Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Monday, May 25, 2015

Does the Holy Spirit Convict Believers?

John 16:8-11 ESV*  And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Feeling convicted about the convicting of the Holy Spirit: Within evangelicalism, there's a popular notion the Holy Spirit convicts the believer of sin. The verb "convict" is used in the sense of making one aware of a sinful thought or behavior. Feelings of remorse and regret will often accompany sin awareness**.

Whether the Holy Spirit convicts the believer is an important question because it gives the sense the Holy Spirit is dissatisfied with us. As a friend puts it, because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, we often perceive Him walking through the rooms of our heart and remarking in disgust -
Wow. What a mess. How do you live like this?
When the Holy Spirit convicts the believer, He is telling you in specific detail how filthy your heart is. There's a subtle (or not) tone of condemnation. After all, if the Spirit of God is living in you, how does He not notice how sloppy your heart is?  Therefore, note perfectly innocent evangelical comments like this:
During dinner, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit that yelling at my son during his basketball game was wrong. I felt so bad and decided I would apologize to him before bed.
In the usage above, "convict" is a feeling of guilt, remorse, or regret. The Holy Spirit speaks to the believer through a negative emotion that results from his sin being exposed or made aware of. It's like the Spirit of God asks the believer:
Hold on a sec. What just happened right there? Did you notice the mess you just made?
I want to address whether the Holy Spirit "convicts" believers through sin awareness, whether in the true meaning of the word He convicts believers at all, and what therefore is the Holy Spirit's role in the life of the believer.

This idea of the Holy Spirit's role in convicting believers comes from John 16:8. There is nowhere else in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is referenced together with the verb "convict" . Before analyzing the verse, let's clarify that "convict" and "conviction" are two different words with distinct meanings. To convict someone usually means to find someone guilty of a wrongful act whereas to have a conviction means to posses a deeply held belief. The evangelical notion is the former meaning - finding the believer guilty of some type of wrong.

This verse must be quoted with it's accompanying verses 9-11 to make any sense. Jesus is speaking in the Olivet Discourse about the arrival of the Holy Spirit coinciding with his departure (death, resurrection, ascension). Jesus assures his disciples the advent Holy Spirit will be superior to the presence of Jesus himself (John 16:7).  Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

What does "convict" mean? How is is this term used elsewhere in the New Testament? The closest reference is earlier in John's gospel in 8:46. Jesus defends himself against the Pharisees' accusations about Jesus' legitimacy. The "convict" in this verse is meant to highlight the gravity of the Pharisees' sin accusation against Jesus. It's not about a deeply held belief in any way. The other New Testament references include 1 Corinthians 14:24, Jude 1:15, and James 2:9. All of them are references to awareness of sin, almost in a legal sense. The instances where conviction refers to a deeply held are also pretty clear: Hebrews 11:1 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

For example, James 2:9 says "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." In this case, believers are convicted, that is, declared guilty as law breakers, but the convicting is done by the law not the Spirit. 

Who is the "world"? The closest reference to "world" is in v.11 where it says the ruler of this world will be judged. In this context, world cannot possibly mean believers because Jesus rules believers and this passage cannot mean the Holy Spirit will judge Jesus. World must mean either the non-believing population of earth and/or the value system held by non-believers. Earlier in John 15, Jesus says the world hates him and will hate the disciples in the same way. Thus, "world', in the context of this passage, cannot mean believers.

What is v.8-11 talking about then? I'm not sure about everything but certainly a primary meaning is the Spirit's role in making non-believers aware of their sin of disbelieving Jesus. Before I became a Christian, I felt convicted that my primary allegiance was to myself. That sense is something the Spirit gives. The part regarding righteousness, I have no idea what that's about. Regarding judgment, the Holy Spirit confirms the ruler of this world (Satan) is judged and defeated.

Does the Holy Spirit convict believers? Based on the above, there is no credible interpretation of the John 16:8-11 that teaches the Holy Spirit either 1) finds believers guilty of sin or brings awareness of sin behavior 2) gives believers a feeling of remorse or regret after sinning. Similarly, I don't find ANY biblical passage that teaches either idea (Whether God gives us feelings of guilt, regret, or remorse will be the subject of a future post).

If the Holy Spirit doesn't convict, what then does He do? A couple verses later in John 16:13, Jesus declares the Spirit's role is to guide believers into all truth. That's what the Spirit does. He guides us to the truth of who we are in Christ - holy, righteous, blameless, justified, and free from sin. This is consistent with the rest of the New Testament and in particular, Romans 8:1-2 . There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because the principle of Spirit triumphs over the principle of sin and death. Conviction leads to condemnation and death. The Holy Spirit's work is to affirm our identity as God's beloved - He cries out "Abba" inside of us.

That word does not mean what you think it means: This probably comes down to how we use the word "convict". I believe most well-meaning Christians mean "convict" in the sense of being made aware of their sin. This is an improper usage of convict. The verb, in its biblical context, means to declare guilty of sin. But does the usage indicate an inaccurate view of God? Perhaps. Understanding the Spirit's role in guiding us into truth has far greater value than Him being a spiritual smoke detector. It changes the way we see God. It means His role is to continually lead us into a more intimate experience and understanding of our righteousness in Christ. He is a wilderness survival guide not a spiritual thought Nazi. That is so reassuring.

So when we imagine the Holy Spirit entering the the rooms of our heart, there is no need to flinch at the impending nagging and condemnation.  He is not concerned about your mess. Rather, watch Him as He walks around, gleaming proudly -
Behold! Let us marvel at the beauty of what Daddy has built here.
* All scripture references are from English Standard Version (ESV)


** I first heard about the idea of the Holy Spirit not convicting believers from Joseph Prince's book, Destined to Reign

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Expressing romantic interest vs. DTR

Recently, a couple guy friends told me their plans to have a "Define-The-Relationship" (DTR) with women in whom they had a romantic interest. It got me thinking about when a DTR is necessary and when it's not. 

When two people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic relationship (casual dating, serious boyfriend, etc). - Urban Dictionary definition of DTR

False Advertising 

A DTR is a discussion about how to label a relationship. Labels are important. Without labels, it's easy for men to manipulate women and easy for women to be manipulated (the converse happens as well but it's not a labeling issue*). In this award-winning essay, a young woman, Jordana Narin shares about the one-way relationship she developed with a guy. The object of her affection is clearly a douchebag but the tragic part is Narin completely fell for it because among other issues, their relationship never bore a label. 

Narin emotionally and sexually bonded herself to a guy who never clearly communicated his romantic interest, never initiated a DTR, and most damning of all, never exerted more than a casual effort in their relationship. 

Each of one of those is a red flag but taken together, they're a recipe for disaster. It is false advertising of a tragic nature.

A Cautionary Tale on Over-DTR

But there's another extreme prevalent in Christian circles - the unnecessary DTR. It's meant to guard against the above scenario but ultimately leads to relationship fixation and frustration. 

When I was a high school junior, I developed a crush on a close friend. We were part of the same youth group, our families were close, and we went to the same high school. It was a natural progression. I don't remember who initiated but we eventually expressed feelings for each other and spent a good chunk of our time exchanging hand-written letters. What complicated things is she was a year ahead of me in school and she wasn't romantically invested enough to date me publicly. 

Our relationship was an extended DTR**. 

And just as DTRs are not particularly enjoyable, so too was our relationship. She wrestled with whether or not she should invite me to her senior ball (she didn't), whether or not I was handsome enough for her (I wasn't), and whether or not our non-platonic, non-dating relationship would extend beyond high school (it didn't). We were two travelers stranded outside without an umbrella - constantly scanning the clouds for rain and fretting over the eventual downpour. We didn't go anywhere and we didn't figure out a label. 

The pain of this non-labeled relationship and the advice of some wise college mentors taught me two valuable lessons about dating. The first was this: Discussing the uncertainty of a relationship is helpful to no one. It's an exercise in mutually miserable futility. An older friend once told me: "Pull a plant out to examine its roots too many times and you will kill it." It's possible I killed a budding high school relationship by constantly uprooting it and fixating on its future. It's a compulsion that is too easy to fall into. If you truly have anxiety about the future of a relationship, sharing it with the other person is often counter-productive. He/she will likely get defensive or anxious. And then you both get worked up and self-absorbed. Good times. 

Initiative vs. Neediness

Upon reflection, the second lesson was this: It is vital for guys to express their romantic interest (and invest accordingly) but it does not require a DTR. 

I have a traditional view of gender roles. The guy initiates and the girl responds. If a guy expresses romantic interest, it's not so much a negotiation but more of an FYI. If she's not interested, she will vote with her feet - stop responding to communication or refusing invites. If they're already close friends, preparing for awkwardness is important and emotional distance may be necessary if feelings aren't reciprocated.

Does expressing romantic interest qualify as a DTR? I don't think so.  Does expressing romantic intent qualify as a change in relationship status? No, it doesn't - it means you're still friends unless you both mutually decide otherwise, that's where the DTR might come in. Therefore, most DTRs are unnecessary. Even a marriage proposal is not a DTR. It is an attempt to re-label the relationship from boyfriend/girlfriend to fiancee but it's not a discussion, it's an invitation. 

Egalitarianism, in this regard, does not appreciate how men and women are wired differently. For women, emotional attachment takes longer to form and is riskier. For men, attraction tends to spark quickly and requires effort to sustain. A guy who expresses romantic interest without begging a response signals confidence. 

Initiative without desperation is attractive.

Having a DTR to express romantic interest smacks of neediness because it makes the conversation dependent on reciprocity. If you like a girl, pursue her and make your intentions clear. I did this in college with a girl I became attracted to during a missions trip. Thankfully, she didn't say much in response. She didn't "let's just be friends" me. She didn't say the the feeling were reciprocated. She simply acknowledged them. It was pointless to have a DTR when she didn't know me well enough to be attracted to me. We eventually became better acquainted through exchanging hand-written letters that were not fixated about our relationship status. It was refreshing to enjoy the sun together. 

Dangers of female-initiated DTRs

Couldn't Narin have initiated a DTR? She could have but I don't think it would have helped. He would have told her what she wanted to hear and then go back to behaving the same way as before. A man will often avoid a DTR because he benefits from the ambiguity of the relationship. He gets friends with benefits status without commitment or expectations. So if he's not willing to wear the label, he's probably not willing to invest in the relationship (and in her case, he was willing to do neither). 

Most DTRs occur because the behavior and relationship status are contradictory. A guy and a girl spend time alone studying together, giving each other rides, sharing meals together, etc. 

But when asked, they respond: "No, we're just friends".

As if. 

This is a labeling problem. Your relationship is labeled "friend" but your actions indicate otherwise.

Usually a woman initiates a DTR because the man is sending conflicting messages and she is romantically invested and wants the relationship labeled accordingly. This is where it's important for both a man or woman to watch what the other party does and not what he or she says. Thus, in dating relationships as well as in life, action speaks louder than words.

* I saw this happen during high school, a girl would call various guy friends of mine, hang out with them alone, and each of my guy friends were lured into thinking there was something romantic going on. These guys were not accustomed to getting positive attention from an attractive female and they got sucked in. 

** If I had known better, I would have moved on from this non-relationship much sooner. There could be no romantic future if she didn't want to wear the dating label. But it was difficult to move on when we saw each other all the time - at school, with our parents, at church, even Chinese school. And I have no regrets about what happened because it taught me about friendship and intimacy. We were good friends who had similar values, shared experiences, and felt safe with one another. It was a teaser of the kind of transparency and vulnerability possible between a man and woman.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I am the best kind of Chinese

Jeff Louie, a professor at Western Seminary, came to speak at our recent quarterly church network elder/staff meeting about evangelistic trends in the ethnic church. He has twenty-seven years of pastoral experience Chinese churches in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. It's safe to say Louie knows a little about Chinese people, especially those in the US. 
Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 
One of his points came from the passage above describing a conflict between first-century Jewish believers. The native Hebraic Jews made up the the current church leadership.  They were likely older. They spoke Hebrew. And they were more Jewish. By contrast, the Greek-speaking Jews were hellenized. They were probably younger, had grown up with Greek culture, and were less established as church leaders. It appears the native Hebraic Jews did not intend to neglect the Greek-speaking Jews but as the group in power, it inadvertently occurred.

This scenario plays out in every ethnic church today (and non-ethnic ones as well). Louie observed to the effect of: 

Whatever Chinese you are, your kind of Chinese is superior to whatever kind of Chinese other people are.

If you're from Taiwan or Hong Kong, you look down on mainland Chinese because communism. It you're from mainland China, you look down on Chinese from Taiwan or Hong Kong because they're spoiled and rebellious younger cousins. 

And it gets worse. There are class and regional distinctions as well. Chinese intellectuals evaluate Chinese-ness based on hometown and where one went to school. As if you can be more or less "Chinese" based on language, culture, hometown, education, etc. 
But there's more going on than the Hong Kong-Taiwan-China dynamic. If you're an Asia-born Chinese, you also look down on Western-born Chinese because American-born Chinese (ABCs) are younger, spoiled, whitewashed, and speak crappy Chinese. And of course as an ABC, I look down on FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) Chinese because overseas-born dads wear button-down shirts and formal socks with sandals and shorts.

And as a second-generation Chinese American, I also look down on subsequent generations of Chinese born in the US because THOSE BANANA Chinese Americans have completely lost their connection to Chinese culture. They are TOO whitewashed. They can't even speak crappy Chinese. And at least I know who Jay Chou is. I am the most superior Chinese because my generation has the perfect blend of Eastern and Western culture. I take the best and get rid of the rest. 

And I would never look down on ABCs from other regions. Except we know Bay Area Asians rule. We're far superior to SoCal Asians - their emphasis on appearance reveals the shallowness of their character. We look bad on the outside so we must be good inside . Chicago and NYC Asian Americans have nothing on us. They have a fast-paced lifestyle because how can you slow down and enjoy the sunshine when it's always rainy, overcast, or snowing? It goes without saying ABCs from the Midwest and non-urban areas don't even rank second-class. 

And then you add the English-speaking Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They don't speak Chinese as well and they're not Westernized so they can feel left out of both congregations. And if your English-speaking ministry caters to that demographic, the ABCs feel left out. (seriously, ABCs are the most sensitive group in the Chinese church - we are like Goldilocks trying the bears' porridge - if it's a little too hot or too cold, we cry murder)

Life in a Chinese church can get messy real quick. 

Of course Jesus is the answer but that doesn't mean there's an easy way through this morass of self-superiority and sub-cultural arrogance. It is a by-product of membership in the largest ethnic tribe on the planet. It's not question of whether we can eliminate pride. Until Jesus returns, pride, in its myriad forms, is not going away. Rather, the question is whether Chinese churches will choose to follow Jesus the way the first-century church did as recorded in Acts. The native Hebraic Jews died to their desire for power and control by appointing leaders who were not like themselves. That's what manifesting our new creation identity means - dying to self. And every generation, including my own, eventually has to deal with both sides of the coin - what it's like to be marginalized and what it's like to be first culture

* The Hong Kong-Taiwan-China dynamic is especially evident in Chinese churches in Silicon Valley where older generation of leaders tend to hail from Taiwan and Hong Kong because of immigration in the 1960s and 1970s. This is being challenged by huge numbers of mainland Chinese immigrants in the last ten to fifteen years. The Hong Kong/Taiwan-born are the native Hebraic Jews and mainland Chinese immigrants are the hellenized Greek-speaking Jews. One challenge facing the Chinese church is raising up and integrating leaders from mainland China. The dynamic between Hong Kong/Taiwan-born Chinese and ABCs is another challenge as well.


** I wonder how Canadian-born Chinese feel about this. They might be the only Westernized Chinese with a legitimate inferiority complex. And CBC doesn't sound good. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Dishonesty in the Workplace is Good

A couple friends asked me how to live out their Christian faith in the workplace. They work in high-tech and they're under lots of pressure to perform. I spent nine years at IBM/Hitachi working as a business analyst and project manager. I did well because for the most part, I acted like a jerk. Thus, I am well-qualified to know how one should NOT live out his faith in a corporate environment.

But one thing I did notice is workplace communication is often dishonest. Take for example, a basic element of social interaction, the greeting:

How are you?

Depending on your role and job environment, you will ask or be asked this question anywhere from a couple times to a couple dozen times a day. When you greet someone in the hall, get a drink from the water cooler, warm up your food in the break room, or call a coworker on the phone, you open with this phrase. 

You lie when you ask the question. You lie when you respond to the question. 

You lie when you ask because you don't actually care how the person is doing. The question is simply a formality. It's the equivalent of "hello" except "hello" is more truthful but when we say "how are you?" we often pause politely for a response (many people don't even pause after asking the question, it's not even a question for them and I love it when people do it in their voice mail messages).

You lie when you respond because you know the asker doesn't actually care about how you're doing and you're not actually interested in telling them either. So rather than give an honest, involved answer, you're obligated to adhere to some kind of brief, faux cheerful response like "I'm fine" or "good" or the somewhat passive-aggressive "I'm fine, what's up?" as in "Stop wasting my time and tell me what you want from me".

It doesn't feel like a lie to ask how someone is doing because you probably do have some small interest in the other person's well-being. But that is completely overshadowed by the fact you need to get some stuff done. The project is important, deadlines are looming, and you're not being paid to socialize. Asking how you're doing is a necessary formality to getting things done. The prelude is helpful because it functions as a kind of social lubrication so you can get your job done. Thus, dishonesty is part of corporate culture (and society in general).

But dishonesty is not the main issue here. We could certainly dispense with the ritual greeting but then we're just left with blatant selfishness. That's no fun. 

Rather I propose we approach this dishonesty from a completely perspective. We focus on people as a means to focus on the project. We pretend to care about our coworkers but ultimately care about work outcomes. But what if we have it backwards? What if we're supposed to be dishonest but in a completely different direction? What if focusing on the project is an excuse to focus on people?  

I'm increasingly convinced God calls us, his ministers of reconciliation, to pretend to care about projects but ultimately care about people. I mean Jesus was a carpenter. I'm sure he was skilled but I'm pretty sure he wasn't super invested in his woodworking projects. I don't think he lost sleep over three-legged stools. What if God placed you in your workplace not to perform your tasks well but to use your tasks as an excuse for loving people? 

Last year I explored bi-vocational church planting. I met a group of bi-vocational pastors who knew my intentions and one of them offered me a part-time IT position at his architectural firm. With the support of our church leaders, I spent four hours a week implementing a software-as-a-service budget management platform.

You can't get much done in four hours. You can get coffee, read some email, and then go to a meeting. It was clear out the gate this job was more for my benefit than the firm's. But everyone has pride and I'm no exception. I wanted to do a good job, impress my friend, and gain some experience I could leverage in the future.

My project at the architectural firm failed miserably. There were forces outside of control but I definitely could have tried harder. Instead, after I got my coffee, my coworker and I would discuss the project as a formality. Then we'd gradually move to the more interesting stuff - job stress, kids, marriage, crossfit, parents, future plans, and religion. We had a great time. Turns out we even live close to each other and even got together once for beers.

See, I wanted to approach this job differently than how I had approached industry work in the past. I burned a lot of bridges when I was Hitachi/IBM but I was fortunate to have met some accepting people and even have a couple lasting friendships to show for it. And it was only in my last two years in high-tech that I really started listening to people. The main reason was because I was less invested in the outcome of my projects. I knew I was going to change careers and I was learning to detach my significance from my job title and the volume of email I receive each day. I began to realize my coworkers were more important than the outcome of any project.

You might think - sure, Fred, you were able to do this because your livelihood, the livelihood of your family, and your worth did not depend on the job. And you would be absolutely correct. It was a baby step for me. I mean, imagine how radically we could love people if we saw our work as a gift from God and our work outcomes and job effort had no relationship with our value as a person. 

So this is my point: Work on your projects, get stuff done, and at some point, ask your coworker how he or she is doing. Listen. Almost as if all the tasks and deadlines were simply a prelude to getting to the real work of caring for another person. That is dishonesty for good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Hurt Map

The hurt map is the topography of all your pain. It is a panoramic picture of a lifetime of accumulated grief, loss, sadness, weakness, fear, and anger. Besides valleys of despair are vast deserts of loneliness. Whitewater rapids of confusion swirl next to steep ravines of disappointment. Dead-end trails of frustration wind through forests of conflict. And mountains of fear dominate the landscape.

You flash back to your hurt map every time you encounter a similar geographical feature in real life. If you walk into a forest, you're taken into the forest of your hurt map. You're instantly transported to a place of conflict. You sniff the tension in the air, hear dead leaves crunching under your feet, and watch the trees pressing in. You don't choose to remember the hurt map - it just happens. Whatever feature the forest had in real life disappears and the forest of your hurt map becomes the bigger reality. And you fight or flee from that place of pain. 

Each person has his own unique hurt map. No two people possess the exact same set of geographical features. Some maps are just one long mountain range of fear. Others wander a seemingly endless desert. A few have a diverse and varied terrain. But everyone has their own individual composite image of pain.

And yet every person has a rudimentary understanding of another's hurt map. The hurt map is the basis of relationship. Anyone with a valley, no matter how deep or shallow, understands despair. Anyone with a dead-end trail, no matter how long or short, understands frustration. The hurt map is a persistent ache for connection.

Jesus is intimately familiar with your hurt map. He knows the terrain. He has walked every valley. He has climbed every peak. He has negotiated confusion. He has weathered disappointment. Jesus knows the contours of your pain so well because his hurt map encompasses every possible feature of pain, fear, and weakness imaginable. His hurt map carries the sorrow of every person's map. Where our fears summit, his peaks stand higher. Where our despair reach their lowest, his valleys dip lower. Where disappointment steepens, his ravines are steeper. And his abyss of betrayal - its depths cannot be plumbed. Every hurt we've experienced, he went there first. He even went into death and came out the other side.

Healing from the hurt map is not removing the map's features. Jesus doesn't take anything out. He walks with us through the topography of pain and makes each feature beautiful. The forest is no longer a place of pain but refuge. Because in that moment, he came close. The hurt map is an invitation to journey with the savior. 

So when you enter a forest, you may go flashback to your hurt map's forest but it's no longer the same place. You're no longer alone. The Savior is present beside you. Instead of tension, you whiff the fragrance of victory. In place of ominous footsteps, you're soothed by the shepherd's voice. And the surrounding trees shrink back as he draws your hand into his.

So give him your hurt map and let him guide you through pain into beauty. For it is in the wilderness of sorrow that Jesus finds you.

Psalm 23:4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Golden Son: Friendship and Transformation

Pierce Brown's follow-up to his debut novel Red Rising is better than the first book in his trilogy. The second I finished it, I looked up from the couch and said to Judy and Caleb:

That was so good. That was so GOOD. That was SO good.

Brown is an incredible story teller. There all kinds of twists. The action and pacing are relentless. The kill count is high. There's pretty much every variety of intrigue and betrayal. Brown is a master at getting you inside the main character, Darrow, and understanding his motivations. He is a classic tragic hero.

The premise of the trilogy is a conspiracy to overthrow the universe's color caste system. Golds are the master race - bred to rule with an iron fist. They are literally, gold in complexion and have gold sigils on their hands and different physiology. Only like colors can breed with each other so they're like different species. Then you have, among others, Silvers (businessmen), Blues (ship pilots), Greens (programmers), Pinks (pleasure class), Grays (police), and Obsidians (assassins). Darrow starts the series as an angst-ridden teenager and in the second book, he's twenty years old and transitions from being a pawn to being an active player in the political/military maneuvering to rule the galaxy.

Yes, it's shamelessly derivative, evoking Hunger Games, Ender's Game, Divergent, Gattaca, etc. Yes, the dystopian coming of age novel is way overplayed. Yes, the writing is terse and clunky at times. And yes, when I started the first book, I wanted to stop fifty pages in. But the execution is so good. And it represents what the science fiction genre is all about - a compelling idea told through an epic story. 

I don't know if Brown is a follower of Jesus but he certainly writes like one. The most moving account in the first book is an atonement scene involving the main character. And Golden Son is full of biblical references. Most prominent among these is the theme of trust. Darrow is repeatedly placed in situations where he must decide how he views his friends - whether a friend will come through for him, whether a person is truly his friend, whether a friend who betrayed him in the past can reform, and whether a friend who has been faithful will betray him in the future. There are so many trust questions and for the most part, Darrow is the Christ figure, always choosing to trust, even when he knows betrayal is inevitable. It's inspiring stuff.

The most challenging theme in the book concerns a person's capacity to change. Can a person brought up as a slave to blind obedience acquire the freedom to choose? Can the proud become humble? Can a friend who acts selfishly and traitorously transform and become loyal and sacrificial? It's not the central theme of the trilogy but it is perhaps the most vexing question of the second novel. Fortunately, Brown does not offer a simple answer. The implications are broad and in certain instances, tragic.

In his acknowledgments, Brown quotes from the Lord of the Rings when Frodo has all but given up on his quest and Samwise says to him, "Come, Mr. Frodo . . . I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you." He proceeds to acknowledge all the friends who made the journey of writing the book possible - they didn't write the book itself but they carried him. That's friendship in a nutshell and what Brown's story is ultimately about.