One year ago, I published this essay in the journal The Historian. Here is a taste of my argument, along with a link to read the rest of it:
It is an example familiar to all who have served in ministry. A person responds to the proclamation of the gospel and experiences a radical personal transformation. For a time, he leaves behind his old life of sin, is baptized, joins a community of believers, and, for all intents and purposes, lives the Christian life. However, after a time, this once solid believer has backslid—he attends church infrequently, if at all; he walks in public sin; he begins to veer from orthodoxy. Eventually, he ceases to believe at all. It happens today, and it happened even in the early church.
In 1525, in response to arguments by the renowned humanist figure Desiderius Erasmus in favor of the doctrine of human free will in the act of salvation, Martin Luther wrote De Servo Arbitrio—The Bondage of the Will. In the midst of excoriating Erasmus in his own inimitable way—“your book…struck me as so worthless and poor that my heart went out to you for having defiled your lovely, brilliant flow of language with such vile stuff”—praised Erasmus for at least focusing on the preeminent issue, rather than allowing minor controversies to overtake him. “You alone,” Luther wrote, “in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue… you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.”
Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most popular verses in all of the Bible. It is among the most searched and highlighted verses in all of Scripture on several Bible reading websites and applications, such as biblegateway.com, biblestudytools.com, and the YouVersion Bible app. It is regularly included in gift books for graduates and daily devotionals, like an entry in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes devotional by Dan Frost, a former basketball player who, though his dreams for NBA stardom were unrealized, could still rest in that singular truth from that singular verse, that, “Yes, God was still in control, even if I was not aware of it.” When about-to-be-baptized believers share their testimonies before my local church, they always share a favorite verse. While the Scripture is encouragingly varied, one of the most popular verses is always Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.”
I delivered this eulogy for my Papa on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Biola Congregational Church.
Ralph Thomas Barber was born on February 1, 1934, in Springfield, Illinois, and died on February 23, 2018, in Clovis, California. For most, he was Tom—as a son, to Ralph and Dorothy; as a student, graduating from John Muir High School and John Muir Junior College; in the U.S. Army, where he served from 1956-58 as a helicopter mechanic crew chief; as a Route Sales representative for Producers, Fritolay, Langendorf, and Swenhards. He was a husband—he married Barbara Schafer on July 5, 1958, right here in Biola Congregational Church. He was Dad to Rod and Lisa. And he was Papa to six grandchildren—me, along with my wife Roxanna, Sami, Taylor, Josh, Olivia, and Harlow—and one great-granddaughter, Charlotte.
Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling
Every time we read Harry Potter, we catch a glimpse of Eden and are pointed toward the cross.
Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (1997) by Timothy Keller
After reading this book, I was inspired to care more about those less fortunate than I—while social justice may not be the core of the gospel, it is certainly part of the gospel.
WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? We see this question everywhere, from car bumper stickers to Internet memes to the ubiquitous WWJD wristbands. (Yes, I had my very own WWJD wristband tan in middle school. As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 6:17, “For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.”) And it’s a fair question. If, in every situation, we were to ask ourselves, “what would Jesus do,” and then live in that way, we would be doing pretty well. After all, Jesus was perfect—he never sinned, always honored God, and loved perfectly.