The Storm-Tossed Family - A Review

Families are under attack and the only hope for them is to be reshaped by the cross of Christ.

That might sound like a reactionary statement, which could be accompanied by a decline narrative and commentary on how much worse things are today. However, as a central idea of Russell Moore’s recent book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, he provides evidence that the family has always been critical and has always been a spiritual battle ground.

Moore writes, “Family can enliven us or crush us because family is about more than the just the life cycle of our genetic material. Family is spiritual warfare.”


The spiritual importance of the family is made evident in the pages of Scripture. Even before one of the Ten Commandments anchors the family in the very character of God, we read of Satan’s attempt to disrupt the first family by tempting Eve to sin. Shortly after that we read of one brother killing another out of jealousy. The Bible is clear that the family is a focal point for satanic attack and that the disruption of the family is one of the clearest evidences of sin in the world.

Logically, we must ask why that is.

Again, Moore helps to explain, “The family is one of the pictures of the gospel that God has embedded in the world around us. Through a really dark glass, we can see flashes in the family of something at the core of the universe itself, of the Fatherhood of God, of the communion of a people with one another.”

The balance of the volume explores the nature of the family, the corrosive ideas that are negatively impacting our families, and offers a better vision for the good of the family.

The Storm-Tossed Family is reasonably comprehensive. After introducing the concept of family being spiritual warfare Moore begins by identifying points where contemporary culture conflicts with a cross shaped vision of the family, tearing down mistaken ideas and offering a better version of the family.

This process begins with Moore’s affirmation that the Kingdom of God is the primary concern of Christians, not the family. Here he is debunking the dangerous idea that the function of the church is somehow social or political—to preserve the nuclear family—rather than spiritual.

The most important distinction in that important, but secondary, concept of the family is that the family is a picture of the gospel, not the gospel itself. No one comes to Christ because they see a strong nuclear family. They come to Christ because they recognize their need for a savior and the hope that he offers.

Additionally, Moore deconstructs one of the ongoing myths of Christian sub-culture by reminding readers that the church is a family. Thus, the hyper-territorial parenting styles that are a fairly common occurrence in children’s church and the preference of “family time” over church activities in all or most cases represents a deviation from the pattern outlined in Scripture, particularly the New Testament.

Subsequently, the place of singles in the body of Christ becomes less questionable. No longer is the local church projected as a way to support the nuclear family in a hostile world. It does that, to be sure, but the primary purpose is to be a family to exemplify the gospel. Thus, singles are an integral part of the body, not a loosely attached appendage consigned to a class of misfits on a Sunday morning.

The themes that Moore tracks down are plentiful, and the above paragraphs provide just a few examples. He also delves into human sexuality, pointing out where the church has conceded a great dal of ground to the world around—we are, as Moore has argued frequently, often simply slow-moving sexual revolutionaries. As long as we are a few decades behind society, we feel like we are being sufficiently conservative. The point, however, is not to be conservative per se, but to be biblically faithful.

The Storm-Tossed Family is an important book for our age. Moore manages to highlight errors prevalent in even the most theologically orthodox churches while holding firm to the positive patterns of family that are indicated (though rarely exemplified) in Scripture. The connection between the gospel and proper function of the family is, without question, the central theme of this book.

The good news in this book is the good news: Christ came to redeem us from our sin. One of the most affirming and reassuring anecdotes in this book is of a man, realizing he had failed often and significantly as a father, being told that Christ would redeem his failures. The message is not that it is ok to fail, as if all the wrong we do will be undone, but that in Christ all things will work together for good. Repentance is real, powerful, and effective. God doesn’t change the past, but he will redeem it through the blood of Christ. That is the sort of hope that all of us imperfect people need to hear about.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

On Reading Well - A Review

It is a general rule that when Karen Swallow Prior writes something, you should read it. Her latest book, On Reading Well, is no exception.

In this volume, Prior brings her lifelong interest in literature, which has culminated in her work as a professor of English, and an interest in seeing people–particularly Christians–live ethically.


Her thesis in On Reading Well is that careful reading of literature forms the human soul. Even books that were not written with a specific moral—and perhaps especially those not written with a specific moral—can be morally formative when the story is well-told. In one sense, we borrow the memories of the characters by living their experiences vicariously when we read carefully.

To carry out her mission, Prior selects twelve books that might find their way on the reading list of university syllabus in any setting, then explores their moral terrain. A clear message from Prior’s curated list is that we can learn from the human condition well explored, whether or not we agree with the theology of the author.

The literary discussions are framed in terms of virtues, with four chapters on the cardinal virtue, three on the theological virtues, and another five on what Prior calls the heavenly virtues. When the virtues are discussed as concepts with their substance filled from contemporary sources, such approaches often fall short of the mark. This structure works and is edifying, in part, because the content of these virtues is filled with substance from the Christian tradition, with influence from classical thinkers who have also influenced Christians throughout the centuries.

I have previously read most of the works Prior covers. In some cases, it has been several decades. There were four chapters on material I have never read (I won’t say which, lest some readers get judgmental.), but Prior’s careful discussion enables even an unexposed reader to gain from the chapters.

Readers will benefit more from the book if they have read all of the literature Prior discusses. Perhaps the most beneficial approach would be to read the particular work of literature just prior to reading each chapter. However, for those simply seeking to grow and better understand how humans ought to live, this book can stand on its own.

At one level, this is a book that teaches readers about ethics. At another level, On Reading Well is a warm invitation into the world of literature. This invitation is extended graciously and unpretentiously.

Reading literature is important for those seeking to really know people around them. This is especially true of pastors and theologians. As a theologian, I have found that my ability to empathize with others, to understand, and to explain hard concepts clearly ebbs and flows based on my reading. One might think this would have primarily to do with the theology that I read, but it has more to do with the literature that I am reading. Specifically, when I am reading imaginative stories (not all of which is quality literature), my imagination is invigorated. I am equipped with clearer illustrations of sometimes complex theological or ethical concepts. Often these are not drawn specifically from the book that I am reading, but simply a reflection of the pattern of thought that comes from reading a good story well told.

Prior taps into the link between the moral imagination and reading. We are formed by what we read and how we read. A subtext throughout this volume is the call to read and think carefully about the books we encounter. This is no guide to chugging through an arbitrary list of supposedly important texts, but a demonstration of the sort of thoughtfulness that should characterize the time we spend partaking of good books.

On Reading Well is enjoyable for its quality as a book in itself. For those who enjoy reading literature, it is a treat worthy of a fireside reading. This has a place in the library of homeschool families, where it shows what close reading looks like and may help some families move beyond the list of reading comprehension questions into discussions about the soul of the literature they encounter. Pastors can benefit from this by exploring thought beyond the bounds of commentaries, the latest non-fiction volumes, and even classical theological works. The church will benefit if the men called to preach are reading good books carefully, even if it does not lead directly to sermon references.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Enjoy - A Review

Those pursuing to grow in Christ and redeem every moment often fail to properly delight in the goodness that God provides to us. Voices on the left, like Lee Hull Moses in More than Enough, feel guilty for the abundance of life in the United States. For both groups, guilt can become a trap that steals joy from the Christian life, which is a tragedy of significant proportions.

In contrast, Trillia Newbell’s recent volume, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, provides an antidote to guilt over the good gifts God provides. Instead, Newbell encourages her readers to delight in the good gifts that God provides.

The volume is targeted toward women, though I found the content instructive and helpful. This is a text that is self-consciously structured for book studies, with roughly even chapter sizes, discussion questions and prayer prompts.

Enjoy has eleven chapters, each with a different topic. In Chapter One, Newbell begins with an invitation to enjoy, where she counters the tendency toward guilt among Christians. The second chapter deals with friendship as a gift from God. Newbell moves on in Chapter Three to discuss the joy of sexual intimacy, while also emphasizing the goodness of singleness. The fourth and fifth chapter emphasize the goodness of work and rest, respectively. Chapter Six deals with the blessing of money and possessions, noting that they can also become a trap that robs joy and blessing. The seventh chapter outlines enjoyment in food. Chapter Eight highlights a theology of creation and the appropriateness of responding joyfully with that. The ninth chapter speaks to enjoying art, which is a needed corrective for evangelicals. In Chapter Ten, Newbell points her readers back to the main focus of the volume, which is delight in the God who gives us everything. Chapter Eleven focuses on our future, greater enjoyment of God’s goodness in heaven.

Newbell’s latest volume is an example of the well-written, engaging, theological informed resources the church needs. With Christian bookstore shelves often dominated by bad theology or poorly written books, Enjoy improves the available options. This is a resource that is useful, necessary, and sound.

Importantly, this volume strikes the right balance for us in this life of American prosperity. There is great suffering in the world, but we do not need to feel guilty for God’s good gifts for us. At the same time, we must be careful to properly enjoy those good things God has given us. So much of our culture seems to fall into the trap of discontentedly longing for more and guiltily partaking of the good around us. Newbell offers a middle option that delights in God’s grace.

All is grace. Newbell reminds us of that in this volume. For that she deserves to be congratulated.

God deserves to be enjoyed. We find this explained with numerous examples in Enjoy. For this, the book warrants being read.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Worth Reading - 10/8

Here are some of the more significant posts and podcasts that I've come across this week.

1. A history and overview of the Gregorian Calendar from Vox. Likely not the most important thing you'll read this week, but one of the more interesting. We are due for something a little lighter and more interesting right now, I think.

The fundamental problem that anyone making a calendar has to grapple with is the fact that it takes just a shade more than 365 days for Earth to make a full trip around the sun. More precisely, it takes 365.24219 days. . . .
This dilemma was grasped early on by astronomers in Alexandria, Egypt, who helped Julius Caesar devise a new calendar in 46 BC. Until that point, the Roman calendar was a messy hodgepodge, with months based on the cycles of the moon and extra days tacked on in February every now and again based on the whims of politicians. Caesar wanted a steadier, more reliable way to mark the dates.
But the new Julian calendar that resulted was still flawed. It had a leap day every four years, which turned out to be an overcorrection. The average year now had 365.25 days in it — just a shade more than 365.24219.
By the 1570s, those slight differences had added up. The calendar was now out of sync with the solar year by about 10 days.

2. This is not new, but it has been making the rounds of late. It is a satirical academic article poking fun at the textual critical methods often used to denigrate the validity of Scripture. This time, however, it's being applied to the works of A.A. Milne. A worthwhile article for a chortle, and it exposes some of the tomfoolery that goes on in higher critical circles.

Since on the earthly level the chief focus of attention in the corpus is the hero Pooh, on the mythological plane great importance must be attached to the deity whom he worships. Pooh is of course a devotee of the goddess Honey. The stated time of her service he observes with unfailing regularity – as we learn from H 5.82 it is 11am (a traditional time for divine service). He speaks of this hour as the time when 'I generally get home. Because I have One or Two things to Do.' Naturally he speaks indirectly of his faith when addressing an unbeliever (Rabbit), but the capitalization makes plain that the things to be done are the performance of sacred acts. Pooh is no ordinary lay worshipper of Honey, but obviously a priest dedicated to her service; his so-called 'house', liberally furnished with 14 or 15 cult-objects (pots) (H 3.35), which he speaks of as 'comforting' to him (H 3.36) – which is the very function of religion – is undoubtedly a sanctuary, a 'house' or temple, of Honey.
Honey is a fertility goddess (cf. the use in the common language of 'honey' as a synonym for 'love', and the frequent use of terms for sweetness as endearments). She is referred to in the old gnomic saying, 'What is sweeter than Honey, what is stronger than a lion?' (originally, 'What is stronger than a Tigger?'). She is frequently alluded to in the Pooh corpus by reverential periphrases such as befit a deity of her statue, e.g. 'a little something' (W 8.116; H 4.56), 'a little smackerel of something' (H 1.2). I should like here to make the suggestion that we have in the figure of Honey a clue to the enigmatic inscription to be found in one of the primitive illustrations (W 1.18) Bath Mat. This is surely the Hebrew bath me'at 'Daughter of a Little', a well-known Semitic idiom for A Little Something.

3. A few weeks ago, mega-church pastor Andy Stanley leaped into his latest controversy by declaring that the Bible is an impediment to evangelism. Since he likes seeing people saved, he tries to avoid referencing the bible in his "sermons" on Sunday. His defenders argue that his methods work and he stills says the right things. His less rabid attackers have continue to push on the problems of stripping the Bible from the congregation. Jared Wilson picks up some of the more significant problems in this post.

If I may speak to another issue I believe central to the more recent debate about the sufficiency and reliability of the Bible in worship gatherings and in evangelism and apologetic conversations with unbelievers: I think if we trace back some of these applicational missteps to the core philosophy driving them, we find in the attractional church a few misunderstandings. The whole enterprise has begun with a wrong idea of what — biblically speaking — the worship gathering is, and even what the church is.
In some of these churches where it is difficult to find the Scriptures preached clearly and faithfully as if it is reliable and authoritative and transformative as the very word of God, we find that things have effectively been turned upside down. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul uses the word “outsider” to describe unbelievers who are present in the worship gathering. He is making the case for our worship services to be intelligible, hospitable, and mindful of the unbelievers present, but his very use of the word “outsider” tells us that the Lord’s Day worship gathering is not meant to be primarily focused on the unbelieving visitor but on the believing saints gathered to exalt their king. In the attractional church paradigm, this biblical understanding of the worship gathering is turned upside down—and consequently mission and evangelism are actually inverted, because Christ’s command to the church to “Go and tell” has been replaced by “Come and see.”
Many of these churches—philosophically—operate more like parachurches. And the result is this: it is the sheep, the very lambs of God, who basically become the outsiders.

4. The Winning Slowly podcast did a good job covering the nature and problem with civil forfeiture. It isn't the highest injustice on many people's list, but it does have a significant negative impact on people. It's worth listening to this brief discussion to get an idea of what the concept is and how you can help.

5. A University of Toronto professor refuses to use the neutral "they" for individuals who label themselves transgender. This has, obviously, caused a great deal of hoopla and accusation of bigotry. His argument is careful. He is not a prude, nor even opposed to the sexual revolution. It's worth reading the argument to see how he responds. The last paragraph, which I quote here, has significant explanatory power for contemporary politics and may present a view of the future.

It's not the role of society to make people feel included. That's not the role of society. The role of society is to maintain a modicum of peace between people. It's not the role of society to make people feel comfortable. I think society is changing in many ways. I can tell you one thing that I'm very terrified of, and you can think about this. I think that the continual careless pushing of people by left wing radicals is dangerously waking up the right wing. So you can consider this a prophecy from me if you want. Inside the collective is a beast and the beast uses its fists. If you wake up the beast then violence emerges. I'm afraid that this continual pushing by radical left wingers is going to wake up the beast.

6. This is even more significant in light of the latest damning evidence about Trump's character. A young conservative explaining why he feels betrayed by the conservatives that have backed Trump in this election.

Many claim a vote for Trump out of desperation, and I can understand a desperate vote. A conservative should only vote for Donald Trump like a fox gnawing off a leg stuck in a trap. But publicly urging support for a candidate, even “given our choices,” is another matter. Conservatism has always wanted to win elections. It has been willing to compromise on candidates and platforms. But behind conservatism lay real principles, advocated not simply because they were popular or would win at the ballot box, but because they remain good and true. We should not promote a candidate who is the opposite of those principles in the hope that we are actually furthering them.
Others claim that Trump might advance the causes conservatives care about. Perhaps, but when conservatives I’ve trusted endorse Trump, it brings to mind Jack Sparrow's words from Pirates of the Caribbean: “Me, I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you have to watch out for. You never can predict if they're going to do something incredibly stupid.” We can trust that Trump will continue to be dishonest. He is not worth pledging the honor of our movement.
It also brings to mind Doug Kmiec, the Pepperdine Law School professor who traveled the country making a Catholic case for Barack Obama. My friends and I thought that secular progressives were not going to take their cues from Catholic thought. Clearly, we were right. For his services, Doug Kmiec was made ambassador to Malta, but President Obama has never relied on Catholic leaders for advice as President Bush did. Before long, the Department of Health and Human Services started issuing mandates, forcing Catholic universities and religious orders to fight for their rights in court.

7. Even given the tense and especially rancorous election season, Trevin Wax provides a good word on how Christians should handle this election season. Give lots of space and grace.

Christians, of all people, should remember that politics is not ultimate. There are more important things in life, truths that unite us across party lines into one body of Christ. Most of the issues we debate at the dinner table must fade away at the Table of our Lord.

So should we resort to publicly shaming people who decide to vote for one of these candidates? Twist the arms of those who, out of conscience, withhold their vote? Pounce on people when something happens you think makes them regret the decision they’ve made?

When we blast people who have come to a different ethical conclusion about the best way forward this election cycle, we give the impression that this year’s choice is ultimate. We look just like people on the Right and Left who live and breathe politics because they don’t see anything higher.

This won’t do. I have too many friends and family members and fellow church members on all sides of Election 2016 to let their choice in the voting booth affect my affection for them.

8. Trillia Newbell wrote a very good post for the ERLC about the problem of apathy when it comes to issues of race.

My point is there are plenty of stories about race today that should cause each of us to pause and ask hard questions.

Part of my friend’s struggle to care seems to me to be apathy. It’s simply easier to coast through life not worrying about others who aren’t immediately associated with you. It takes effort to know those not like us, to study history and ask hard questions. This apathy could be masked by the thought, “Haven’t we all moved past racism now?” But the stories above prove otherwise. We get used to “our own” and can soon fall into the temptation to be partial.

James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke strongly about the temptation to be partial toward others, reminding us that it’s ultimately about the second of the great commandments—to love your neighbor as yourself. He wrote: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1, 8-9 ESV).

9. Bruce Ashford raises some important points about religious liberty (note the absence of scare quotes) and why we really need a world where we can believe differently and live those beliefs out. This is too important an issue to allow the progressivist antagonists to silence conservatives of good will.

Religious liberty is a first freedom because it stands at the center of what it means to be human. As a Constitutional freedom, it declares each person has value and dignity, each person is free to hold his or her own convictions about ultimate reality, and each person is guaranteed the liberty to align his or her life with those convictions. And just as importantly, each of us is free to do so openly, without fear.

When religious freedom is threatened, every other freedom is threatened as well. Religion alone can check the government’s perpetual intrusion on the liberties of individuals, groups, and mediating institutions. For that very reason, however, certain governmental and non-governmental actors in our nation wish to restrict religious liberty. Confining religion to the realm of privately held beliefs and semi-public houses of worship, would allow government to function in all manner of capacities beyond its Constitutional mandate. This is the very outcome being sought by certain progressive organizations and political actors.

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel - A Review

If you are a Christian struggling with how to find a way to positively engage the world around you while remaining orthodox, then Russell Moore’s book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, is for you.

Moore has been on various news outlets over the past few years as a spokesman for conservative evangelicals, particular for the Southern Baptist Convention. If this has caused you to wonder what he is doing and why he says the things he says, then this book will be helpful for you, too.

Avoiding Twin Dangers

Moore is outlining the twin dangers of Christian engagement in the public square. On the one hand, it is easy for Christians to become like grumpy old people telling kids to get off their lawn. On the other hand, it also easy for Christians to leave unexamined many of the ills of society as long as it doesn't directly impact them. We can’t afford to fall into either one of the errors if we are going to reach the world with the good news of the gospel.

The thing that keeps us from falling into either of these errors is a proper understanding of the gospel. Moore begins by discussing the culture shift that has pushed Christians from the center of the cultural conversation to the prophetic edges. He is careful to note this reality reflects the fact that the values coalitions of previous decades sounded very Christian without actually being converted by the gospel. As the conversation shifted away from something that resembled a Christian ethic, the Christians that remained faithful to the gospel seemed to have two options: either compromise or get left out of the conversation. This is a false dichotomy.

Gospel Foundation, Contemporary Issues

Early on in the volume, Moore digs into the meaning of the gospel. He makes it clear that the gospel isn’t about either personal salvation or social justice; it’s about both. If the Christian church loses its understanding of personal conversion and individual redemption, she loses one of the cornerstones of the gospel message. Salvation is not based on redemption of the whole, but on Christ’s atonement for the individual. At the same time, if Christian individuals miss the central redemptive themes of historic Christianity, which offers a strong dose of the pursuit of justice in society, then they miss out on some of the key implications of their own gospel conversion; redeemed individuals seek to redeem society.

With both these aspects of redemption in mind, Moore addresses a number of major issues that are central to the contemporary cultural discussion: immigration, religious liberty, and family stability. These are social issues that tend to divide Americans from each other and are the topics that commonly lead to calls for compromise and accusations of a lack of compassion.

Convictional Kindness

This is where Moore’s call for convictional kindness comes in. Convictional kindness is standing firm on ethical norms without shame, while confronting the angry accusations of the surrounding world with a gentle spirit. The conviction is birthed from confidence in the objective moral order in creation that is witnessed to by the special revelation found in Scripture. It requires rational, well-thought through positions that are both coherent and correspond to the truth in God’s creation. Kindness is built on the understanding of our own personal need for redemption. We, too, are growing, learning people who have pasts that we may have forgotten. Those that we disagree with, even those waving fingers and shouting in our faces, are people made in the image of God who deserve to hear the message of redemption. That’s a message they won’t be able to hear if we are shouting back. In fact, joining in the shouting will keep our “conversation partners” from hearing both our arguments on the issue and the message of the gospel.

Moore’s overall argument is hugely important as Christians seek to be salt and light in a world that (still) desperately needs the gospel. He also makes subtler points that are even more significant for Christians to hear. For example, in discussing the issue of gun control or gun rights he explains that there is no single Christian position. He has a position, which he does not articulate, but he notes more significantly that no one can speak for an official Christian position. There are certainly moral elements to the question, but at the same time the bulk of the argument is prudential and legal. It would be unethical to leave loaded guns within the reach of toddlers, but the capacity of a magazine and the process for background checks for weapons are prudential questions. This doesn’t mean that the question is not significant, but that we should be careful about promoting our preferred position as a gospel truth when it isn’t. Doing so encourages wrangling within the body of Christ and it largely discredits the message of the gospel because the faulty logic is apparent to any who care to see it. In this example, the Second Amendment is a benefit of being American, not a right imbued by the gospel.


Onward has been published at a time that conservative Christians in America feel like they are under assault because anything resembling a Christianesque ethic is being pushed farther toward the margins. Moore helps by explaining that Christianity has always been strange and that we should continue to cling to our strangeness. We have to articulate the gospel in our homes, in our churches, and in our culture if we are to have an impact. Moore’s book is an encouragement to continue to live faithfully in private and in public, but with a confidence founded on the truth of the gospel not fueled by a majority in the polls.