Blog

“A Contemporary Handbook for Weddings and Funerals and Other Occasions” by Malphurs, Willhite, and Hilman: a Review

As a pastor, I am always looking for resources to help with weddings, funerals, and other services. Regardless of how long one has served as a pastor, these are vital ministries that one should keep growing in. I recently read through the book A Contemporary Handbook for Weddings and Funerals and Other Occasions edited by Aubrey Malphurs, Keith Willhite, and Dennis Hillman.

The book is slightly different than I had assumed. Most books like these offer practical advice and walk-thrus various services pastors lead. Although this book offers some of that, it is primarily a collection of sermons which serve as models for the reader to follow.

For funerals, for example, the chapter titles demonstrate this model approach. There are sermon examples for a funeral for a young wife and mother, a young believer, the tragic death of a young person, suicide, infants, etc.

These models are helpful but rob the book from what I presumed it would actually be. There is plenty of practical advice and guides within the volume, but seemed unnecessary to include entire messages for specific services. Regardless, this volume would be good to have in a minister’s library. I know I will return to it frequently.

All Good Things Must come to An End

When I was still in college, a friend approached me about writing a blog. The only person I knew who did such a thing was the President of the institution I was studying at. I told him I would write an article for him and go back to pursuing my degree. If member serves me right, it was about Mario Brothers or something. I’m sure some secularists was trying to ruin a beloved character from my childhood and I disagreed. Although nothing on the Internet ever vanishes, I pray those early efforts have been raptured.

Regardless, those early attempts with my friend led to me launching my own blog on Xanga (remember that). Before long I had a decent following among my peers at Boyce College and eventually it reached a broader audience. I struggled limiting my scope (a problem I never shook myself from) and found myself explore issues of culture, ethics, apologetics, Bible, theology, politics, economics, literature, books, and personal interests (like sports).

Eventually I migrated from Xanga to Blogger and from Blogger to WordPress. Along the way I made various adjustments and continued to interact with readers and strangers alike. Blogging was never about building a platform to bigger and better things. I always knew my posts would never appear in the local paper let alone something more syndicated. They would never be translated into best selling books.* I wrote because I enjoyed it and I needed to practice my writing. Thinking out loud is a valuable discipline for me and blogging provided a helpful tool for me. This is why spending countless hours pouring over every sentence and hiring an editor was never really an option. I didn’t care about readership or success. Blogging was about disicpline. It forced me to read, to think, and then read some more.

Nearly all of my posts from Blogger and WordPress are still online. I have deleted some that were poorly thought through but those are rare. To date, I have written over nearly 7,000 posts. Most days consisted of both a links article where I shared some of the things I was reading that day as well as an article. Every Monday featured a review (mostly of books) whereas Tuesdays were geared toward theology and ministry. Wednesday enjoyed CS Lewis (or other writings) quotes worth mediating on. Finally, Friday was whatever I had time to make Friday to be.

But now has come for this blog to be less active. Regular visitors have probably noticed a drop in daily links and other strange things. That is all part of the process. I will likely still post a few things from here and there as is necessary. If a publisher sends me a book to review, I will post it on here. For the most part, however, this is the end for the Sola Evangelii blog. There are several reasons for this. The two mains reasons are tied to desire and time. My desire to dedicate countless hours to a blog are largely gone. The effort it takes to keep track of links to share and articles to write can be tiresome. Likewise, my personal life has gotten significantly busier. In addition to pastoring a local church, I will be a state minister at the Kentucky Capitol. On top of that, I will continue teaching middle school and high school homeschoolers as well as coach middle school boy soccer. Then there’s the part of being a husband and father (and train to run my first marathon). I simply do not have the time to keep up with the blog.

I want to thank everyone who has ever accidentally or purposefully visited the website, bought any of my books, listened to any of my podcasts, or read a single blog. My numbers have increased since COVID and I am grateful to every visitor. I covet your prayers as I continue to minister in Frankfort including the state capital. The need for the gospel is great and may the Lord continue to bless our efforts here. If you’re ever in town, come by and join us at East Frankfort Baptist Church.

sola evangelii

image credit

* Although my first two books were inspired from my blogs. But those aren’t best sellers. They barely sold and I’m ok with that.

Christianity on the Small Screen: “Manhunt: Deadly Games”

Manhunt: Deadly Games - Rotten Tomatoes

In 2006, my wife and I got married and escaped to Murphy, North Carolina for our honeymoon. Murphy was everything we could have asked for. It was remote, quiet, and Southern. We returned fifteen years later on our anniversary and found the town grown, but still lovely. While planning our trip I discovered that a former well-known FBI fugitive was caught in Murphy, NC. His name was Eric Rudolph and he was a serial bomber whose most famous atrocity was the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta.

As part of their “Manhunt” series, season 2 explores the story of the bombings, the hunt for Eric Rudolph, and the false manhunt of Richard Jewel, the security guard at the Olympics falsely accused of being the bomber or his accomplice. The ten episode series explores all of this in detail that is entertaining and engaging.

Yet, though unaware of this, the series has two contradictory sides. On the one side was a heartfelt story about the power of the press and the danger of stereotypes. This is seen in the story of Richard Jewell. Having discovered the bomb and saved countless lives by relocating them, Richard Jewell was quickly labeled a hero. Before long, this hero was turned into a villain.

The “evidence” against Jewell was circumstantial and primarily limited to the profile of a loner, hero bomber. The assumption was that Jewell was a loner and failure who wanted to be praised and to be famous. Thus, he set the bombs and knew they were about to go off and “saved” people for his own fame. Beyond that came evidence that Jewell was a policeman wanna be who owned guns, hollowed out grenades, and was a stereotypical white Southerner.

The term the series uses for Jewell is “Bubba.” A Bubba is a stereotypical Southern who owns guns, enjoys shooting them, and has a streak of violent, anti-government in them. This stereotype is dangerous as illustrated by Jewell saga. Without any clear evidence against him, the FBI turned to the press to indict Jewell thus ruining his life.

This is best summarized by a character I assume was created to connect the various pieces of the series together. An ATF agent concludes that if being a Bubba makes you guilty of bombing the Olympics, then most Southerns are guilty. “I’m a Bubba” he says explaining that no one suspects him because he is known. But most Southerners (and I am no different) have pictures with themselves holding weapons in camouflage. Does that make them a danger to society? Hardly.

This message is a powerful and timely one. Given our current cultural moment, this message of not judging Southerns by stereotypes needs to be made clear. Richard Jewell is a sympathetic figure who has enjoyed both a major movie (entitled “Richard Jewell”) and this series telling his story in recent years. Had the series continued this theme, it would be an excellent narrative.

But shortly after defending Bubba’s everywhere, they condemn Bubba’s just the same.

Richard Jewell did not set a bomb in Atlanta, Eric Rudolph did and given that he also targeted abortion clinics and gay bars, Hollywood had their stereotypical white villain. Eric Rudolph is everything we are told that white Southerners are – anti-government, religious, violent, prone to terrorism, pro-life, anti-gay, and dangerous.

As far as Rudolph goes, that stereotype comes true. He was a dangerous man from a complicated background. The series easily could have bypassed stereotypes and focused on the evidence that led to him being arrested for the bombings. Though the series does this, they zero in on Bubbas of the South.

When Rudolph finds his way to Murphy, NC the series abandons historic accuracy. What the FBI finds in Murphy is a town of Bubba’s who hate the FBI and declare war against the federal government. Talk to the locals who remember these events, they all agree that this depiction of them as violent, anti-government Christians is inaccurate and hurtful. Not that Hollywood cares.

Instead of exploring the entire story and how ridiculous the narrative gets, let it suffice to see how the first half of the series defends such stereotyping while the latter half engages in it. How Rudolph survived the wilderness for five years remains a mystery. What happened during that time remains unknown. He almost undoubtedly had help as he was caught shaved and clean. Most expected to find a Grisly Adams figure. He was anything but that.

Overall, this series misses a golden opportunity to make a valid, prescient point but turns around and violates its own rules. The stereotypes are tiresome and over the top. No one from the South or familiar with it and its people would write this story.

Image credit

Reviews in Brief

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

One of the most fascinating royals in history is Mary, Queen of Scots. Her rise to power, the political context of her reign, her fool decisions (especially when it comes to her marriages), and the rise of Scottish Protestantism during her reign.

When it comes to Mary, Queen of Scots, it is easy to simplify her biography as a Knox vs. Mary binary. Depending on the author (and reader) one is good and the other is bad. Being a protestant minister myself, I am sympathetic to the cause of Knox and his reformation. Thus it is easy to see Mary only as a villain.

Yet to read the narrative from her side makes her a more sympathetic figure whose own foolishness and context ruined her. In this book, Alison Weir explores in detail the tragedy of Lord Darnley’s murder. Lord Darnley was the husband of Mary and was a distraction (to put it mildly). Although her marriage to him made sense on paper, he lacked the character to hold the office of king, or husband to the queen. In fact, he may have been involved in a number of notable conspiracies against his own wife.

Although the title suggests a limited thesis, the book is very broad. One could almost say this is a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. It is broad in its scope and in the history it covers. The author knows her history and has done her homework. What comes out of this fascinating book is a sympathetic figure who was often a victim of her own making. Lord Darnely was a problem, but a problem she chose. In the end, she largely exonerates Mary from his murder and provides a more likely scenario of what happened. If you love studying British and Scottish royals, you’ll enjoy this work.

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

One of my favorite writers is Russell Moore. I have followed his ministry since my days at Southern Seminary and am disappointed he is no longer at the ERLC. Regardless, his books provide a unique take on classic subjects like adoption, temptation, politics, and now, family. The subject matter is straightforward. Moore tackles a variety of issues regarding family life from marriage to divorce to fornication to purity to discipline to children to family strife. What I appreciate most about Moore, his writings, and this book is his emphasis on the cross. Each chapter tackles difficult issues in a pastoral way that leads the reader to the cross. The suggestion that family life is spiritual warfare is well received. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend this during pre-marital counseling, I would recommend couples – married or otherwise – to dive deep into its contents and apply it to your life. Every page is stained with the blood of Jesus. Let our home lives reflect the same.

Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace by James White

Although James White might be more known as a bombastic apologists ready to thrown down with anyone (Muslims, Catholics, KJV-only believers, etc.) this short volume shows the pastoral side of the man. Having served as a hospital chaplain for a number of years, this work explores the reality and process of grief. For those who have served in any ministry for years, the guide here is not unique. Yet it is helpful to think again through the process. I have been looking for a short, cost-sensitive book to give to grieving families and I may have found it in this one.

Man Hunt: The Eric Rudolph Story by Kathleen Walls

For our honeymoon, my wife and I decided to stay at Murphy, North Carolina. It was the perfect spot for us as we launched into our new marriage. Fifteen years later we returned to the same spot and still find it to be a place of rest and renewal. Between those two visits, I discovered that an FBI fugitive was caught of note: Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber from 1996. After bombing the opening festivities of the Olympics being held in Atlanta, he proceeded to bomb three more locations (including abortion clinics and a gay bar). Although initially distracted with prosecuting Richard Jewel, the security guard who saved countless lives in Atlanta, the FBI eventually discovered that Eric Rudolph was behind them all.

Rudolph fled to the woods of Murphy, NC where he successfully stayed hidden away from the FBI manhunt for five years. This volume by Kathleen Walls is an early account of what happened from a local perspective. It was published prior to his trial and thus lacks some of the information we know have. With that said, it serves as a good introduction to the full story.

There are reasons for criticism though. For one, Walls is not the best writer. Either this book was rushed to print and Walls not given the time most authors would be given, or this is a self-published work that lacked an editor. There were typos and other errors. Also, Walls is perhaps too sympathetic. Being anti-government, pro-life, and a defender of traditional marriage is not an excuse for violence. Although Walls does not support Rudolph there is an attempt to justify his actions, defend his innocence, or even downplay what he actually did.

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” by Stieg Larson: A Review

Amazon.com: The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Series):  9780307949509: Larsson, Stieg: Books

Teleborian was the most loathsome and disgusting sadist Salander had ever met in her life, bar none. He outclassed Bjurman by a mile. Bjurman had been unspeakably brutal, but she could handle him. Teleborian, on the other hand, was shielded behind a curtain of documents, assessments, academic honours, and psychiatric mumbo jumbo. Not a single one of his actions could ever be reported or criticized. (450)

Then she sat for a long time staring at Blommkvist’s letter. She wrested with contradictory feelings. up until then it had been her against the rest of Sweden, which in its simplicity was quite an elegant and lucid equation. Now suddenly she had an ally, or at least a potential ally, who claimed to believe she was innocent. And of course it would be the only man in Sweden that she never wanted to see again under any circumstances. She sighed. Blomkvist was, as always, a naive do-gooder. Salander hadn’t been innocent since the age of ten.” (462)

One of my favorite fiction series is Steig Larson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. Although the sequels, written by David Lagercrantz, are good enough, they pale in comparison to the original trilogy. The second installment, which picks up where the first left off, dives deeper into Salander’s backstory. Wounded by Mikel’s “betrayal,” she dives deeper into isolation and before long she is accused of a triple homicide and she is on the run.

The narrative centers on two truths: Salander feels as if she has no one and yet she is supported by several loyal friends. Salander’s past becomes a major plot point in this story. We learn about her abusive father, Zala, and how Salander’s tendency to react violating was birthed. Her love for her mother, the abuse of the system, and why she is a gifted researcher who prefers to work alone.

Yet the real meat of the story, at least in term of engagement, centers on the question of depravity. As I have argued elsewhere, the Larson trilogy lacks a classic hero whose character trumps everything. There are no boy scouts or girl scouts in the story. All of the protagonists are deeply flawed and broken. Mikel, for example, is a work-a-holic looking to sleep with any woman who might be interested without weighing the consequences. Salander’s brokenness is the main plot point.

Being the case, Larson explores the why. Why is Salander so troubled? Why is she the girl with the dragon tattoo? The answer he provides is systemic. Salander is the victim of an abusive father due to the system. An entire agency in the Swedish government needed her father for information and so covered up his injustices and crime. So their need for intelligence led the system to ignore the suffering of a mother and her twin daughters. Likewise, after “all the evil” Salander is institutionalized where her abuse was covered up in the name of “science.” Following her experience there, she was under guardianship that led to her rape explored in the first volume.

So for Salander, she is a victim. She is bad because the system is corrupt.

As the narrative unfolds, Salander discovers she is not alone. Mikel is consumed with her innocence and the investigation, the police slowly uncover the truth, her “roommate” and trainer suffer for her, and before long she is able to prove her innocence. So if there is a positive message in the book, it is the importance of a strong support system – a system we dare not take for granted.

Yet from a Christian perspective, that question of brokenness is important. Are we victims of a corrupt system or is the system the victim of corrupt individuals. Larson suggests the former, the Bible suggests both. The system is made up of broken individuals who establish a broken system. It should come as no surprise that a broken system breaks. We are both the cause and the victim of much hurt in the world.

The Christian answer is Christ who is alien (outside the system) and incarnated (inside the system) who can mediate a better Kingdom. He is the victim of “the system” as he hangs upon a Roman cross. At the same time, he rescues (redeems) us from this fallen world. This is more than heaven talk, but the hope of seeing God’s Kingdom realized in the world.

To Larson, the answer is exposing the system (which is Mikel’s constant motivation). For the Christian, the system is already exposed. We all know there is a problem with society. The answer, however, must be to look outside the system for answers. And that answer is Christ.