The Importance of Family Discipleship (w/ Book Review)

“Discipling your child is not primarily your church’s job, your child’s school’s job, or your pastor’s job. This job is yours,” Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin write in their book Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones.

And they’re absolutely right. In our consumerist and busy culture, parents often “outsource” the spiritual development of their children, expecting the local Sunday school teacher, pastor, or Christian school for the important work of building up their children in Christ. Obviously, part of raising a child in Christ is, in fact, being part of a local church community. As I heard one pastor put it (quoting an African proverb), “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a church to raise a Christian.” But this doesn’t change the fact that the primary responsibility to spiritually disciple children belongs to parents. “To parent without deliberately discipling your child is to build your family’s house on a foundation of sand,” Chandler and Griffin write.

Even if the Scripture didn’t put this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of parents, the fact that parents spend much more time with their children than any pastor or Sunday school teacher, it’s common sense that the main spiritual influencer in a child’s life would be his or her mother and father. Thus, Chandler and Griffin spend time on the importance of parents modeling Christian behavior and spiritual disciplines to their children. Here, Chandler and Griffin give some gold nuggets that are important for any Christian parent to hear. For one, parents’ attempts to disciple their children will often be both frustrated and frustrating! Children will break into tantrums during devotion time; siblings will fight during discipling activities (like they do with other family activities); and what you think is an important lesson will be met with listlessness. It’s a reality of being a parent, so accept it and keep doing your best! 

But, with this, parents are imperfect sinners just like their children and often fail to be perfect examples of our perfect Savior! Big surprise, right? But it’s important for parents to hear this. Thus, these failures are the opportune moments to model the Gospel to your children: To share the truth of the Gospel, to admit your sins, and to ask for forgiveness. Chandler and Griffin write, “No matter what your household looks like, your family is the primary instrument and environment for discipleship in all the fantastic and flawed ways that it might be worked out.”

Discipling your family must have intentionality and consistency, which means having a plan or strategy (which will always be getting adjusted as your children grow and change). In the core of the book, Chandler and Griffin focus on three opportunities to disciple: Time, Moments, and Milestones:

Time – Creating intentional time built into your family’s life rhythms to disciple. This might be, for example, regular family devotions.

Moments – Looking for spontaneous opportunities during everyday life to have important spiritual talks or lessons. In professional teaching, we call these “teaching moments” — unplanned opportunities to teach a short lesson.

Milestones – Marking special days and events in the life of the family and giving them spiritual significance.

If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that I would’ve liked more specific examples and idea-generators for discipling one’s family. Perhaps if the authors included examples from families other than their own, it would have filled out the book nicely. Family Discipleship is a fairly quick, easy read; still, sometimes when I read a book like this by pastors, I can’t help thinking that it didn’t need to be a whole book; the same information could’ve been passed on in a sermon (or two) or blog article (or two). (I also suspect that such books are the result of a past sermon series.)

I would recommend Family Discipleship to new parents, parents who are new Christians, or parents who have never considered how to disciple their family before and need guidance on where to start. The book certainly convinces the reader of the importance and responsibility placed on all Christian parents to disciple their own children, and the book gives a great framework for thinking about discipling. Despite my small complaint above, the personal illustrations from the authors, the ideas they give, and the end-of-chapter activities help stimulate the readers’ own ideas for their own families. Reading the book has certainly made me more aware of my discipling efforts with my children.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy of this book for review.

Book Review: What If I Don’t Desire to Pray?

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John Onwuchekwa’s book of What If I Don’t Desire to Pray? is part of a “Church Questions” series of quick-reads published by 9 Marks and Crossway. Barely 60 pages, this mini-book can easily be finished in one or two sittings.

I’m often convicted that my prayer life is not as strong as it could be. This appears to be a challenge among other Christians who, like me, were strong skeptics before coming to faith in Christ and who are interested in apologetics and logic-based reasons for following Christ. Unlike others, being motivated to read and study the Bible has never been a challenge for me. I’m wired up to be a reader and my natural tendency to ask questions and seek answers is one of the reasons I was a skeptic to begin with. Yet, as I’ve heard even well-known Christian apologists like Greg Koukl and J. Warner Wallace (both former skeptics) admit, prayer doesn’t always come easily for those wired up like me.

Short books like this can be either so brief they’re little help or their briefness cuts through a lot of unneeded wordiness and gets right to the heart of the issue. Let’s be upfront; a short book like this can’t do the important subject of prayer justice. A book like Tim Keller’s Prayer is much more adequate if you want to tackle the subject more thoroughly. No, Onwuchekwa’s mini-book can’t possibly go into the theology behind prayer or how to make sense of prayer to a God who knows all your thoughts and needs before you say them, but he does tackle (though briefly) exactly what the title of the book tells you is the focus of the book.

What it comes down to for Onwuchekwa is that it’s not about changing your regimen or instilling more discipline. He doesn’t focus on giving tips for prayer strategies or on finding more quality time to pray or on creating a better pray routine (though he does recommend keeping a pray journal of sorts). Instead, he encourages us to focus on the person and work of Christ, which will lead to a deeper desire to grow closer to Christ, and, thus, give us more desire to pray.

Another helpful idea Onwuchekwa focuses on is the importance of corporate prayer and how praying with others can not only teach us how to pray, but grow our desire to pray. This was an important point to add to the conversation. Often books on prayer only focus on individual prayer, but as followers of Christ, we’re part of a body of believers. Your faith is never just about you and Jesus, so it’s a good bit of advice to not neglect praying with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Onwuchekwa writes, “Passion for prayer is often more caught than taught. In my own experience, I’ve found that nothing increases my desire for prayer more than seeing and being around people who pray… Praying together isn’t cheating; it’s not a loophole. Solo prayers aren’t worth more than corporate ones. Far from being a loophole, corporate prayer is the very tool God gives us to help us get to know him better.”

*Crossway provided a free copy of this book for review.

 

Book Review: Why Should I Join a Church?

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Mark Dever’s 65-page book Why Should I Join a Church? is part of a “Church Questions” series of quick-reads published by 9 Marks and Crossway. Since I have known Christians who see little reason to be part of a church and I was working on a sermon on church unity, I decided to give this quick read a quick read. With short books like this, it can often go one of two ways: (A) The book could be so short that it barely touches on the topic and is of little help or (B) since the book is short, it jettisons any unneeded wordiness and it answers the question clearly and concisely with laser-focus. I can’t speak of the other books in this series, but I found this short book to be give strong, clear, biblical answers to this question about being part of a church.

Dever shows how the New Testament writers needn’t give a command to join a church because the whole New Testament ASSUMES Christians are gathered in local churches. Heck, much of the New Testament writings are letters written to CHURCHES. Dever gives 6 good reasons why being part of a church community is so important, but he starts with the most powerful and persuasive reason: The love shown by fallen but redeemed Christ-followers in a local church displays to the world the Gospel of reconciliation, the core of the Christian message.

As I ended up writing in my sermon, any Christian who thinks he is too mature spiritually to be part of a local church body is, ironically, showing what he is lacking in spiritual maturity. He needs to be in a church, where fallen but reconciled Christ-followers can help each other grow together in faith. Part of that is learning to live with the messiness of others and to forgive them as Christ has forgiven us.

Dever writes,

“Local churches are the place where we live according to this new reality [of reconciliation through Christ]. We don’t just say we’re reconciled, we show it. We show it by joining a congregation and committing to love one another and help one another grow in Christlikeness. We show it by inviting one another into our homes and caring for each other’s needs. We show it by confessing our sins to one another and forgiving one another. We show it by putting aside personal preferences and considering the interests of others above our own. We show it by learning and submitting to the word of God together. By joining a church, we commit to other redeemed sinners and show the world that Christ has indeed reconciled us both to God and to each other…

“What truly displays the gospel is when we commit to love and care for people that includes people utterly unlike us. We display the gospel when we gather each week to serve people who sometimes share only one thing in common with us: Jesus. We show we are reconciled in Christ when we commit to love those people in that place — no matter what faults and foibles they may have.”

*Crossway provided a free copy of this book to me for review.

Is Our Culture “Post-Christian”… or “Post-Secular”? Or Both? (w/ Book Review)

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UNDERSTANDING POST-CHRISTIAN CULTURE

Gene Edward Veith’s book Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Crossway, 2020) is more of a State of the Union Address than a call to arms. The topics covered in this book are wide and sweeping; and though Veith provides suggestions to the church sprinkled throughout on how to respond, overall the book is a photograph of the landscape — a statement on where we’re at in Western culture and where the church stands within that culture.

It’s a readable, relatively quick book for the amount of land it covers. He covers trends in modern Western thought, worldview, religion, science, technology, politics, sexuality, our ideas about reality, the body, truth, certainty, and even newer cultural phenomenons like intersectionality, transgenderism, transhumanism, genetic engineering, sex robots, and the loss of community. As I said, he covers a lot of ground! 

Veith’s work is insightful and important. As any decent missionary, pastor, or church planter can tell you, Christians need to understand the cultural context of where they’re doing ministry. Post-Christian is certainly a good guide to give us the big picture of the spirit of the age and the challenges facing the church.

 

POST-SECULAR?

Depending on how attuned someone is to the changing culture, some of the information in Post-Christian may be surprising. But perhaps what is most surprising is Veith’s conclusion that we’re not just living in a post-Christian culture, but also a post-secular culture. 

He writes that today’s current version of secularism, which is usually marked by a rejection of religion, is only “skin deep because under the surface we find interior spirituality—often vague and poorly thought through, drawing on pagan elements old and new.” God has created us to know him. So, we are — by nature and design — religious creatures, even if we deny it. Thus, when Christian faith is abandoned, other spirituality rushes in to fill the void.

This post-secular religion, the child of Western postmodern thinking, is a cafeteria of pick-and-choose, including things like astrology, reincarnation, nature spirits, and self-deification (seeking the “god within”) but all “wholly internalized, ethereal spirituality” — which, of course, makes no moral or convictional demands on the individual. In other words, they can be the “god” of their own reality; they can be spiritual without self-denial, self-sacrifice, or even inconvenience — a religion based solely on self. So, where God made humans in his own image (Genesis 1:27), humans are making God into their own image — or, at the very least, in their own preferences.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the growing movement of what I call “Technology Cults” —  people who are looking to merge biological life with technology (called transhumanism) to achieve eternal life and propel humankind to god-like status (not unlike something you’d see on Black Mirror, the Netflix series.) But all “new” heresies are really just old news. Mixed in with the new is also a lot of the old. For example, as more people return to ancient pagan (or “New Age”) practices, people contacting Christian churches looking for exorcisms have spiked!

Peter Jones in his book The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat, draws the same conclusions about Western culture not just being post-Christian, but post-secular. He describes it as “the rebirth of ancient paganism, ” a “modern embrace of, principles originally found in the ancient spirituality of the pre-Christian, pagan world.” Jones writes, “Spirituality has become a do-it-yourself life hobby that blends ancient Eastern practices with modern consumer sensibilities.” And so, this is where the modern mantra “I’m spiritual, not religious” grows from.

Based on how things are going — despite what has been assumed (and often proclaimed by ardent atheists) — as “societies have grown more modern, they have not become less religious.” Perhaps much of secular culture has turned away from traditional religions — dreaded “organized religion” — but they’ve traded it in for disorganized religion. Veith concludes, “So scholars no longer accept the ‘secular hypothesis,’ the assumption that as a society becomes more modern, it becomes less religious.” Post-Christian does not mean post-religious.

 

THE DYING CHURCH?

Unfortunately, at the same time, religious institutions are becoming more secular, and the Christian church is not impervious to such things. This is not surprising as the battle between theologically liberal (mainline) and theologically conservative Christianity has raged for over 100 years. 

As another example of the dogged religiousness of humankind, the author writes about the (unintentionally ironic) “atheist church” movement, which has tried to have all the benefits of church without God. In one of Veith’s more humorous insights, he comments:

“Do you reject the existence of God except as a metaphor? Do you deny the authority and truth claims of the Bible? Do you believe traditional Christianity is outdated and oppressive? You might be an atheist. Or you might be a mainline [liberal] Protestant.”

As someone a lot smarter than me pointed out — something that is quite obvious — some time ago: Liberal Christianity and traditional, historical, biblical Christianity are not the same religion. They’re two totally different faiths. After all, as Veith plainly drew attention to, the beliefs of theologically liberal (mainline) Christians differ little from the beliefs of atheists. Therefore, “Post-Christian Christianity needs to be desecularized,” and even theologically conservative churches need to be aware of how the surrounding secular culture affects the thinking of their congregation (and leadership). 

It also has to be remembered that churches that have adopted secular or theologically liberal views have usually consciously done so to make themselves “relevant” to the culture, yet these liberal churches are the exact churches that have been in steady decline for decades. The liberal church is not thriving or growing. Think about it: If all the church is is a lousy imitation of the world, what does it have to offer that isn’t already readily available elsewhere?

 

BUT THE TRADITIONAL CHURCH IS DYING TOO, RIGHT?

So, the culture is growing more pagan. The liberal church is in steady decline. But what about the traditional, historical, conservative, orthodox, Bible-believing church? How is it doing? Isn’t it in decline too? Well, it all depends on how you look at it.

Yes, church attendance is down in general, but what seems to be happening is a “refining of the church.” Looking only at church attendance may be the easiest way to conduct a survey concerning Christian growth or decline, but it also has its limits. Based on the studies of Ed Stetzer, “The percentage of convictional Christians… has held steady over the years.” This may be the most surprising thing one finds in Post-Christian, but Veith (with Stetzer) isn’t the only one making this point. For instance, see Glenn Stanton’s book The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World. (For the record, I haven’t read Stanton’s book yet, but I’ve heard interviews with him — and others — making the same point.) 

Now, the thing to note in Stetzer’s assessment is that it is “convictional Christians” who are holding steady. Instead of just making general studies of church attendance or of anyone who labels themselves as “Christian,” Stetzer and Veith consider that calling oneself a “Christian” doesn’t make one a true follower of Christ. There’s a lot of cultural Christianity out there, folks. So, when we look at someone’s commitment to following Christ, church attendance of those who take their faith seriously — i.e. devout Christians — are not decreasing.

In fact, it looks like the more theologically conservative churches are growing steadily. The slight decline in attendance at evangelical churches over the years has to do with the “cultural Christians.” So, it’s not the case that devout Christians are leaving the faith in droves, but church-goers who never were invested much in the first place are coming clean. The growing acceptability of atheism has allowed these people to be honest on where they stand on God and the church: 

“The nominal believers are leaving. There is no longer a cultural pressure to be in church, so those who used to attend out of a desire to be socially respectable are no longer bothering… Increasingly, the only ones left in the churches are the true believers. Such defections, ironically, strengthen the church. Just as the refining process burns away the dross to extract the precious metal, the hostility of secularism is purifying the church.”

Mark Twain may or may not have once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” It seems Christianity can say the same. 

In fact, the church is growing at an alarming — well, alarming to secularists anyhow — rate worldwide. “If the United States and Europe are becoming post-Christian, the rest of the world is rushing into Christianity.” Compare the 286 million Christians in 2010 in North American to the 544 million in Latin America, 493 million in Africa, and 352 million in Asia. Those who claim Christianity is “the white man’s religion” need to look at the global picture. By 2050, says religious scholar Philip Jenkins, only one-fifth of Christians will be “white.” In fact, the most common Christian worldwide today is a brown-skinned woman. Post-Christian even lays out how Scandinavian countries, upheld by many in the U.S. as secular utopias, have a solid, devout Christian presence.

Not only are church numbers growing worldwide, but the Christians in Africa, South America, and Asia take the Bible seriously. They’re theologically conservative. This, ironically, puts them at odds with many Western churches who have liberal leanings. Some theologically liberal denominations are finding their denominational brothers and sisters in other countries aren’t willing to set aside the Bible to conform to secular cultural demands.

This was seen recently when the United Methodists voted to overturn certain policies concerning homosexuality; it was the African United Methodists who kept the church where it has traditionally (and biblically) stood for centuries. (And now it’s looking like the United Methodists, which is considered primarily a liberal denomination in the U.S., may split in two.) Let Veith point out the irony: “Western liberal theologians — whose social gospel praises multiculturalism, denounces Western colonialism, and lauds racial diversity — now find themselves as a beleaguered white minority in opposition to black Africans.” 

Veith concludes, “In this vast sea of faith, Americans and Europeans occupy a small island of secularism, like teenagers fixated on their cell phones, oblivious to what is happening all around them. It turns out that this is not a post-Christian world after all.”

 

*I received a review copy of Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (2020) by Gene Edward Veith Jr. from publisher Crossway.

Keeping Chaos in Christmas: Santa Claus – Christian Saint or Pagan Satan?

 

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Santa Claus is “the dominate fictional character in our world. Neither Micky Mouse nor Sherlock Holmes, Ronald McDonald nor Harry Potter wields a fraction of the influence that Santa does… His image is recognized and loved all around the planet,” Dr. Gerry Bowler, history professor at the University of Manitoba, writes in his book Santa Claus: A Biography.

In our last GFTM article, Keeping the Chaos in Christmas: Pagan or Christian Celebration? A Short History of the Battle Over December 25th, we looked at what Dr. Bowler documents so well in another one of his books, Christmas in the Crosshairs. As we saw, many of the modern debates about Christmas have been going on since the beginning, including whether the celebration of Christ’s birth has been too heavily influenced by pagan folk customs. 

Of course, one can’t enter into these debates without the jolly fat man being considered either.

Where it’s difficult to trace when exactly and to what extent many of these pagan folk traditions entered the Christian celebration of Christmas, historic evidence shows us this happened after 300 AD over a period of centuries and varied from place to place as Christianity spread far and wide. (For more details, see the previous article.)

Gift-giving goes way back to the pagan festivals Christmas eventually replaced, and there is a “long association between Christmas and gift-giving” that was “long criticized by the church” for materialism and “lingering paganism.” But the popularity of these customs among the everyday people won out, and eventually the church Christianized them. Gift-giving for Christmas was linked by the church with charity to the poor and the bringing of gifts to the newborn Jesus.

Yet, the gift-giving Saint Nicholas didn’t appear until the 12th Century.

SAINT NICHOLAS, SUPER HERO SAINT

Traditions existed of gifts being delivered to children by various miraculous saints on the eves of their holy days: Saint Barbara, Saint Martin, Saint Lucia, the Wise Men, and others.

But Saint Nicholas, by far, was the most popular.

By 1,100 AD, Saint Nicholas’ popularity was rivaled only by the Virgin Mary. Saint Nicholas was “the most powerful male saint on the Church calendar: the patron of sailors, Vikings, Russians, Normans, barrel-makers, thieves, perfumers, picklers, florists, haberdashers, and many more – but especially of children.”

Little, if anything, can be said with any historical certainty about St. Nicholas. He was the bishop of Myra on the coast of modern Turkey in the early 4th Century. He allegedly died on December 6, 343 AD.

In the 12th Century, he was believed to be a magical deliverer of small gifts to kids on the eve of his day, December 6. Children prayed to him and left out their shoes to be filled with treats. But legend says he did much more than that.

He was a wonder worker of miracles; in fact, he was a darn super hero long before the first comic book was ever imagined. He rescued sailors, soldiers, children, starving people, and slaves.

He once saved three daughters from being sold into a life of prostitution by secretly delivering bags of gold to their poor father at night. Perhaps this has some truth to it as any non-super human could perform such a heroic act, but he also brought three murdered young men back from the dead after they were dismembered, shoved into barrels, and pickled! Apparently, he flew long before Superman entered the scene. He also was able to do what can only be called teleportation of both himself and others.

Clearly, he was a nurturing, passionate (super) man, but he was no wimp or pushover either. He often was portrayed as carrying a whip or rod. Children both loved and feared him. He expected children and others to keep up with their church lessons and to be moral.

My mother-in-law, who grew up in Germany, said when she was a child someone dressed as St. Nicholas visited their home. He asked her and her siblings if they had been behaving. Her father replied, “Not all of the time.” St. Nicholas then gave each of their hands a stern smack with his rod.

PROTESTING PROTESTANTS vs. ST. NICK

After the Protestant Reformation in 1517, the tradition of Saint Nicholas, along with devotion to other saints of the Catholic Church, came under fire and were banned in areas controlled by Protestants. In England, Elizabeth I in 1558 ended all Saint Nicholas related activities. In England and Scotland, gift-giving moved to New Year’s Day.

Saint Nicholas survived in eastern Europe, where the influence of the Reformation was weaker. He also survived in Holland, where there were both Catholic and Protestant areas. (It was the Dutch who would eventually bring Saint Nicolas to North America.)

Both German Catholics and Protestants replaced Saint Nicholas with a figure that was much more Bible-based: the Christ Child (das Christkindl). Thus, this moved the gift-giving from December 6 to Christmas Eve, December 24. (To read why Christmas is celebrated on December 25, see our previous article.)

But Baby Jesus just wasn’t menacing enough for parents. Parents wanted a figure that would instill some fear into their kids to help keep them in line. Saint Nicholas was benevolent but also a disciplinarian. After all, the dude carried a rod for beating children.

So, new figures started to appear who accompanied the Christ Child to substitute for Saint Nicolas’ rod. But these characters brought menacing to a whole new level! Many were downright horrifying: Aschenklaus (Nicholas in Ashes), Pelznickel or Belsnickel (Nicholas in Furs) and Ru-Klaus (Rough Nicholas), along with an “assortment of devils, witches with iron teeth, female disembowers, monstrous goats, or monks armed with switches” and Krampus, Hans Trapp, and Klabauf, who carried whips, chains, and sacks to steal away children.

Meanwhile, Catholics kids in southern Europe got the better end of the deal. They received gifts on Epiphany (January 6) from the Three Kings or the kindly good witch Befana or a “pooping log” (!?!).

THE MODERN MAKEOVER

It was not until the 1800s that our modern version of Santa Claus emerged.

In 1809, Washington Irving published a mock history called A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. This satire introduced Saint Nicholas, who the Dutch loved and still celebrated on December 6. For those outside NY, this was the first time many heard of “any flying, supernatural, nocturnal Christmas Gift-Bringer.”

One year later in 1810, John Pintard, a prominent merchant and founder of the New-York Historical Society, gave out a picture of Saint Nicholas accompanied by a poem. St. Nick was pictured as a stern-looking man in a bishop’s robe with a rod and a halo over his head. (See below.)

StNick

More poems soon followed by others, one calling him “Sancte Claus.” In the next few years, variations of the Dutch name for Saint Nicolas, Sinterklaas, appeared in American print: Santa-claw, Santeclaus, Sandy Claw, Santiclaw, Sanctus Klaas. All were based on oral, folk traditions with slightly different takes on the gift-giving wonder worker.

In 1821, the first lithographed work in the U.S. was also the first to publish a picture of “Santeclaus.” It was titled The Children’s Friend, a poem complete with the essential modern staples for Santa Claus: gifts on Christmas Eve, a team of reindeer, snowy chimney tops. Bowler writes, “The Children’s Friend wrench[ed] Santa Clause out of his Dutch context and plac[ed] him in a winter setting appropriate to North America in December.”

A year later, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a series of poetry for his daughters and published them anonymously in the newspaper the following year, titled “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” This would become the Christmas classic familiar to many today:

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly…
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Moore ignited an explosion of interest in this Saint Nicolas. Writers and illustrators competed to add to the story. “For decades there was no one standard version of the nocturnal visitor nor even agreement as to his name,” Bowler writes.  Some names included Kriss Kringle, Belsnickel, or some variation of “Santa Claus.”

Even his size was debated. Was he a small elf, even thumb-sized, to fit down chimneys? Was he a bearded grandfatherly-type or a smooth-faced youth? Sometimes he was dressed like a Dutch peddler; at other times he was dressed like George Washington.

By 1850, his home was securely set in the Arctic where he lived with his minions, a horde of elves. In the 1860s, German American cartoonist Thomas Nast in Harper’s solidified what Santa looks like today.

In Europe, most continued to hold on to their own versions of a magical figure delivering Christmas goodies, but the harsher holdouts from the Middle Ages — Perchta the Disemboweler in central Europe; Père Fouettard and his whip in France; the demonic Krampus, who stole children in Austria; the cannibal giant Gryla in Iceland; the horrifying goat-beast Joulopukki of Scandinavia — were replaced by a considerably more kinder, gentler version of “Santa.” Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Bobbo Natale, Samiclaus, and others emerged. They all were variations of the Santa Claus theme, but all were big-hearted, grandfatherly gift-givers.

Bowler writes, “By midcentury the American Santa Claus was not only a fixture in the stories told in American homes, he was a positive boon to merchants.” Whatever else he was, this Christmas gift-bringer ended up being a business man’s dream.

READ:

Keeping Chaos in Christmas: Pagan or Christian Celebration? A Short History of December 25th

Me & My Wife VS. My Kid & St. Nick: Breaking It to a 5-Year-Old Santa Isn’t Real

 

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Santa

3 New Important Apologetic Books (And All By Women) on Science, the Body & New Testament

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I don’t do many book reviews, so think of this more as book recommendations.

Recently, three books were release (two in 2018, one in 2017), which I have found extremely helpful for defending the Christian worldview. One focuses on science, one focuses on the big cultural issues of the day (like sexuality, abortion, etc.), and one focuses on the New Testament.

None of the books are needlessly dense, but filled with useful information without beating the main points to death. They are assessable, easy to follow, and enjoyable to read. In other words, they’re informative and scholarly in a good way; they bring it down to the street-level without sacrificing content, and the authors know how to write to a general audience and write something worth reading.

These three books also all happen to be written by women. I didn’t purposely choose these books so I could blog about books by Christian women, but I picked these three books because I find them helpful apologetic tools. (“Apologetics” = To defend.) It’s a pleasant surprise that my three favorite books of 2017-2018 are all by women authors; it’s good to see women contributing to the field of Christian apologetics.

LOVE THY BODY

Nancy Pearcey

I’m try not to be hyperbolic in recommending books, but Love Thy Body may be the most important book written in, at least, the past fifteen years.

Pearcey, called “America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual” by The Economist, is a master at clearly laying out how someone’s personal philosophy  – whether they realize it or not – effects how they think about the big questions of life. What’s so impressive about this book is that she shows how one big idea effects all the hot-button “culture war” issues of our day concerning human life, sexuality, and even family.

The big idea she addresses is this: whether the body is “separate from the authentic self.” In other words, is there is a divorce between the “person” and the body? According to some modern thinking, the “person” is the true self, where the body is an “expendable biological organism.”

Pearcey lays out why this idea that the “person” and body are detached from each other is not a biblically sound idea, nor a logically defensible position, nor beneficial to society or the individual. In fact, this popular “modern” notion has much more in common with the ancient paganism Christianity replaced in the West. Though Christians believe in an immaterial soul that can live on apart from the body, the biblical understanding is that God created us as whole beings – as embodied souls.

Pearcey walks us through how this unbiblical, post-modern (but also ancient) idea that the body is inconsequential effects how we think about all the big issues of our day: homosexuality, gender, the casual sex “hook up” culture, abortion, euthanasia, and even parenthood and the family.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW

Lydia McGrew

Lydia McGrew (along with her husband, Tim McGrew, who are both published philosophers) have reintroduced a forgotten argument for the reliability of the New Testament in podcast interviews, blog articles, and now a book. Originally used by William Paley in the 1790s and John James Blunt in the mid-1800s, the strategy has been labeled Undesigned Coincidences, a term coined by Blunt. Granted, “Undesigned Coincidences” doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it’s quite fascinating.

The argument is based on the idea that when we have multiple accounts of a true event by eyewitnesses, some accounts may contain details that others do not, yet those additional details will compliment the information in the accounts where the details are missing. To give an example, say, a witness to a murder describes the killer as having a French accent. Another witness may not mention the accent but describe the man wearing a brand of clothing unique to France.

Such a “coincidence” strongly suggests that the accounts are given by eyewitnesses and reliable. After explaining what undesigned coincidences are, McGrew’s book is pretty straight forward: She gives example after example of how we find these complimentary details between the four Gospels and between Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts.

(I wrote three blog articles about Undesigned Coincidences based on podcast interviews with Tim McGrew: Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. If you find them interesting, reading Lydia’s book is the place to go to learn more.)

SCIENCE AND THE MIND OF THE MAKER

 Melissa Cain Travis

The goal of Travis’ book is quite easy to sum up: Despite the popular mantra of skeptics, science has not disproven God, nor is science and Christianity at odds.

Travis, professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, takes us for a walk through scientific history to show that the Christian worldview gave birth to modern science. The founders of science were men who believed in God and saw their work not only as a way of growing in knowledge of God but also a way of worshipping God. Moreover, with each new scientific discovery, many viewed these as more – not less – evidence that the universe was created by a rational, thinking mind.

Travis backs up this “Maker Thesis” by looking at the evidence we find in cosmology, DNA, physics, mathematics, and the human mind. She even covers how our world is just right for our logical human minds to study, comprehend, and benefit from it and how this – just like life in the cosmos – doesn’t appear to be just a happy accident (giving whole new insight into God saying in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”)

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

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