Friday, October 11, 2019

Book Review: Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles, by David Powlison

David Powlison entered the presence of Jesus on June 7, 2019. The church lost one of its modern-day giants with his passing. But he left behind a great legacy of material for troubled souls, and those who minister to them.

His final gift to the church was this little, 103-page book about spiritual warfare. While intended primarily for those who minister to others, Safe & Sound is an excellent resource for those who are suffering themselves.

Part One deals with the reality and description of spiritual warfare. The first chapter urges the reader to acknowledge and accept the truth that Satan is real and life is a spiritual battle in which the enemy of our souls plays a terrible role. The following chapter consists of an exploration of the key passages in the Pauline corpus that instruct us as to how to understand and wage spiritual warfare. Chapter three examines the weapons of the whole armor in Ephesians 6, and shows us that the imagery is not drawn from the panoply of the Roman soldier (which is how most teach this passage), but rather from images of the Messiah in Isaiah and the Psalms. Jesus is our Divine Warrior (a term I first heard from Tremper Longman) who both battles for us, and shows us how to conduct spiritual warfare.

Part Two of the book applies the teaching of the first part to specific struggles. Powlison introduces this section by showing how, first, Jesus models this mode of warfare, and second, how Paul himself—taking his cues from Jesus—also employs this manner of fighting. For counselors and counselees—as for Paul and Jesus—prayer takes a central role as we seek the Lord on behalf of those who are suffering the moral and situational evil of this fallen world.

This chapter is followed by a selection of major issues that a counselor will encounter with those he helps. Fighting the normal battles of anger, fear, and escapism; the battle with the shadow of death; conflict with the occult; and the battle with animism; these are the chapters in which Powlison demonstrates that the classic mode of ministry—finding our answers in Christ and His gospel rather than some sort of direct encounter with a demon—is first of all that which Scripture commends, and secondly, able to deal with any problem God’s people face regardless of the presence or absence of demonic involvement.

Chapter 9 contains a case study of a truly bizarre encounter with a very troubled individual. Powlison’s intent is to show that the classic mode of ministry (as opposed to what he labels EMM—the ekballistic mode ministry which focuses on casting out demons) is called for even in such situations. By focusing on the person rather than the demonic aspect, and applying the gospel to that suffering heart with all its combination of hurts and sins, genuine deliverance is accomplished. “True spiritual warfare looks beyond the problems and sees the person” [76].

The last chapter is Powlison’s testimony of his own final battle with cancer, one that ultimately took his life. In it he demonstrates that Jesus Christ and the gospel are sufficient to enable us to meet with—and defeat—all of our troubles.

The book closes with an appendix in which Powlison contrasts classic mode ministry with EMM, and shows how classic mode is what the New Testament urges upon us. This brief appendix is a condensation of his larger exegetical studies on the matter, which are contained in a different, somewhat larger volume entitled Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare. That volume provides the foundation for the applications Powlison makes in Safe & Sound.

Safe & Sound is a book every biblical counselor should have. Five stars, highly recommended.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Clothes Horse

“Surely you’re not leaving the house like that. That tie doesn’t go with your shirt.”

These are among the most dreaded words a husband hears, normally spoken by his wife as a formula: “that <piece of clothing A> doesn’t go with that <piece of clothing B>.” I must confess, I hear these words frequently.

“What are you talking about?” I rejoined. “Of course the tie goes with the shirt. I’m wearing both of ‘em, so where ever I go the shirt and tie come too. The tie goes with the shirt just fine,” I insisted, knowing that I was fighting a losing battle. As surely as the day is long I was about to be sentenced to return to the bedroom to examine the contents of my closet and try again.

“That’s not what I meant,” she clarified. “I mean they don’t match.”

All I can figure is that there is this comprehensive color and pattern matching program running somewhere in every woman’s brain. There’s no other way to explain why she can dismantle in a glance what took me ten minutes of staring blankly into my closet to assemble.

Apparently there is this mystical rule book wholly unknown to the male species, a book containing an exhaustive list of what fabric patterns “go together,” and which do not. How else could someone come up with such an arbitrary rule that says plaids don’t go with polka dots? Why not?

Part two of the book contains the same sort of mysterious information about colors—which ones go together well, and which ones trigger an epileptic seizure if used together. To make matters worse it uses weird names for colors that men have never heard of, like mauve and puce.

But there is hope, men. After thirty years of indecision I have finally solved the sock problem. Simply buy black socks, maybe ten identical pairs. First, that limits your choices, shaving perhaps twenty minutes off your daily pondering of what will pass inspection. Second, as an added bonus, since your washing machine always eats just one sock (never both socks), just throw the single into your sock drawer, knowing it has eighteen more identical friends in there.

I also have helpful information about suits. The really great thing about a suit is that you don’t have to decide which jacket will go with your trousers. That decision has been made for you. Hurray!

But the really bad thing about suits is that, it is, after all, a suit. You never get near as much work done wearing a suit as you do in a pair of jeans. And besides, suits are magnets for catsup, pizza, and spaghetti. Your wife might make you wear a bib with your suit when you’re eating.

But of this you can be assured: the bib will match the suit. Perfectly.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Great Separation

Genesis 1 is a straight-forward account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. Multiple themes appear in this chapter, most of which highlight aspects of God’s character. His divine power is on display, His goodness is revealed, His creational intent is revealed—that mankind should fill and subdue the earth (this is not a command to exploit, but to be a steward exercising benevolent responsibility). His creative genius is manifested—an aspect of God’s character that becomes ever clearer the more we learn of the complex and symbiotic systems of both the animate and inanimate parts of the cosmos.

We also learn that God is a God of order, who brings forth order out of chaos. This is an attribute of God seen through the divine separations that appear in Genesis 1. He separates light from darkness (v 4), the waters below the expanse from those above (v 7), the waters below from the dry land (v 9), the heavenly bodies that separate day from night, again, separating light from darkness (vv 14, 18). And though the verb itself does not appear, He separates man from all other creatures by declaring him to be made “in His own image” (v 27).

God’s sense of order is further seen in the separation of the ability to reproduce: His created beings multiply after their “kind,” horses producing more horses, not producing birds. The principle of separation is revealed in the Law, as the children of Israel were not to mix seed in their fields, nor wear garments of mixed material (Leviticus 19:19), nor plow with a mixed team (Deuteronomy 22:10), and so on. These laws were designed to reinforce to the Israelites that God is a God who separates things according to their nature. The principle of separation is revealed in a spiritual sense as God calls His people to be separate from the rest of the world (Leviticus 20:24, 26). The Bible speaks of two separate spiritual seeds, or lineages: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent—the Devil (Genesis 3:15).

So fast-forward to the present day. Creation has been finished for a long time, the Old Testament era is in the rear-view mirror, the Law has been fulfilled by Christ. In what sense is God’s attribute of order, manifested by separating things, still operative? Since God does not change in His essential character (Malachi 3:6), He must still be separating things as He maintains order in His creation. And indeed He does. For instance, He calls Christians to be separated from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17).

But there is a tragic, final separation coming when He makes a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13). That final separation is mentioned many times in Scripture. One place is in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. There Jesus relates a parable of the kingdom of heaven in terms of a wheat field into which an enemy (Satan) secretly sows tares, or darnel. At the end of the age, the angels will separate the wheat, the “sons of the kingdom,” from the tares, the “the sons of the evil one.”

Into which group will you fall? Make no mistake—no matter when the final separation occurs, you will be alive and conscious. You will participate, willingly or not. When God separates you into your destination—whether heaven or hell—He is acting in complete consistency with His character. In Scripture He has forewarned us repeatedly, making it very clear what we must do to be saved, to be a “son of the kingdom.”

“. . . Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”” (Mark 1:14–15)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When despair threatens to overcome faith

When John the Baptist was imprisoned he probably had a good idea of what his fate would be. He’d gone from being the most impactful evangelist of his day to a dark, dank prison cell, and now his faith was shaken despite his track record with Jesus. He’d reluctantly baptized Jesus (Matt 3:13-15) while acknowledging that he himself should be the one being baptized, he’d seen the Holy Spirit alight upon Jesus like a dove (John 1:32), and seen his closest disciples become the followers of Jesus (John 3:30). He had awareness of his own redemptive-historical role (John 3:27-29).

And in the darkness of a prison cell he wrestled with nagging doubts. Finally he succumbed to his fears and sent a delegation of his remaining disciples to ask Jesus point blank: Are you really the Messiah? (Matt 11:3). Perhaps John expected that as the herald of the Coming One he himself would have a glorious end, would see the kingdom inaugurated, would see Herod and the Romans overthrown. Perhaps he didn’t expect his life to end this way. Are you really the Messiah?

The answer he received was interesting. It was oblique, not direct. Go and tell John what you see and hear (Matt 11:4). Jesus went full Isaiah with John, citing Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1. Both passages are of the glories of the coming kingdom (see all of Isaiah 35 and 61).

But here are two interesting points: first, instead of giving a direct yes, Jesus was saying, John, here is the Scripture, and here is what you see: compare them and draw your own conclusions. Jesus was gently nudging John back to his wavering faith.

The second point is that both Isaiah passages are passages of comfort—not rebuke: “to bring good news to the afflicted... to comfort those who mourn...” (Isaiah 61:1-2); “encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble, say to those with anxious heart, take courage, fear not...” (Isaiah 35:3-4).

This is especially remarkable when compared to the way Jesus addresses the crowd around him when the disciples of John depart (Matt 11:7-19). He goes full Malachi which, contextually, is a book of dire warning: God will send Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord, to restore His people to repentance, lest He “come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).

The difference between the modes of address has to do with the difference between the two audiences: fearful doubt in the darkness of great trial, versus persistent unbelief in the face of obvious evidence.

Be not shaken, Christian, by nagging doubt in the presence of unexpected trial and suffering. John the Baptist was the greatest of prophets, yet even he fell into fearful doubt in the gloom of his cell. Jesus dealt with him very gently, sending him back to the Scripture to strengthen his faith. Paul was the greatest of apostles, yet there were times he despaired of life in his own sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:8). When Paul came through his trial, looking back he saw that the same events which had shaken his faith eventually worked to strengthen it (2 Corinthians 1:9).

““A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

For Christian workers you've never heard of

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.” (Matthew 10:2–4)

Looking over the list of Jesus’ disciples, I see interesting distinctions. Jesus had an inner circle composed of Peter, James, and John. Peter was singled out as the disciples’ primary spokesman in the early days of the church. There were twelve, but only Peter, John, and Matthew became writers of Scripture. After Acts 1:13, most of the twelve you never hear of again, at least not in Scripture. At first glance, they seem to play nothing more than bit parts.

After Acts 1:13, Andrew’s name disappears from the text, yet he is the one God used to announce the coming of Messiah to Peter (John 1:40). Philip the apostle likewise disappears, whereas a different Philip, the deacon/evangelist, appears sixteen times from Acts 6 on. Even though Matthew writes one of the gospels, his name also disappears from the New Testament.

After Acts 1:13, Bartholomew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot vanish into history, known only through tradition (and there our knowledge is not completely reliable).

That same pattern continues today. God promotes some of His servants to the role of well-known writers (for instance, David Powlison, or R.C. Sproul). Others are famous preachers (John MacArthur, John Piper). But most of God’s faithful servants you’ve never heard of and never will this side of eternity.

God has made ten-city servants and five-city servants (Luke 19:11-19), five-talent servants and two-talent servants (Matt 25:14-28). When Jesus prophesied of Peter’s future martyrdom, and Peter asks about John’s future (John 21:18-23), Jesus response is basically, my plans for him are none of your business—you be faithful to what I have called you to do.

Are you one whom Jesus has called to labor in obscurity? Do you sometimes look around at the apparent success of others and wonder why you don’t see the same fruitfulness in your own work? Do you feel sometimes as if you don’t receive recognition for your labors, while others around you are recognized for theirs?

Five things to keep in mind: (1) the same pattern of recognition/obscurity can be seen in Jesus’ hand-picked disciples—it’s not just you. (2) If you know Christ you enjoy the same redemption as do your better-known brothers and sisters in Christ. (3) Those better-known believers sometimes suffer from things you might know nothing of—physical ailments, family heartaches, loss, etc—and face pressures and difficulties you might not experience. Celebrity has its own dangers you’ll not face. (4) God has formed you for your unique ministry—it is your faithfulness, not your “success” that He will reward. If you labor in obscurity it is because God has given you that path out of His love for you. God who sees in secret will one day reward you openly (Matt 6:4). (5) Heed the counsel God gave to Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary: “‘But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I am going to bring disaster on all flesh,’ declares the Lord, ‘but I will give your life to you as booty in all the places where you may go.’ ”” (Jeremiah 45:5).

Keep at it, my brothers and sisters. God sees your heart, and it is your heart He rewards (Matt 6:33). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: Matt Waymeyer's A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism

Matt Waymeyer has constructed a tour de force in the debate between paedobaptists (those who hold to infant baptism) and credobaptists (those who hold to believer baptism). Careful argumentation, careful exegesis, and excellent documentation define his contribution to the debate. If it were possible to characterize the sum of his arguments in a single sentence, it might be this one, which appears in the book’s final paragraph: “In the end, it appears that the paedobaptist interpretation of these various passages assumes the view that it must first demonstrate.” [130-131]

Waymeyer is irenic in his polemic, which is refreshing. He considers his debate opponents to be valued members of God’s family and treats them that way. This is in sharp contrast to how some others have carried on the debate. I love Calvin’s Institutes, but Calvin’s treatment of this issue is far more heavily weighted with invective and insult than any genuine attempt at exegesis. Waymeyer does not fall into that trap.

The first chapter explores the absence in the New Testament of any command to baptize infants, a remarkable observation when you consider the importance paedobaptists attach to the rite. The second chapter details the fact that, contrary to claim, there simply is no clear example in the NT of infants being baptized.

Waymeyer marches through Acts 2:39, 1 Corinthians 7:14, Mark 10:13-16, and Ephesians 6:1 in chapter 3, demonstrating that these texts do not support the paedobaptist position. Heavily footnoted, the chapter interacts with the writings and interpretations of both sides.

Paedobaptists claim that baptism is the new circumcision and demonstrates the continuity between the old and new covenants. This replacement is the keystone of the paedobaptist argument. Waymeyer deals with this in chapter 4. His careful consideration of Genesis 17:10-14, Romans 4:11-12, Colossians 2:11-12, and Acts 15:1-29 yields solid exegetical reasons as to why the paedobaptist position is extremely unlikely if not impossible to maintain. He concludes, “Not only does no single passage of Scripture teach this kind of replacement, but an overall comparison of the two rites yields a degree of discontinuity that completely undermines the case for infant baptism.” [71-72]

Chapter 5 (“The Discontinuity of Redemptive History”) explores the divide between the two positions in theological terms, the paedobaptists seeing significant continuity and their opponents seeing a significant discontinuity between the New and Old Testaments. Waymeyer examines the newness of the New Covenant and the nature of the New Testament Church, as contrasted with OT Israel.

Finally, the author wraps up his argument by taking a close look at the rite of baptism itself. In particular, Waymeyer investigates Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 1:13-15, and 1 Peter 3:21. He concludes, “The notions associated with the ordinance of baptism—such as repentance, faith, discipleship, and calling on the Lord for salvation—are of such a nature that they involve conscious intelligent understanding, and for this reason, infants should not be baptized.” [109]
Waymeyer offers an appendix (“The Newness of the New Covenant Revisited”) which deals with substantial points, such as the meaning of the “knowledge of God” in Jeremiah 31:34, “covenant breakers” in the church, Hebrews 10:26-31, etc. This appendix is, like the rest of the book, well worth the time.

A short read (131 pages), Biblical Critique nonetheless contains a comprehensive look at the debate between the two opposing sides. Waymeyer has compiled the best arguments of each respective position and dealt with them in an exegetically detailed and theologically responsible way. No matter which side of the debate the reader finds himself on, Biblical Critique is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion. Five stars, highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Oil Change

“I wouldn’t publish that story, if I were you,” my wife said, raising her eyebrows. It’s a look she reserves for when I’m about to do something really dumb.
“I don’t know why not. After all, it’s true.”
“Yes, but people might think you’re stu—.” She caught herself and didn’t finish. Somehow I knew the missing word wasn’t ‘stupendous.’
“Ah, c’mon, babe. They already know I’m not a car guy. My Dakota, er, Ranger proves that.”
I decided to publish anyway, which I reckon I don’t need to tell you since you’re reading it at the moment.
So the Dak—, um, Ranger needed an oil change. Actually it needed it about four months ago so I figured I’d better get right to it, rather than putting it off. I do like to be timely about these things.
I drove it over to the oil change place, and found that I was the only customer—a bit of luck I would later be quite thankful for. So they guided me right into the service bay and began their interrogation.
“So how are your wipers, sir?”
“Wipers are fine, don’t bother with ‘em.”
“And how about your transmission fluid?”
“Fluid’s fine, leave it alone.”
“We’re running a special on flushing your radia—”
“NO thank you! Just want the oil changed.”
“Your cabin air filter is looking a little dingy.”
“Oil. Change. Just change the oil,” I said, feeling a little snippy. “I don’t want anything else.”
“I understand that, sir, but we just want to make sure that you’re aware of all our services. Would you like your lawn mowed?”
I just glared at him and didn’t answer.
He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Got it. Oil change.”
He shoved a little box in my face. “Keys. Put ‘em in there.”
What? Do they think I’m stupid? Do they think I’d really start the truck when their head is under the hood? Anyway, I frowned at him and dropped my keys in the little box.
“Pop the hood, please, sir.”
I reached down and pulled the release. Nothing happened. I groaned. I seemed to remember that this had happened before and I’d had a dickens of a time releasing the hood. I yanked the release again. Nothing. Again, harder. Nothing.
So I reached way under the dash, curled my fingers around the cable trying to exert more force on it than the lever did.
After being so grouchy about the oil change I felt a little sheepish. I poked my head out the window. “I’ve had trouble with this before. Could you bang on the hood?” So while they waled away at my hood I grabbed the lever and pulled again and again.
Finally I got out of the truck, stood on the front bumper, put my full weight on the hood, and sort of bounced on it. The mechanics all kind of backed away from me at that point.
Oh, well. We all jointly decided that the oil change would have to wait for another day. They gave me my keys back, and started motioning for me to drive away. I think they really wanted me to leave. I started the truck, reached for the emergency brake release and—oops. No wonder the hood didn’t pop up.
Feeling really stupid, I turned off the truck, reached for the hood release lever, and the hood popped up as nice as you please.
I didn’t bother to explain. It was at this time I was very thankful there were no other customers in the store. Wouldn’t want anyone to know about this anyway. I’d never live it down.
When I was finally driving away, it occurred to me: the hood release problem I thought I remembered? It never happens on the truck. It happens on my Ford Vue.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book review of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique

Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique
Full disclosure first: I am committed to young-earth creationism, because I believe that is the best understanding of the biblical record. 

Theistic Evolution does not promote such a position. It is, rather, a tour-de-force of the best arguments of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. The ID movement leaves aside the question of the age of the earth and instead directly attacks the main vehicle of evolution: random change over time coupled to natural selection of the fittest. ID argues that the panoply of created things clearly displays the marks of design, and therefore the existence of a Designer. This is set in opposition to the notion of theistic evolution, in which it is argued that, yes, God is there, but his act of creation was limited to producing the initial cosmic conditions and the inherent properties of nature. From that point forward, God steps out of the picture and allows what he has created to coalesce randomly over time, eventually producing the world as we see it today. One of the arguments of many proponents of theistic evolution is that, other than the initial creation, any further act of God must be undetectable.

The authors of the essays in Theistic Evolution have compiled a compelling case, both negatively against the possibility of evolution and positively for the contention that the cosmos and all that is in it displays purpose and intention, and therefore is evidence of a Designer.

The book is composed of three major sections. The first section deals with the scientific critique of theistic evolution (and therefore evolution itself, since theistic evolution is built on it). Nine chapters virtually destroy the case for evolution, drawing from chemistry, information theory, DNA, and embryology. Seven more chapters attack the idea of universal common descent (the “amoeba to man” idea). The final chapter of the first section details how scientists are pressured to conform to prevailing theories.

Section two confronts theistic evolution from a philosophical standpoint. In nine chapters, the various authors address themselves to the philosophy of science, the inadequacies of methodological naturalism, the problem of evil, the origin of the moral conscience and more.

The last section, five chapters, addresses the failure of theistic evolution to deal with the biblical and theological data. For someone committed to Scripture, this is the best part of the book. The authors of the essays demonstrate that theistic evolution undermines twelve creation events and multiple important biblical doctrines, and does not comport with the clear statements of either the Old or New Testaments. Theistic evolution is held up against the historic positions of theologians over the last 2000 years and found wanting.

Do not expect the book to argue for young-earth creationism, because it does not. It appears that the authors of the essays (at least the majority) are more comfortable with an old-earth position (but one that clearly involves belief in an actual, historical Adam and Eve supernaturally created as the very first humans, and who fell into sin, becoming responsible for the advent of death). But young-earth creationists should not reject this book. It is a strong polemic against any form of evolution, and the arguments of the authors are, almost in their entirety, arguments that young-earth creationists will find equally useful.

Five stars, highly recommended.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Book Review: The Virtue of Nationalism

Yoram Hazony has constructed a brilliant defense of nationalism over against the utopian vision of imperialists such as the UN and the EU. He also has an interesting take on why Israel is so hated by Europeans, and why the Palestinians, Muslims, and much of the Third World get by with so little censure by the UN and the EU. Carefully argued, carefully documented, Hazony makes a powerful and scholarly case for his contentions. The logic of his argument is painstakingly constructed and easy to follow--he communicates it well as a writer and a thinker. Hazony puts forward a thesis that is difficult to refute; I find myself agreeing with him in his main points.

Criticism: Hazony appears to write as, at most, a deist. God is an uninvolved bystander if He even exists. Hazony treats the OT as if one of its main purposes is establishing the "right" kind of government for Israel. In other words, Hazony treats reality as if the big story is the unending struggle of politics, philosophies, and peoples--a struggle that has neither beginning nor end. He seems to completely miss the big story of the Old Testament (the promised coming of Messiah). He's unable to deal with (or at least, does not deal with) the fundamental reality of the nature of man: that each person is intrinsically morally corrupt, and that this moral corruption becomes part of the fabric--and the explanation--of our actions, politics and philosophies. Consequently, his unrelenting logic and excellent argument about relations among peoples and nations would only be completely true in a world in which God does not exist or is not involved, and in which all men are not morally corrupt. But that is not the world we live in, with the result that his argument is incomplete and at some levels inadequate when he gets to the reasons for the hatred and violence we see in the world.

Good book, well worth reading. The criticisms above do not vitiate his main point of the virtue of nationalism.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Book Review: David Powlison's Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare

One of the things that struck me first about this book was the irenic way Powlison handles those he disagrees with. The doctrine of spiritual warfare has a wide variety of self-styled experts vying for the attention of Christians. Many of these “experts” appear to draw their doctrine of demonology and spiritual warfare more from the writings of novelist Frank Peretti than from Scripture.

Practitioners and writers on spiritual warfare typically concentrate on what Powlison terms the Ekballistic Ministry Mode (EMM). The Greek derivation of ekballistic means “to cast out.” The idea of identifying, naming, and then casting out demons is the central feature of EMM. Sin, rather than being sourced from our old nature, is largely seen as the product of demons of lust, greed, etc.

Powlison challenges the entire EMM schema. He does so without using any cheap shots (which would be frankly easy to do, given some of the ideas of EMM practitioners). Rather, he makes his points with careful, contextual, exegetical precision, dismantling the careless interpretations of the scripture texts normally cited in support of an EMM-style ministry. In fact, I would say the skillful exegesis Powlison employs is the defining characteristic of this little book.

Another treasure of Power Encounters is the wise manner in which Powlison distinguishes between moral evil and situational evil. His point is that the distinction between the two different kinds of evil calls for a different response to each, a matter that EMM completely overlooks.

Powlison’s answer to EMM is what he calls “classic mode” ministry: helping Christians deal with troublesome sin in their lives, as well as demonic oppression, by taking them straight to the cross. The gospel is the most powerful weapon. It is the only weapon needed to completely defeat the forces of darkness.

The worst part of Power Encounters is that it has gone out of print. That should never have been allowed to happen to a resource this valuable. Every pastor and biblical counselor should have a copy of this little book. Used bookstores are charging three figures for old copies. I purchased mine from and more are available from them. They have secured permission to make reprints. For a slender book weighing in at 160 pages, $30 was a fairly steep price. It was worth every penny. Five stars, highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: MacArthur's Remaining Faithful in Ministry

Often it is the slender books, the brief books, that are most profound. In this class I would include such writings as Andrew Murray’s Humility: the Journey toward Holiness, Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, and Stott’s Basic Christianity. I can now add MacArthur’s RemainingFaithful in Ministry to this list. At just seventy-seven pages it is a book that punches far above its weight.

MacArthur writes on selected texts from 2 Corinthians 1-4, drawing nine points of faithful ministry out of Paul’s testimony to the Corinthian church. In one sense it is standard MacArthur: solid yet accessible exegesis, comparing Scripture with Scripture, delving into Greek terms when it enhances the meaning of the English text, combined with biblically faithful application. The power of his writing lies wholly within his skillful use of the biblical text.

The subtitle is 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor, and the book delivers abundantly on that theme. Every man in pastoral ministry should read this book and come under the weight of its convictions. Five stars, highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Review of Dean Inserra’s The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel

The Unsaved Christian is a great book, and is going to be discomfiting for many people who view themselves as right with God, but whose views on that score are wholly without warrant.

First, a bit of historical perspective: parts of the United States were swept by revivalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Much good came out those revivals, but there were also some results that were not particularly praiseworthy. One of them was a reductionism of redemption: in many cases it was reduced to a “decision” rather than a whole-life reorientation around repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. Salvation is not less than a decision, but it is much more than that.

Add to that an unbalanced emphasis on eternal security (especially in the mid to late 20th century), virtually separating the doctrine of assurance from the “new life” aspect of regeneration. And add to that a sort of “second-blessing” theology that teaches the decision to yield to Jesus as Lord and Master is separate from the decision to trust Him as Savior, and what you wind up with is a culture that views salvation as little more than checking the right boxes. Salvation becomes a cultural inheritance of white, conservative, flag-waving Americans, something akin to joining the Republican party.

Dean Inserra’s book is a gentle but firm expose of that problem: cultural Christianity is not biblical Christianity, and it is decidedly not a “Christianity” that saves. He deals with a variety of flavors of it: moral theism, watered-down mainline Protestantism, the Bible Belt cultural ambience, the confusion of patriotism with Christianity, and so on. One particularly good chapter explores the Christmas and Easter attendance phenomenon and yields some rather surprising observations.

Inserra is not swinging a club—he’s not browbeating. He’s quite gentle, in fact, and includes questions at the end of each chapter for self-evaluation. But he also pulls no punches. Chapter 3 is entitled “Civic Religion: Generic Faith that Demands and Asks Nothing of Its Followers.” His view of the true gospel, biblical faith, salvation, the effects of regeneration, and so on are fully orthodox.

Buckle your spiritual seatbelt, put on your crash helmet, and read this book. Here at Bible Fellowship, we’re going to go through this book in Sunday School. It’s too important to leave sitting on the shelf. For some, it might make an eternity of difference. Five stars, highly recommended.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Review: Carrier, A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier, by Tom Clancy

While Clancy's book SSN (my review is here) is oversold by its cover, Carrier is undersold--and is much, much better than SSN. Clancy does far more than just giving us a tour of a modern supercarrier (although he does do that, and does it very well). He gives us a much more in-depth look at the Navy itself, and its evolution in ships, aircraft, and technology since the '50s. I was gratified to see that he didn't pull any punches, but exposed various areas of weakness in leadership, vision, willingness to employ new technology, spats and turfism with the other uniformed services, and so forth.

But he doesn't throw the Navy under the bus--he also reports how those longstanding problems are being resolved with a new generation of leadership. Overall, Clancy makes a good cheerleader for the USN, but he does it with eyes wide open. Be aware that the book was written in 1999, so some of the material is dated.

At the end of the book Clancy writes a brief scenario involving Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. It's short and entertaining, but suffers from a similar problem that the scenarios in SSN suffer from: everything works right for the good guys, and everything goes wrong for the bad guys. The scenario is not designed to be realistic, but rather to display capabilities. Even so, it would have been a little more gripping if the US had not been overwhelmingly successful.

I read this book while researching carrier operations for my own novel, Pacific Threat, a tale that is set in 1988. Clancy's Carrier delivered. Four stars.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: 50 People every Christian Should Know, by Warren Wiersbe

This book was an enjoyable read—fifty short chapters composed of biographies of post-reformation Christians, starting with Luther’s wife, Katherine von Bora. A parade of well-known and unknown (to me, anyway) preachers and missionaries fill the pages with excellent biographical sketches and reading recommendations if you want to know the individuals better.

On the positive side the book was very encouraging in that it detailed how God used very different people, with an assortment of strengths, weaknesses, and eccentricities. It provides hope that God can use me with my own quirks. It was also humbling to observe the almost super-human discipline these men and women of God displayed in their studies and their ministries. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a lazy one among them. It motivates me to do better.

On the negative side I was surprised to see some of the characters that Wiersbe wrote about, whose theological commitments to the substitutionary atonement of Christ were suspect at best or completely absent at worst. Apparently their greatness as homileticians, combined with the crowds they drew, covered a multitude of sins. Some of these could be identified as unvarnished theological liberals.

That said, I walked away from this book almost more impressed by Wiersbe himself than by the individuals he wrote about, although I don’t believe that was his intention. The breadth and volume of Wiersbe’s reading is nothing short of astounding. To read all the books of sermons and biographies and “Yale Lectures on Preaching” that he recommends would take me multiple lifetimes. Wiersbe must be a speed reader and a man of prodigious memory.

Three-and-a-half stars. Recommended.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: Tom Clancy's SSN

This is a really bad book. Allow me to rephrase that: if you are looking for an exciting novel centered on  submarine warfare, you need to keep looking. SSN is not the answer to your search. As a novel, it’s really poor. The back cover blurb really, really oversells the book.

On the other hand, if you’re writing your own novel and doing research on late-Cold-War era submarine operations, capabilities, and tactics, it’s a useful book. Tip: buy the Kindle Edition so you can search for words. If there’s anything I expect from Clancy it’s accuracy, and SSN does not disappoint on that score. As a writer, I’m often wondering what would the conversation in the control room sound like when the captain is confronted with various tactical scenarios. I’ve saved multiple hours of research on questions like that with this book. But most readers are simply looking for a good novel. This isn’t it.

In fact, it really isn’t a novel at all. It amounts to the proper way to play out the fifteen scenarios in the video game by the same name. As fiction goes it is frankly boring. The good guys always win, the bad guys always make conveniently stupid decisions, there are almost never any hardware failures. The captain is a cardboard-cutout character and the rest of the crew do not even merit names. The submarine, the Cheyenne (SSN-773), a Los Angeles-class fast attack boat, has more kills than a machine-gunner taking down a feedlot of cows, and receives about the same amount of effective return fire that you would expect from a herd of trigger-happy bovines who don’t happen to possess any weapons.

Clancy is one of my favorite military adventure/action writers. Everything else I have read by him is edge-of-your-seat-miss-your-bedtime-can’t-tear-yourself-away good. But not only is SSN not his best outing, this book sinks at its moorings, never even pulling away from its berth. You want a good novel? Mothball this hulk and keep looking. Two stars.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Darke County Update #6

[Editor’s Note: Some portions of the following might be true, though the author claims plausible deniability.]

So here I was, sitting in my Dakota, waiting for the light at Aldi’s to turn green. That darn light changes with glacial speed. While waiting I was enjoying the latest round of global warming, shivering and watching my breath freeze to the inside of my windshield. Was wearing gloves so my fingers wouldn’t stick to the steering wheel. That stoplight is so slow I began to worry that my truck just might freeze itself solid to the pavement whilst waiting for the green. If that did happen and I wasn’t able to pull forward when the light turned, the people in the two-car rush-hour backup behind me would be pretty unhappy.

On the other hand, if I did get frozen to the pavement I’d only miss one turn of the light. The next time it turned green it would probably be sunny and 70. So I should be okay.

Speaking of the weather, the latest cold snap has got me thinking that global warming must really be true. Apparently the way it works is that all the regions of the world collect their coldest air and send it through some sort of polar vortex right into Darke County, Ohio. Meanwhile, everyone else gets all the warm air. If my understandin’ is correct, then it’s gettin’ warmer everywhere but Darke. So it truly is Global Warming, combined with a mite bit of Darke County Cooling. Aren’t we lucky.

Which reminds me of squirrels, although I’m not sure why it should.

I am engaged in a cold war with the squirrels. I suppose you could say it’s a “cold war” because of the Darke County Cooling we are experiencing. But truth be told, it’s a “cold war” because I haven’t started shootin’. Yet.

But I am seriously contemplating going nuclear. That would be twelve-gauge nuclear. Don’t tell the Sheriff I said that.

In any case, those darn squirrels have gotten into my birdseed again. I’ve got a cake feeder hanging from a pole with one of those allegedly squirrel-proof baffles around the middle of the pole. Supposed to keep the furry rodents from climbing up the pole and getting to the birdseed cake.

Have you ever tried to put one of those allegedly squirrel-proof baffles together? I don’t advise it. The consarned thing comes in two halves (otherwise you couldn’t thread it onto the pole). Each half possesses some sort of system of alternating plastic tabs that interlock just so with the other half. I am quite sure the patent on this impossible device was secured by the same guy who designed the Rubiks Cube. You need four hands all working in perfect coordination, while you are simultaneously eyeballing the contraption from above and below, so you can get all those interlocking tabs to interlock with the interlocking tabs on the other half. It’s just not going to happen. Not without a substantial loss of your sanctification, at any rate.

When you finally get the silly thing together for the second time (it takes twice, because the first time you forget to assemble it with the stupid pole on the inside) and you are lying prostrate on the frozen ground in contented exhaustion, you experience a momentary giddy feeling (probably best characterized as madness). This arises from the misplaced confidence you feel, to wit: if it took you, an intelligent human being, three hours to assemble this thing then the dumb squirrels will never figure out how to disassemble it. Victory at last! The war is won! The seedcakes are safe!

Until you watch those rascally creatures take that doggone thing apart in less than five minutes, grab the seedcake and run up a tree with it, chuckling all the while. That, my friends, is when I headed for the shotgun. Gonna turn this cold war hot.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Darke County Update #5

[Editor’s Note: Some of the following could maybe be true, though I wouldn’t put any money on it myself.]

There’s an important expression writers use. Whenever you hear someone teaching writing, or talking about the process of writing, someone’s gonna say it: “less is more.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Down right contradictory. But it’s true. Less is more. Leastwise, it is if you’re not talking about cash or wearing clothes. I can testify about the cash part. Less is definitely not more.

As regards clothing, I think some of the young folks get confused about that expression. Maybe their English Composition teachers didn’t tell ‘em, “Hey, we’re just talking about writing. Adverbs, adjectives, the passive voice. Words. That sort of thing.” These young people appear to believe it has something to do with how much clothes one wears. Less is more, right? In any case, there’s some young folks givin’ that saying a whirl when they dress for school.

I was talkin’ to Claudette the other day. And it really did threaten to take most of the day. The conversation, I mean. Talking to Claudette mostly involves listening—it’s sort of one-way. Claudette is one of those folks you wish applied the “less is more” principle to her conversation. Was gonna say I wish she applied it to her yacking but being as how I don’t want to upset my wife, we’ll just stick with conversation.

Claudette always has plenty of conversation. I do believe that lady could talk the hind leg off a mule. When you run into Claudette, you don’t check your watch, you check your calendar.

As I was saying, I was talking to Claudette and she was sharing, well, prayer requests about her neighbors. Leastwise, that’s what she called ‘em. Funny how those prayer requests were givin’ me a lot of information that I had no business knowing and she had no business telling.

So I was trying to distract her onto safer territory. “Say,” I says, “did you know Melvin’s sow had piglets?” Which is true. Melvin’s sow really did have her piglets.

Claudette snorted, “Oh, tosh! Josephine told me that two whole days ago. But you probably haven’t heard that Melvin’s wife was shouting at him in their backyard yesterday. Josephine thinks we should pray for their marriage and I agree.”

Actually, Claudette, Melvin’s wife was shoutin’ at him because he forgot where he put his hearing aids and that’s the only way she can get his attention when he’s not wearin’ ‘em. Don’t you go tellin’ stories about Melvin and his wife. You want to pray for something, pray that he finds those hearing aids.”

She wasn’t interested in Melvin’s piglets or his hearing aids, so I decided I’d best figure out how to move on before she started telling me about Roy’s son getting kicked out of college for dropping a cherry bomb down the toilet. He’d probably have gotten off with just a warning, except for the dormitory bathroom he bombed was on the fifth floor and by the time they got the water under control the first two floors had flooded. I’d already heard that story from Josephine myself.

Well, she was warmin’ up to another tale and I could see the whole day passin’ right before my eyes if I didn’t do something quick. So I dug my smartphone out of my pocket and pretended to be texting Claudette’s latest prayer requests to my wife. But actually, I confess that I was really dialing my own number. I answered it when it rang and acted like it was my wife calling me home because my son accidentally drove over the neighbor’s mailbox. Which wasn’t true of course—I was just desperate to get away from Claudette. After I disentangled myself from the dear woman and was driving home it hit me that it was not a good idea to lie to Claudette. First because lies don’t please the Lord and they always come back to haunt you anyway. And second, because by the end of the day half of Greenville will be praying for my neighbor’s mailbox.

Less is more. Certainly true in this case. The less time I spend listening to Claudette, the more thankful I am.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Darke County Update #4

[Editor's note: Some of the following is probably true.]

Love Darke County. Darke has your typical mix of Democrats and Republicans. We love our politics, but at least we fight fair around here. Its not like some places I’ve heard about. Was talking to a fellow who just moved here from California. He said their Board of Elections back in San Fran delivers absentee ballots to the local cemetery. He told me that California people consider places like Darke County to be flyover country. I figure they surely must be right: whenever my wife and I go on a picnic during the summer, there’s always flies over us.

Darke County is the home of a lot of good folks. And a lot of really unusual good folks. I don’t mean that they are unusually good, but just good and unusual. Yes sir, we’ve got a strange bird or two in the area. Or three.

For example, I know one fellow that heats his home with wood. Insulates it with wood, too. On the outside. Must be something like R300 by now. He’s probably got twenty, thirty cord of wood stacked around his house, goin’ from the exterior wall to the very edge of his property. Sorta looks like one of General Anthony Wayne’s palisades.

Then there’s another boy I know that loves snow. A good friend. Has got him one of those self-propelled snow blowers that throws snow maybe sixty feet. Snowed last night, and this morning he’s out, throwin’ snow clear into the next neighborhood, plowing neighbor’s driveways, sidewalks, lawns, the street—anywhere there’s snow. He was enjoyin’ it too. I know it because his face was frozen into a grin.

And then there’s Eli, another friend. When Eli needs his family vehicle repaired, he takes it to John Deere. He’s the only guy I know that brings his groceries home on a twenty-foot flatbed. But if you want honest quality work done, whatever it might be, call Eli.

Sam likes guns. No, actually, Sam loves guns. I’ve seen his basement, and it’s not a basement, it’s a cotton-pickin’ armory. Sam could outfit every member of the 82nd Airborne with long rifles and handguns, complete with enough ammunition to invade a small country, like maybe Australia. I'm surprised Sam hasn't got an M1A1 Abrams parked in his front yard. Hmm, come to think of it, I've never checked his garage.

And then, of course there’s me. I’m diverse all by my lonesome. For example, I love running. Well, that’s not exactly true: I love to hate running. I love to hate running so much, that when I can’t run, I really miss hating it. Which makes me want to run. Even though I hate it. Like I said, I’m a one-man diversity crew.

I like to call what I do “running,” but in fact it’s just a jog. A slow jog. Okay, a really vigorous waddle. When you see a slow-moving ambulance followed by a couple of buzzards and maybe a lawyer or two, they’re probably following me on one of my runs, hoping for an opportunity. I don't take it personal. In any case, so far I haven’t given ‘em one.

Yeah, Darke County’s got it’s own collection of pretty unusual people. But it’s home and I seem to fit right in.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Darke County Update #3

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following could possibly be true.] [Or not.]

Best place for free exercise in Greenville is our large indoor mall. It’s got miles and miles of aisles. In fact, I’ll bet one lap around the inside is probably close to 3.1 miles—the equivalent of a 5k. Only problem is if you jog instead of walk you run the risk of bowling over shoppers. Besides, you’ll probably get stuck behind some little old lady with a slow cart. But still—it’s indoors and a lot nicer than running out in the weather.

Wait a minute, you object. Greenville doesn’t have an indoor shopping mall!

Sure it does. Right across the street from Krogers. If you squint your eyes just right, it sort of looks like one. If you squint a little harder, the sign kind of looks like “Mallmart” if you use just a tad of imagination. And it surely has the same outdoor features: massive parking lot with all the spaces near the entrance already taken, cars prowling around racing each other for spots recently abandoned by shoppers leaving, the obligatory eighteen-wheelers idling on the perimeter, an occasional pickup truck camper staying in the same place for two weeks.

And then on the inside, just think of the different departments as individual little stores. When you think about it, hard enough, it’s just like an indoor mall. Big enough for one, certainly.

Yeah, well, if it’s a mall where's the food court?

Cookie aisle, of course.

So anyway, I was at Mallmart doin’ my laps when I ran into Wilson. Literally. I was trying to jog the straight stretch between the Hunting Store and the Shoe Store. Poor Wilson popped out from the Seasonal Aisle and I sort of knocked him over, his cart over, and some guy I didn’t know. Bread and milk went flying, but thankfully the milk didn’t burst open. The stranger’s fall was broken by Wilson’s five loaves of bread—good for him. Not so good for the bread. Sorta flattened it.

Anyway, after apologizing profusely and picking up the stranger (who was more than a little agitated at me, not sure why) and getting Wilson set back on his feet, I tried to make a joke: “Fancy running into you here, Wilson.” He didn’t laugh, just kinda glared at me as he picked up his squashed bread. “So, what’s with all the bread and milk?” I asked.

“Snow storm coming,” he grumbled.

“You planning on eating all five loaves by yourself?” Wilson is a confirmed life-long bachelor. Tends to the cantankerous side, which could explain his single sojourn.

“Just want to be ready,” he muttered as he retrieved the four gallon jugs of milk.

“The forecast is for flurries, Wilson. I don’t think you’re gonna get snowed in.”

“You never know. So what are you getting ready for, the Olympics?” he asked sarcastically, eyeing my running shoes.

“Nah. The Ansonia Firecracker,” I answered.

“That’s six months away, genius. Don’t you think you could wait a month or two and run outside when the weather’s better, rather than knocking people over in here?”

“Just want to be ready,” I said, winking at him. “Well, I’d better, you know,  run along.”

“Maybe you oughta walk,” he said over his shoulder as he pushed his cart toward the snow shovel store in Mallmart..

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Darke County Update #2

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following are probably true]

Took the car to Splash & Dash on Saturday (not my Dakota—that whole truck would probably disappear right down the drain if I ever dared wash it). Drove away feeling wonderful--like I’d had a shower. Might have something to do with the fact that several of the windows weren’t closed all the way.

If there is another town on planet Earth, other than Greenville, that has a Splash & Dash car wash, I surely don’t know what it might be. Never seen one before I moved here. Haven’t seen one anywhere else since. Love it. It’s another advantage to living in Greenville, and you can add it to last week’s list of local cultural attractions: we have the world’s greatest car wash.

But I’m not talking about dirty cars this week. Want to talk about signs. I always figured the whole point of signs was to communicate something—and if I’m not mistaken, the whole point of communicatin' is to communicate. If you get my drift.

Ever seen this sign? 

Now what exactly does it communicate? Says that I need to limit my Dakota to 20 mph during restricted hours (which in principle is no great problem, seeing as how the last time I exceeded 20 in that wonderful truck was when I got out and pushed). But I’m curious. What hours are restricted? Am I supposed to know? Did I miss this lecture during driver’s education? Well, that's probably an unfair question.  My driver’s ed had more to do with whether I was drivin' a two-horse or four-horse team, and the proper way to park at a hitching rail.

Anyway, do those restricted hours change during a two-hour delay? Or during the summer? Or on Saturday?

How about this sign?

When children are present? What does that mean? What if they are a hundred yards away in the playground—does that count as present? Does present mean when they are sitting in the building? Does present include when two kids are strolling down the sidewalk on Sunday afternoon? And if they're not present at that point, what are they? Absent?

Does present mean when the traveling-all-scholastic nerf-ball team is unloading from the buses at midnight after their return from Columbus, where they just won the state championship?

Only good thing about these signs is that I’m thinkin’ so hard, trying to figure out what they mean, that I have to slow down anyway. I can’t think and drive at the same time. Leastwise, that’s what my wife tells me.

Seems like somewhere (else, not Greenville) I remember seeing signs that say, “Speed Limit 20 when lights are flashing.” Now that would probably do the trick. I think even I could figure that one out.

Ever seen this sign north of Walmart?

Speed limit 35? 

Why? Ain’t nothing there but fields!

Now this here is my favorite speed-limit sign. It’s located on northbound Greenville-Celina Road just north of the flashing yellow light.

There’s no sign there!, you object.

Um-hmm. That’s why I like it.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Darke County Update #1

[Editor's note: some portions of the following are probably true.]

Wasn’t from anywhere till I moved here, mostly because I was from everywhere. Moved around a mite. Now I’m from somewhere and have been for fifteen years. Admittedly, it’s a somewhere that’s nowhere as far much of the world is concerned. Greenville is typically a waypoint, not a destination, on most people’s GPS. But Greenville’s fine by me. It’s home.

Fellow was showing me around ‘fore I moved into town. Said there was no place in Greenville more than five minutes from any other place in Greenville. Sounded to me like he was apologizing, but I took it as one of its selling points. I don’t like big. Far as I am concerned, Dayton can stay thirty minutes south. Don’t want it here.

As far as culture goes, we’ve got Memorial Hall, the Darke County Courthouse, a great library, and the finest traffic circle this side of the state line. And where else will you find the birthplace of Lowell Thomas, the shootin’ range of Annie Oakley, and a Maid Rite all in one little town? Okay, Thomas was born in Woodington, but it’s real close. A hair more than five minutes away.

Speaking of Thomas, did you know he moved to Victor, Colorado when he was eight, and spent some time there as a gold miner? And did you also know that the whole mining district around Victor—which includes Cripple Creek—is still producing gold to this day? Been thinking about following in young Lowell’s footsteps. But I digress.

So I was sitting in my trusty Dodge Dakota at the stoplight at Aldi’s. For about two hours. Or so it seemed.
That is the slowest stoplight in Darke County—which is quite a feat, I might add. I was trying to make a left from Shawnee and head north. Decided to turn off the truck to save gas while I was waitin’ on the light, when it finally turned green. Somebody had to wake up the driver behind me. Fell asleep waiting on that light.

Traffic in Greenville is never much of a problem. Might have five cars or so build up at the light at McDonalds during the height of rush hour. More of a problem are the folks who persistently refuse to use the middle turn lane for their left turns, and instead come to a full stop in the traffic lane, waiting for a golden invitation to turn left. Wonder what they think that middle lane is for?

And then there’s Jezebel. That’s what I call the light at Krogers. Always turns red when I approach it, even when there’s no one on the side street. Always turns red. Doesn’t matter time of day or night. Doesn’t stay red long, just long enough to get its two cents in, I suppose.

Greenville is now on the green-energy map. We have acquired three lovely wind turbines. Whirlpool says those turbines are there to power the factory, but I have a different theory. The green folks have never allowed City Hall to control the goose situation at City Park, geese being more important than people after all. So the wise folks at City Hall approved those wind turbines, as long as they were placed in the main goose flyway. Figured that it might cut down on the population a mite. The greens couldn’t hardly argue with wind turbines, them being green energy and all. Kind of placed ‘em in a catch-22. That’s my theory anyway.

One last thing. Heard rumors that when Mr. Brown turned on his Christmas lights this year, the generator on turbine #2 went up in smoke. Don’t know if it’s true, and I reckon they fixed it. My lights still dim, though, when he turns on his display. Gotta love those lights. It’s the only part of Greenville visible from the International Space Station. Kinda puts us on the map. We are definitely somewhere.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Review of Story Craft, by John R. Erickson

Erickson is the author of the popular Hank the Cowdog books, of which I have read none. Yet. Now I want to. I became aware of Story Craft on the pages of World Magazine, and added it to my Christmas wish list, a wish happily fulfilled.

Part One is a fascinating memoir, detailing Erickson’s journey of becoming a writer. He developed a highly disciplined approach to writing daily, stuck with it through over a thousand rejections and some number of (still) unpublished novels, and finally found success submitting stories to magazines. Erickson then decided to self-publish in the days before print-on-demand and Createspace. What I drew from this section of the book is how unlikely it is that I will ever see financial success as an author. Those are just the cold, hard facts of the publishing world. This would have discouraged me—except for Part Two.

“Faith, Culture, and the Craft of Writing” is the title and subject matter of Part Two. This is the best part of the book. Erickson approaches culture, writing, and art from a straightforward, unadorned West Texas philosophical perspective. He examines what makes good art good (beauty, structure, content, justice, and often humor) and anchors his thinking in the Christian worldview. He is decidedly opinionated (and admits it), but I find his opinions decidedly biblical. It was in Part Two that I heard most clearly the call to keep writing, no matter whether I am ever “successful” at getting published. This section of the book contains tremendous encouragement for the Christian artist to be true to the call, the vocation, without getting overly caught up in the reception of his work—or lack thereof. Erickson’s basic message is that if God has gifted you to write, then write.

Erickson offers twenty specific tips on writing in Part Three, some of which you’ve heard before (don’t use too many adverbs, don’t write in the passive voice), some of which are practical (have a skill that will support you), and some of which are a plea for preserving the culture (don’t write anything that will shame your mother).

This is an excellent and encouraging book for aspiring writers. The most valuable part is his philosophy on art and culture expressed in the second section of the book. Highly recommended.