleeping around, then a girl who feels pressured to do so will have a stronger sense of what she ought and ought not to do. She’ll have support to fall back on. But if most girls are sleeping around, then a girl who wants to be accepted — not least by a guy — will feel much more pressure to lower her standards and will have less of a support network to depend upon. In fact, girls who don’t sleep around feel pressured to act, talk, and dress as if they do in order not to stand out or be thought weird.

As she says,

To the extent premarital sex is accepted, to that extent is the idea of the necessity of marriage undermined….  To the extent that premarital sex is practiced and encouraged, to that extent will women who want to wait until marriage find it harder to meet men who will marry them without “trying them out” first, to have patience with someone with “hang-ups” — which is to say, hopes…. 

One of my professors who didn’t think modesty was a serious subject of inquiry memorably asked me why I couldn’t “just be modest and shut up about it!” The answer is that modesty simply cannot be “just” a private virtue — a “personal choice” — in a culture where there is such a high survival value placed on immodesty. The choices some women make restrict the choices open to other women. Perhaps this is where liberalism failed, because it claimed society could be simply neutral about individuals’ choices, and it never can. The direction of social pressure cannot be discounted (p. 228).

The Amazon reviewer (“Homeschooling Single Mom”) who complained that “Shalit makes wild sweeping historical generalizations without ever providing any sort of support for these claims aside from anecdotal stories and soundbites from women’s magazines” has a point. She does seem to paint a rosy picture of the past. For instance:

It is today’s male who is thought manly by “scoring.” In a different time he proved his manhood by being honorable. Success with women used to mean being faithful to one of them (p. 147). 

That sounds great, and it’s a good definition of true success with women, but is it historically accurate? Weren’t there always guys in the past, including in 19th century England to which she’s referring here, who boasted of their sexual conquests?

Still, I think Shalit is correct in implying that there has usually been a general stigma against immodesty on the part of women. That, it seems to me, is what is changing: not whether men boast about their sexual conquests and not whether they can find women to conquer but how society views loose women. Now “looseness” is the norm and that norm is, in many circles, being pushed on women who would rather not be loose.

So in spite of the flaws which Shalit’s account has, it is still valuable reading — for girls but also for young men who need to understand how to behave toward women and why, for parents seeking to raise children to love and to honor modesty, and for pastors whose congregations need to model before the world a new and different way of living, talking, and dressing.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:28 pm | Discuss (0)
July 8, 2006

Reform & Resurge 2

Category: Theology :: Permalink

A long time ago, so long ago that most of you have forgotten about it already, I attended the Reform and Resurge conference hosted by Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I started blogging about it when I got back home, but then life interrupted me. So here’s a somewhat belated review of some more of the conference.

The second speaker was Anthony Bradley. Bradley himself seems disappointed with his talk. I will admit that I was disappointed by the beginning, where he appeared to be trying to hard to seem hip and funny, and the end, where he presented a rather strange interpretation of being the “salt of the earth.”

But in between, he said some very good things. His title was “Beyond Brokenness: How Jacked-Up Punks Will Change the World,” and he painted a powerful picture of the brokenness in our world. I was particularly struck by his remark that men are frequently trying to answer the question “Am I okay?” and they answer it by turning to work or even entering the pastorate so that they can hear people tell them that they’re okay (“Pastor, you have changed my life! I’ve never heard anything like that before!”). Ministers wreck their churches by trying to manipulate peple into making them feel validated as men.

I also appreciated Bradley’s statement that people are more than just sinners; they’re also broken and in need of healing. I was struck by the same thing in Harvey Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Conn talks about working with prostitutes in Korea.

At first, he said, he simply approached them as women who were sinning. But then he learned more of their story. He learned how they came to the cities with no money, hoping to find work to support their families at home, but instead were caught by men who promised them a place to live but who raped them instead and then told them that they owed them room and board and could only pay off the debt through prostitution.

Were the women sinning? Perhaps. But they were also victims, broken and in need of rescue and healing.

So it is with people in the world around us. Are they sinners? Yes. But they are also broken people, people whose lives are (to use a phrase I heard often at the conference) “jacked-up.” Many of them have been seriously hurt by divorce. (Bradley recommended The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, based on a 25-year study of people involved in divorces). Divorce leaves people (husbands, wives, children, and others) broken and fearful.

Our world is full of brokenness. But it is precisely broken people that God takes and uses to change the world. Isaiah 61 is a familiar passage because it’s the passage Jesus quoted at the outset of his ministry in Galilee (“The Spirit of Yahweh God is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me”). But what we often miss, and what I hadn’t noticed until Bradley pointed it out, is that the focus of the passage is not strictly on what the Anointed One is going to do.

That’s where Isaiah starts. The Anointed One is going to proclaim good news, heal the brokenhearted, announce liberty to captives, and so forth. He’s going to comfort and console people and dress them in praise. He’s going to give them a new identity so that they will no longer be junk, identified by their abuse, but will become new creations in Christ.

But that isn’t where the passage stops. It goes on to say that these people, the very ones who were broken, will be the ones who rebuild the old ruins and repair the ruined cities (Isa. 61:4). Jesus heals broken people. But he heals them in order to make them into agents for healing.

Bradley himself may be disappointed with his talk and parts of it were disappointing. But at the heart of it was a great encouragement and a good summons to what Mark Horne calls “cruciform dominion,” God’s use of broken people to bring salvation to the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 pm | Discuss (0)
July 7, 2006

Smith on Waters

Category: Theology :: Permalink

Recently Guy Waters published a book, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis. in which he makes some criticisms of things I’ve said in lectures and articles. Bill Smith responds with an extensive review of Waters’s book.

He points out, among other things, that Waters has this remarkable sentence about what he sees as my views:

To understand assurance in a subjective sense, Barach appears to suggest, is to compromise biblical grace, in that we “contribute to God’s election” or election is grounded on human works (p. 136). 

I don’t recall ever having said any such thing and I certainly don’t believe that “understanding assurance in a subjective sense,” by which I take Waters to be referring to personal assurance of salvation, is compromising grace or contributing to God’s election or grounding election on human works. I have never said anything like that.

As Bill Smith points out in his review, what Waters is picking up on is a comment I made about the exegesis of 2 Peter 1:10 (“Be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure”). What I said was this:

What does he [Peter] mean? The context here is not dealing with personal assurance. He is also not saying that we can somehow contribute to God’s election or that God’s election is based on something in ourselves or something we have done (cited by Waters, p. 136). 

As you can see, I did say that 2 Peter 1:10 isn’t dealing with personal assurance. Peter doesn’t say, “Make yourselves sure of your calling and election,” though that’s often how people take it. Rather, he’s talking about living in a way that “confirms” or “makes sure” one’s calling and election. In saying this, however, I am not disparaging an interest in personal assurance. I’m merely saying that that isn’t Peter’s focus here.

Nor do I say that an interest in personal assurance is an attempt to contribute to God’s election as if it’s based on something we do. Rather, I say that, in telling us to make our calling and election sure, Peter is not saying that we are to contribute to them or that they are somehow based on us and our works. God’s calling and election are not grounded on anything in ourselves.

But Waters has somehow gotten these two negative statements (“Not X and also not Y”) jumbled in such a way that he thinks I’m saying that X is Y, that an interest in assurance is somehow a quest to contribute to our election. That’s unfortunate.

What is even more unfortunate is that this misunderstanding could easily have been avoided. Several months ago, I e-mailed Waters, and offered to review the sections in which he discussed me so that together we could make sure that the finished work represented my views accurately. He was not willing to let me interact with what he had written, however. Now the work is in print, errors and all, even though those errors could easily have been cleared up beforehand.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:33 pm | Discuss (4)
July 6, 2006

Work and Organization

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

As I set out on the project of being a church planter, I realize that I have lots and lots of work to do but that most of it isn’t clearly defined.

For instance, I need to get to know Medford and this region and that will involve meeting people (Ed Stetzer recommends finding the people who love your community) and talking to them about the city, its history, its needs, and so forth. But getting to know your community isn’t a well-defined project with eight steps, so that when you’ve done all eight you know your job is done. It’s an ongoing thing.

So is getting out into the community. Who should I meet today? Where should I go? How do I meet people and interact with them? Talking to people and building relationships with them is part of my calling, but it isn’t something that I can easily schedule.

But other aspects of my work are much more straightforward. For instance, I have to write a sermon and do the bulletin each week. But I don’t want those jobs to crowd out the other, less-defined ones, or vice versa.

Any organizational or time-management tips you’d like to share? Any good books on the subject that you’d especially recommend?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:13 pm | Discuss (0)
July 1, 2006

Superman Returns

Category: Movies :: Permalink

My parents are here on vacation. My dad has been helping me get my books unpacked and my office set up, and my mom has been relaxing, playing with Aletheia and visiting some secondhand stores with Moriah.

Yesterday afternoon, Dad and I went to see Superman Returns. In a word: It’s a dud.

In what follows, there are some spoilers.

The plot is weak.

We’re supposed to believe that Lex Luthor (who is never frightening) is going to create a new continent off the coast of North America, which will quickly shift the earth’s surface so that much of North America is either under water or is incorporated into the new continent. But the new continent, when we see the first stage of it, is entirely made of crystals. Nothing would grow on it, and so no one would live there, which means (contrary to Luther’s plans) that it’s worthless land.

Furthermore, there were no surprises. Sure, the movie tried to give us surprises. A plane plummets toward the ground and disappears from view … and then, comes flying back into view, supposedly because the pilot finally managed to pull it out of its dive! Anyone seen that one before? Of course, you have. A man in the hospital is flatlining. He’s dead. Next scene: He’s in a coma. (Huh? How did that happen?) Someone comes to visit him. Does he wake up? No. (Ha! Fooled you!) But in the next scene, he’s alive again. Could you have predicted that? Of course you could. It’s one cliche after another.

I also have to admit that huge catastrophes don’t particularly move me in films. Maybe that’s just me. I don’t find it particularly scary to watch earthquakes ripping apart the ocean floor or make builidngs fall down. I’m much more interested in smaller-scale dangers, I guess. I want to have a sense that the people that I care about (not just people in general) are in serious danger of being hurt by other people, not by somewhat impersonal catastrophes (even if they are launched by homicidal maniacs). But, as I said earlier, Lex Luther and his schemes were never remotely frightening. And, more significantly, at no point did I feel that one of the characters was really seriously in danger.

In fact, there was only one character that I cared even marginally about. I found Superman thoroughly annoying, topped only by Jimmy. Lois Lane was hardly believable as a journalist or as a Mom (“How many f’s are there in catastrophe?” this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist asks, apparently, I’m told, in continuity with the first movie, but still…).

The only person I cared about was her (shack-up) fiancee, and mainly because I thought he cared for her more than Clark Kent/Superman did and I didn’t want the movie to kill him off or make him be the ultimate bad guy or otherwise separate him from Lois Lane so that she could be with Superman. I cared about him because I thought he seemed like a decent guy, a good dad, a loving “husband” and so forth, and I didn’t know if the movie would value that enough in the face of a possible affair between Lois and Superman.

Toward the end, I almost fell asleep. Dull dull dull.

Of course, some reviewers will tell you that there are all kinds of Christian symbolism in it. After all, one of the big questions the movie asks is “Does the world need a savior?” Superman hangs in space, hearing everyone’s cries for help. When Superman “dies,” he has his arms stretched out and his feet crossed in a cruciform position. That kind of stuff is almost certainly deliberate.

So is the stuff about “sending my only son” to the world, though in this case Jor-El says that it’s because the people of Earth have so much potential for good. There’s some weird stuff about “now the son becomes the father and the father becomes the son” and some Christian reviewer a bit weak on the doctrine of the Trinity will doubtless see that as an echo of “I in you and you in Me.”

But all of that is really the lamest and most obvious sort of quasi-Christian symbolism (“Let’s put in some Christian symbolism here”) and it certainly doesn’t redeem this movie.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:03 pm | Discuss (1)