Weekend Reads: Talking donkeys, sinful men, and buzzer-beating obedience
by Caleb Nelson
Posted on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 1:02 pm
The publisher’s promotional material says he’s written four books, but the zest, freshness—and (occasional) exhilarating amateurishness—of Tyler Blanski’s latest effort make this one seem like his first. When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (Zondervan, 2013) starts from the presupposition that donkeys can, well, talk—and it only gets better from there. Blanski, a Hillsdale College grad and excited evangelical high-church Anglican, wants to drag Christians back to a medieval notion wherein the universe is a living reality that points to Christ. Are the modern world, the modern calendar, and Dr. Dre-endorsed headphones actually charged with the grandeur of God? Can they be?
Of course, says Blanski. Christians only need to do a little cognitive reordering and get out of the suffocating naturalism that teaches that everything in the world, including true love and sunsets, is actually made of interlocking plastic bricks and mini-figures. Those who believe this popular cosmology are the benighted denizens of “Atomland,” and they need to get back to Christendom, where material and spiritual realities flourish side-by-side. Blanski interacts with evolutionists and naturalists like E.O. Wilson, pointing out that the word that does all the muscle work for such thinkers is “really.” “The brain is really a computer.” Adding the word “really” to a conjecture does not somehow convert it into fact. Science is simply a metaphor describing what we see around us, and to worship the metaphor and forget its figurative character is quite literally to become an idolater. Gravity is a “law” only in metaphor, and the “law” metaphor is no different than the medieval idea that stones fall because they want to return to their mother, the earth.
This world is God’s Kingdom, and Christians need to baptize everything that used to exalt itself against the knowledge of God. Blanski’s work is Anglican popularizing Christendom at its best.
Battles Men Face
First, you label the garbage disposal with the name of your besetting sin—“alcohol” or “pornography.” Then you slice an apple into pieces and, with a marker, label each piece with the name of something you love (“family,” “God,” etc.). Now feed the fruit to the disposal.
Gregory Jantz has been a professional counselor for a long time. A fan of 12-step programs and practical exercises, he actually has his clients do this to create a mental image of the destructiveness of sin.
Battles Men Face: Strategies to Win the War Within (Revell, 2012) deals with exactly what you would expect—and a whole lot more. Jantz’s approach to the human male is shockingly stereotypical. He actually says what everyone knows: Men like sex, alcohol, and sports. But he also describes the unhealthy attitudes and behaviors into which men often fall. Living in anger, alcoholism, pornography, emotional withdrawal, or as a workaholic is not normal or right.
The book ends with a four-pronged solution. Men have to stop being afraid. Some kind of fear, whether of what you’re not or of what you are, is behind almost all a man’s sins. Giving up fear also translates into being courageous enough to admit the problem and ask for help. But Jantz’s key point here is also likely to be controversial. You have to love yourself enough to change. Unless, deep down, you believe you’re worth it, you will neither exert nor sustain the effort to make a difference. You must approach everyone with an attitude of charity—and you cannot do that, says Jantz, unless you love yourself, too. Then he offers as proof the fact that God thinks you’re worth it. He sent His Son for you.
Is self-love really the way to stop feeding your life to the garbage disposal piece by piece? I wasn’t convinced.
The 10-Second Rule: Following Jesus Made Simple
I—wrongly—judged this book by its spine. Mentally adding its title to the author’s name, I visualized a ditzy blonde evangelical whose theology was even shallower than her title implied. I got a few pages in to The 10-Second Rule: Following Jesus Made Simple (10, 2013) and realized that Clare De Graaf is a Dutch grandfather from Grand Rapids, Mich., and could probably run circles around any modern-day Reformed theologian.
De Graaf lived the life of a comfortable professing Christian until he was 31. Then he realized that Jesus calls us to follow. Yet “total surrender,” as some call it, is easier to talk about than to comprehend, let alone accomplish. What we can understand is the 10-second rule. When internally prompted to do the right thing, decide within 10 seconds that you will do it. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to simply obey. This is not, De Graaf emphasizes, some kind of commitment to extra-biblical special revelation. The fact is, in daily life, one inner “voice” will remind you to obey God, or prompt you to help the homeless person on the roadside. Another “voice” will respond with rationalizations for why obedience is too hard and the way of selfishness is actually more righteous. Whether the first voice is the Holy Spirit is immaterial; even if it’s “only” your conscience, it’s urging you to do the right thing. So obey it.
De Graaf urges his readers to “love the one you’re with,” not in the sense of the old Stephen Stills song, but in the Good Samaritan sense. You have no idea who your neighbor will be today—but you’re still responsible to love him. Jesus does not distinguish between “grace-deservers” and “undeserving scum.”
If we have to choose, says De Graaf, Jesus would rather have us be half as right and twice as obedient. It’s hard to disagree.
Caleb is the pastor of Harvest Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Gillette, Wyo.