Book Review

How to have an even better Christmas

December 21, 2018

I’ll never forget one of the hardest Christmases I’ve had. Though I love all the elements of the season—the colors, the lights, the decorations, the smells, the treats, and the celebration of Christ’s birth—it wasn’t “the most wonderful time of the year.” And the reality is that the holidays are terribly hard for many people. It’s this truth that makes Matt Chandler’s latest book, An Even Better Christmas, a helpful addition to the scores of Christian resources already out there.

“Something better”

Chandler gets to this reality and to a hopeful alternative in his first chapter. He writes, “See, I love Christmas—but it’s not because I’ve been kidded by the commercials that at Christmas everything might be perfect. I love Christmas because it’s the start of the story that means one day . . . everything will really be perfect” (emphasis mine).  

He uses this brief book to show readers “how the first Christmas can meet you where you are and provide you with hope where you are.” And he does this in a way that addresses long-time Christians, but more explicitly, those who have less practice with Christianity. In four short chapters, he “leads [readers] through some things that the Christmas story tells us are true about God . . .” in a way that would whet the appetite of the skeptic, the apathetic, the confused, and the faithful.

“God gets involved”

Instead of starting the Christmas story at the stable, Chandler goes back to 1400 B.C. and the captivity of the Israelites. He recounts a time “when the world was clearly in a mess, and when God’s people were truly struggling.” He points out that they must have felt “abandoned” and that God’s promises were “make-believe.” This is powerful because it’s where many of us find ourselves at Christmas, and in all of life.

Yet, the amazing truth, as Chandler points out from Exodus 1:24, is that God hears our groaning. Just as he heard the Israelites and sent Moses to deliver them, he hears those of us who cry out to him in our suffering and pain. Chandler is careful to write to people who are frustrated—who have been crying out to what seems like no answer. His honesty and testimony is what makes this book a perfect gift for those who are strong-arming the Lord in their circumstances. The truth is, God does hear, and he does intervene, and the proof of that was found swaddled in clothes and lying in a manger over 2,000 years ago.

“God brings joy”

This little baby, as Chandler points out, shows that God came and intervenes for the “excluded” and the “outsiders.” The prime example of this is that one of the first birth announcements went to shepherds—mangy, filthy, and unliked. These were the most unlikely people for the God of the universe to come to. So, the message of Christmas in this fascinating fact isn’t that we have to be good for God to come to us and intervene in our lives. Chandler writes, “The message of Christmas is this: ‘God knows you, he knows you need help, he knows you’ve wandered away, and he’s come to you anyway.’”

He points out that when he intervenes in our lives, though, we are exposed for who we are because we come face-to-face with his glory. So, how can the news the angels brought to the shepherds be that “of great joy” (Luke 2:10)? It can be good, joyous news because of the cross. Jesus came to expose our sin and then to cover it, to save us from it. “If you accept Jesus’ offer of rescue and forgiveness,” Chandler explains, “you need no longer fear being exposed by God when one day you stand before his glory. Instead, you can know ‘great joy,’ because you are exposed but you’re also forgiven.”

“God is worth it”

Christmas also tells us, Chandler writes, “that Jesus is worth it.” Just like the “wise men” who pursued the Son of God, we’re to pay attention to this Christmas message and do whatever it takes to move from knowing “about” God to actually knowing him. Chandler essentially asks us in this chaper to evaluate if we are more like those wise men, or if we’re kin to the religious leaders, of whom Jesus said, “you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Chandler’s approach to this chapter contains a challenge regardless of where the reader might find himself. If you don’t believe the Bible’s claims, will you at least take them seriously and search for yourself? And if you are a Christian, will you be intentional to avoid the complacency that sometimes creeps in over time?  

“The beginning, not the end”

In the final chapter, Chandler briefly shares his story of a brain tumor. It’s powerful because it lends a gravity to things he’s saying and almost shouts to the reader, “Pay attention! I really believe the things I’m saying, and I’ve been tested on them.” As he writes, “Christmas has gotten even better for me, because I’ve appreciated all the more that Christmas is when God got involved, gave me hope, and showed himself worth of my trust.”

I’d encourage you to recommend this short book to anyone, but especially to your friends or family members who are walking through trials, who have embraced the commercialized version of Christianity, or who are hesitant to believe Jesus’ claims. It might just be that these powerful truths communicated in a simple, disarming way will awaken them and give them a true, lasting, great joy that will lead to an even better Christmas—one that goes with them throughout their lives and into eternity.

You can find Matt Chandler’s latest book here.

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24