The Lord Comes Amidst Poverty

The Lord of all comes as a slave amidst poverty. The hunter has no wish to startle his prey. Choosing for his birthplace an unknown village in a remote province, he is born of a poor maiden and accepts all that poverty implies, for he hopes by stealth to ensnare and save us.

If he had been born to high rank and amidst luxury, unbelievers would have said the world had been transformed by wealth. If he had chosen as his birthplace the great city of Rome, they would have thought the transformation had been brought about by civil power. Suppose he had been the son of an emperor. They would have said: "How useful it is to be powerful!" Imagine him the son of a senator. It would have been: "Look what can be accomplished by legislation!"

But in fact, what did he do? He chose surroundings that were poor and simple, so ordinary as to be almost unnoticed, so that people would know it was the Godhead alone that had changed the world. This was his reason for choosing his mother from among the poor of a very poor country, and for becoming poor himself.

(Theodotus of Ancyra, a martyred saint from the 4th century)

Review: How Many Kings by Downhere

I'm pretty picky when it comes to my Christmas music. The old songs have been done so often and it's hard to improve on them. The news songs don't always measure up. But I'm glad to recommend this album by Canadian group Downhere.

The song that got me hooked is the title track How Many Kings. This new song is good enough to add anyone's Christmas repertoire, and I'll be using it this coming Sunday morning. If nothing else, buy this one track from iTunes or Amazon MP3s.

The rest of the album is good too. There are fun parts and some good covers of traditional pieces. My favorite cover is Silent Night.

Glad to find this Canadian group. Good work.

More at Amazon.com | Amazon MP3 | iTunes | Downhere.com

Review: Primal

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, wants a reformation.

Our generation needs a reformation.
But a single person won’t lead it.
A single event won’t define it.
Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living creatively, compassionately, courageously for the cause of Christ.

This reformation will not be born of a new discovery. It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient.

Something primal.

What's he talking about? The Great Commandment - what he calls the Primal Commandment. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30).

So far so good. Batterson uses this command to talk about four areas: the heart (compassion), the soul (wonder), the mind (curiosity), and strength (energy or service) of Christianity. "We've got to be great at the Great Commandment," he writes "Anything less isn't good enough." The last Reformation was about Sola fide (faith alone). The rallying cry of the next reformation, he says, is Amo Dei, which means "Love God."

Here's what I liked: this is an easy read, with lots of good illustrations and some good challenges. Batterson is clearly a skilled communicator, and he says lots of things that are true.

But I also had some concerns. Was Jesus really giving us a four-point outline? I don't think so. He mentions four good areas, but I'm not sure we're supposed to split Jesus' statement apart this way. The fourfold command is a call to love God completely.

I'm also not sure that loving God with our heart translates is the same thing as having compassion for others. This seems to be a necessary implication of loving God, but not the same thing.

At one point Batterson uses Joseph as an example of someone who lacked emotional intelligence (EQ) and therefore was not compassionate. Later, Joseph increased his EQ and was used by God, which is good because it led to the salvation of two nations and the unfolding of God's redemptive plan. At one level, I suppose this is true, but it seems to trivialize the story of Joseph, which is not about improving our emotional intelligence or compassion. This type of thing happens a few times. You can't argue against emotional intelligence, but is that really the point of the story?

Mostly, though, I would have liked to have seen more reminders that the Great Commandment is a summary of the Law. Paul has all kinds of things to say about the Law. We may need a new reformation, but it sure isn't a reformation of trying to keep the Law better. There's gospel in this book, but it's not the focus of this book. I'm all for the Great Commandment, of course, but we need to remember that the Law condemns us, restrains us, and provides a guide for how to live as believers, but it sure doesn't save us. It's shows us our need for the gospel, and tells us how we should live in response, but it's sure not our hope.

I don't like writing this review. I want to like this book, and it is fun to read. It says lots of true things. But I was hoping for more. It's getting good reviews at Amazon, but I have some reservations.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Read more at Amazon.com | WaterBrook Multnomah