Archive for June, 2014

The Daily Office readings for today, June 30, 2014 are as follows. I draw from the Book of Common Prayer, Year 2, Proper 8:

Psalm 106:1-18 (I just read the entire Psalm)

Numbers 22:1-21

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 21:12-22

These were some wonderful readings and I'll briefly share just a few thoughts on them in order to get your mind moving in a Godward direction today. There is nothing necessarily scholarly about these reflections. These are mostly thoughts that come to mind while I read. The exercise of the mind upon Scripture and the meditation–the binding of the Word upon my heart–is the objective.

First, the Psalm: What I noticed in the Psalm is the story of Israel told from a single person within that story. Verse 4 was key for me: "remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people." I think sometimes it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle and feel like God has somehow forgotten us. I have felt much the same way myself at times during the past 5 years. And so we cry out and talk louder hoping that maybe it's just that God hasn't heard us. As the Psalmist moves on, however, we start to see a pattern develop. So note verses 7, 13, and 21: 'they forgot.' God did this, and that, and this and that…and he rescued them. But they forgot. Periodically folks would stand in the gap in order to stay God's wrath (Moses v. 23 and Phinehas v. 30), but the people continued to push the boundaries of their wickedness and pursue sinful ways of those around them. Then near the end I noticed that God did something remarkable, something unthinkable: He heard their and remembered his covenant (45). So even when, as it turns out, it is actually we who are the ones doing the forgetting we can safely work on the premise that God does not forget. He remembers. It's kind of like that brigand hanging on the cross with Jesus who said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). I think that criminal was praying this Psalm. Lord, I know I am a sinner, but please remember me. And he did (Luke 23:43).

Second, Numbers 22. I will freely admit that this is one of those stories in the Bible that makes little sense to me. I have read it many, many times and I still struggle to understand why God got angry with Balaam even after he told Balaam it was OK to go as long as he only said what the Lord told him to say. It seems that perhaps what we are seeing is that Balaam's 'real intentions…were known to the Lord' (Allen, 889). So perhaps that's what we are dealing with here: intentions. Balaam was a strange character was was motivated by money, animated by greed. This is a good story, if Allen is right, which reminds us to stop and analyze our own intentions and think not that we can hide them from God. He knows the heart and we would be wise to remember that. (Pay close attention to verses 20-22.)

Third, Romans 6:12-23: Psalm 106 was a psalm dealing with sin. It seems that whoever wrote it was embroiled in some sort of sin and was concerned that perhaps this sin was egregious enough to cause God to forget him. So he rattles off the entire history of sinful Israel and points out at the end that even then God was not forgetful–He still remembered his covenant. So, God will you forget me too or in my sin will your grace prevail and will you remember me? So here in Romans 6 we see another thought about sin: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? And here is what I think is the point: no, we shall not. Why? Because grace is not a license to do whatever we want. Grace according to Paul is a catalyst for persistence in righteousness. We have been set free from sin so why should be persist in wrong, in unrighteousness? We died to sin, why would be want to resurrect into a sinful life all over again? We have been raised up to life in Jesus. Be done with sin. Struggle against it. Wage war against it. Fight against it with all the power grace affords you. Remember Jesus Christ crucified who is your life. Remember you raised to walk in the newness of life not in the oldness of death.

Fourth, Matthew 21:12-22: I will focus rather narrowly on verses 12-15, and perhaps even more narrowly than that by looking at verse 14. It might be helpful to remember the story of David who conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city (2 Samuel 5:6-10; 1 Chronicles 11:4-6). It may do well to remember that the owners of the city, at that time, told David the 'blind and the lame' had been set as a guard against him and that even they could ward off him and his army. It may be helpful to remember that David banned the blind and the lame from entering the courts. It may do well to remember that Jesus is the Davidic king. Now here is Jesus first entering Jerusalem (21:10) and second the Temple (21:12). And so look what happens: "The blind and the lame came to him at the temple and he healed them." But others, chief priests and teachers of the law, were indignant. How could they not be? Here was this Jesus welcoming those who were forbidden to be in the temple right into the temple. And not only was Jesus welcoming them into the temple, he was healing them which mean things like talking to and touching and pronouncing God's blessing. Now here is the King, Jesus, entering the courts of the temple and welcoming those that David had banned.

So it kind of makes me think about who we welcome and who we do not. Jesus welcomes anyone. Who do we welcome? What about your church? Do you welcome the blind? The lame? Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders? Those with AIDS? Those who are 'sinners'? Those who are alcoholics? Those whom the rest of the world rejects? Jesus is the King! The King welcomes all. Shouldn't his subjects be as gracious as he is? Well, think about yourself. "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Think about it. And think about what so many churches are missing out on because churches are more interested in who can bring in the most dollars or the most influence–ask why people plant more new churches in posh suburbs instead of in poverty stricken urban centers. Just think about it. Then think about the folks King Jesus welcomed. Think about it.

These are my thoughts today. They are unfinished and incomplete. They are random. Nevertheless I pray they give you strength today in Jesus.

Plainfaith-3dcover-transparentTitle: Plain Faith

Author(s): Irene & Ora Jay Eash with Tricia Goyer

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2014

Pages: 208

Cripple Creek Horse Ranch

Tricia Goyer

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Plain Faith by Zondervan in exchange for my faith and unbiased review. I hope that helps clear up any confusion.]

I'm going to go out on a limb and break my book review tradition by stating upfront how I feel about this book: I loved it!! This is a book that I will definitely read again and will share with others too. In fact, I cannot wait for my wife to read it and my landlord.

I live in a rural community in the southernish part of Ohio. We are surrounded on all sides by Amish folks and their families. In fact, two out of my three years teaching I have had a young Amish girl as a student. The community where we live is largely populated by Mennonites and there is a fairly large Mennonite congregation about 500 yards from our rented house. Living in this community has given us a new perspective on simplicity and quietude. After reading this book, maybe some of my opinions will change.

There is a verse in the Bible that reads thus: "As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields see for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11). I intend someday that this verse will be inscribed on my headstone because it is the very foundation upon which I constructed my ministry when I used to be a preacher. The problem I believe we have in our world today is that most preachers simply do not believe it. So concerned are they with growth, so concerned are they with ideas, so concerned are they with themselves they fail to have the simplest of faith in the unadulterated, unfiltered word of God. Does that sound too simple? Does it make no sense that if a preacher stood up on Sunday morning and simply read from Scripture that the congregation would go home filled and satisfied? Is that too naive?

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near" (Revelation 1:3). It seems to me that the Scripture is powerful to effect such results that we can scarcely imagine. Yet we think we have to be so innovative and imaginative in order to 'get results'–I'm not sure yet what the word 'results' means just yet–but that's what I constantly see from leadership gurus: get results! results matter!

Well this is all so much of a rant to say that this book proves exactly the opposite is true. It tells the story of a man and a woman, Amish, who were thrust into a wilderness none of us would every wish upon anyone: the death of two of their children. This event in their lives began to reveal the emptiness of their Amish way of life, their Amish way of Christianity, and their Amish way of thinking about the God they claimed to worship. In other words, it thrust them into a wilderness not of their own making and the Enemy, taking every advantage to keep them enveloped in pain and sorrow, kept pressing the issue of their faith. But the enemy is shortsighted and did not foresee what his pressure and chaos would give birth to in their lives.

What may seem at first glance as arbitrary, as pointless, as utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling fairness ended up being the very thing that opened their hearts to a greater and more fuller expression of faith and trust in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And to think that all of this, happened simply because at some point during their journey they opened up a Bible and started reading for themselves what it said: "As God's Word grew clearer, we found more freedom" (105). They go on:

Even as our eyes were opened, change came slowly over time. Our Amish traditions were deeply ingrained, including the belief that it was by our works that we are saved. But as we read, we saw a little spark of grace. The Word of God came alive, almost as if God was tapping us on the shoulder and saying, 'Take a look at this.' (104)

Isn't that just like God though? They tell the story about getting in trouble for reading the Bible on their own. "Bible reading was for preachers," they were told, and "to read too much was to make one 'wise in their own eyes'" (99). And prayer was "taking pride in your own words" (99). They conclude by writing, "Yet that taste of reading God's Word wasn't something we could shake" (99). Wow. I mean it is amazing that as the book went along they kept seeking and hoping and eventually, naturally, they became who they became. There didn't seem to be anything acting on them save for the Word of God and God's Holy Spirit.

For me this book is far less about their conversion from an Amish way of life–which brought them great struggles as a family–or the tragedy that in its own way served as a catalyst for their exodus and far more about how the Word of God continued to provoke them, prod them, and pursue them down every alley, every struggle, and every step. I was in awe at their development and growth in Scripture and how they continued pleading for their family to see the grace that God was leading them in and to.

This is a remarkable book. I love the alternating style of hearing from both Irene and Ora Jay. I enjoyed reading the letters they sent to family members and the circle group (for greiving families). I enjoyed very much learning about the Amish culture. The main point for me though was simply reading about how the Word of God did exactly what it was sent forth to do: it went back to the Lord with results.

The reader will enjoy this book too. It is a quick read, but not shallow. This is a book to be shared with people who are going through their own struggles with faith. This is a book to be shared with someone who is struggling with the legalism of a church. This is a book for someone who needs encouragement to simply and daily read the Bible. It is packed with raw emotion that is not easily shaken off. In other words, it's a difficult book to put down or to forget. Read this book and marvel at God's mysterious ways, and his amazing Grace.

5/5 stars

51qJCS3okbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_Title: Annaleise Carr

Author: Annaleise Carr as told to Deborah Ellis (Note: I believe this link to Ms Ellis' page is correct, but the book is not listed on her page. If this is incorrect, please advise and I will correct it.)

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company., Ltd. Publishers

Year: September 1, 2014

Pages: (Nook e-Book via NetGalley): 63

Camp Trillium

Follow on Twitter: Annaleise

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free e-book copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. Visit NetGalley for more information.]

This was a short book about a young girl (14) who got an idea in her head one day to swim across Lake Ontario in order to raise money for a camp (Camp Trillium) specializing in helping children who have cancer. It is not a long book, 63 pages, and it was easy to read because the paragraphs are nicely separated and the print was large (at least on my Nook version it was).

The book is laid out nicely and actually takes the time to build in intensity as the reader waits to see if Annaleise will be permitted to do the swim by her parents, if she will raise the money she wanted to raise, and if she will complete the actual swim. There are eleven chapters that build this intensity for the reader–insofar as a book of this nature can build intensity–before concluding with a helpful epilogue, glossary, bibliography, and index (important tools I always look for when reading a book!)

The glossary will be helpful to younger readers who may not understand all of the language being used in the book; although, I found that even though there was help from a professional author (I don't know what percentage) the book comes across very much in the language of a fourteen year old girl. She has an enthusiasm about herself and took this challenge very seriously–that enthusiasm comes across very well in the book. To me it seemed genuine and not feigned for the sake of an audience.

I also liked that the book contained a variety of pictures for the reader to enjoy. It helped me to know who I was reading about and what I was reading about too.

Throughout the book, there are intermittent sub-headings within each chapter such as 'What is Cancer?' After this sub-heading, the author gives us a paragraph or two of definition. I was happy to learn about many of the challenges that come with such an ambitious undertaking. She was blessed to have so many supporters working with her to make the attempt.

Finally, I was pleased that the author and publishers didn't decided to squelch the young lady's faith. There were a couple of times when she made reference to her faith or to a Bible verse which was refreshing. Some teachers/schools may struggle with this aspect of the book, but it doesn't come across as preachy or condescending. It is matter of fact like everything else in the book.

All in all I enjoyed the book. It took me about two hours to read and I believe it will be a wonderful addition to any classroom library. The book will be useful for helping students see a progression of thought and perhaps also for making predictions (given that the end of the book has a rather surprising twist!) I recommend this book for students fourth grade and up. It will be a book of courage and hope for those struggling against cancer and perhaps inspirational for other young people who want to help or make a difference in the lives of others.

5/5

IndexTitle: 50 Things You Need to Know about Heaven

Author: John Hart

Publisher: Baker Books (Bethany House)

Year: 2014

Pages: 144 (e-book/Nook)

Disclaimer: In full disclosure, you need to know that I was provided with a free e-book copy of the above mentioned book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I have also posted this review at Goodreads.com and Amazon.com.

I think the initial problem I had with this book is found in the title of the book. The word 'need' is kind of strikes me as misplaced because Dr Hart never really tells the reader why they 'need' to know these things about heaven. Unless, of course, it is because 'our ideas of heaven are drawn from many different sources [so] how do we know whether any of [the concepts in those sources] are true?' Maybe that was the point. However, it then begs another question: How then do I know that this particular author has provided me anything more substantial than the other sources? How do I know his authority to write this book is any more noteworthy than, say, a 10 year old kid who died, went to 'heaven', and came back telling us all that it 'is real'?

Truth is, there are all sorts of books and films and seminars and motivational speakers and Oprah episodes dishing about heaven. What's one more voice going to add? And, to be sure, are there really 50 things I need to know? "But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by earth, for it is his footstool" (Matthew 5:34-35). What more is there to say besides that? Well, at least 50 other things; I guess.

That said, the introduction, a mere three paragraphs, is entirely too short for such a subject. This is the perpetual problem with the popular level book market in today's world of Christian book publishers and stores: very little depth. I think this book is no exception. It is 144 pages of hurry up and get a book on the market before someone else does. I found that in reading the book I grew weary of a lot of the retread: repeating the same parables or verses or ideas. That is, there was simply too much repetition in the book. (!) There is so much repetition, I think, because there's just not all that much to say about a subject that the Bible says so little about. So many of the questions are questions that the Bible cares so little about that the author has to offer a great deal of speculation in order to arrive at a satisfactory length chapter. Sure there are Bible references in every chapter and at the end of every chapter for 'further study,' but I was unconvinced that even those extra references were going to be helpful in developing this subject properly.

Another aspect that was extremely irritating to me was the constant use of a variety of Bible translations. Personally, I believe the text would have flowed more smoothly if I didn't have to stop and think about what translation the author was using when quoting Scripture (that is, by figuring out what the letters after the verses meant, CEV, NIV, TLB, etc). If you need to use a different translation to make your point then maybe, just maybe, the point is beyond making. Stick with one version and note textual variances if necessary–or use your own translation directly from the original languages. Most people read one translation–not all of us have fifteen different translations laying about for comparative readings.

Finally, my last criticism is this: some of the questions really had nothing to do whatsoever with 'heaven'–if heaven is defined properly. So the author entertained questions about whether or not we will be bored in heaven; what is 'soul sleep'; do some people go to purgatory; and how can I explain heaven to my children. And there were more. At times I thought I was reading a book of salvation theology–who's getting in, who's not. I think maybe this book should either be titled differently or it should have about half as many questions. I'll say it this way: there is simply not enough information in the Bible about some of these subjects to warrant so many questions or to fuel so much speculation about their answers. Pulling snips and pieces of Bible out of context and developing an entire theology around those pieces is, in my mind, not much different than the way most people in the world get their (false) ideas about heaven in the first place. 

Now, on to a couple of the more commendable aspects of the book. You may have guessed so far that I didn't care all that much for the book. That's not entirely the truth. I actually like the format–questions/answers–I just don't think most of the questions asked/answered have anything to do whatsoever with heaven as it is properly defined in Scripture. I think many of the questions asked/answered are drawn more from pop-culture and the 'various sources' referenced in the short introduction. Maybe the book would be better titled something like '50 Misunderstood Ideas about What Happens After We Die' or something like that. The title is too narrow; the scope of the book too large. So for me there was somewhat of a disconnect.

Nevertheless, there is a place to answer some of these questions and, for the most part, I think the author does very well answering them. I was very satisfied that the author made proper reference to the fact that heaven is not where we will spend 'eternity,' but I wish he had dwelt a lot more on this idea of the 'new heavens and the new earth' (see chapter 5; I noted that this conversation should have been in the first chapter, not the fifth). Genesis and Revelation provide very nice bookends to this remarkable story in the Bible about our creation, our fall, our redemption, and our ultimate reward. This, it seems to me, is a far more interesting discussion than whether or not there will be animals in 'heaven.'

Second, there were other times when the author's keen attention to Scripture's detail was riveting. For example, in chapter twenty-two when he was discussing the New Jerusalem, I was very happy that he noted the connection between the cube shaped Jerusalem and the inner room of the temple. At this point I think his exegesis was dead-on especially after he went on to note that it is heaven that comes down to earth and not the other way around. On the other hand, I found his subsequent thoughts about the New Jerusalem having vertical levels and floors to be utterly ridiculous (p 68). Why talk about new heavens and new earth if we are going to live in a cube with floors with a mere acre of land?

Third, in chapter 35 I found his discussion of whether or not we can trust the testimony of those who claim to have died and gone to heaven and come back to earth with a story to tell compelling. His key: "Jesus himself suffered death and was raised to tell about it. Shouldn't his testimony be worthy of our trust?" Amen. He's right and maybe that's what needs to be understood most about this book. There's a lot of nonsense (endless creation of computer code, new musical instruments being created continuously), some sketchy (typically Calvinist) theology, and some silly questions (likely designed to get the book to 50 Questions) but throughout the book the author does manage to stay on point by showing us Jesus. And here we are in complete agreement.

So, then, I didn't enjoy the book nearly as much as I had hoped to; nevertheless, it is a quick, easy read, the author is fairly consistent with this theology, and, despite my questions about some of his exegesis and application, he does fill the book with a lot Scripture (I personally believe there simply needs to be more context around those references and a little more care paid to how some references are 'used' to make a point) and this, too, is a good thing.

PT Forsyth wrote, "The Bible is not a sketch-book of past things nor a picture-book of the last things. It has been especially discredited by treating its imaginative symbols of the future as if they were specifications or working plans attached to God's new covenant and contract with man" (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 197). Indeed, we must be careful when sketching our own ideas about things the Bible is only taking a passing, if not indifferent, notice of.

2/5 stars.

I've been thinking about God's Holy Spirit. And I have also been thinking about church. To be sure, I've been thinking about Christians. I've probably also been thinking about myself and how in some way or other I have had experiences with all three. I suppose the experiences haven't always been the best of times or the worst of times although the experiences could have been a little more or a little less complicated. I'm not saying one way or the other.

I was thinking hard about these things the other day when I was writing a book review about a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam. I read the book with great interest and enthusiasm and then wrote my review. Around the same time I finished reading Jesus Now by Frank Viola. Then I wrote my review. While writing my review I was complaining about Viola's characterization of those who might be considered cessationists because I would probably characterize myself as one. I'm grouchy like that at times because in Bible College that's what I learned and had to defend. And I was like that in Bible College because I grew up in a church that taught such things.

The Holy Spirit is useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting us but there is simply no way the Holy Spirit heals people who are nearly dead or puts to death those who are a little too full of life (Annanias and Sapphira) even though in Junior Worship we sang songs about Annanias and Sapphira who got together to conspire, a plot, to cheat the Lord and get ahead. But speak in tongues? Well, the Holy Spirit hasn't inspired a member of the Church of Christ/Christian Church to speak in tongues since–well, Cane Ridge and even then it is debatable if it was the Holy Spirit. Isn't this what we are taught about the Spirit of Jesus?

Then I got to thinking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Church and myself. I got to thinking about board meetings and committees and constitutions and by-laws. I got to thinking about how Paul said we should have order in our worship services and how we have probably ordered ourselves right out of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I got to thinking about arguing in the church and some of the stupid things we used to argue about in the last church I served. I literally got in trouble one time because some folks had donated an air hockey table to the church for a youth room. Well, someone actually  used the air hockey table to play a game of air hockey and a piece of the table broke. This required a board meeting where I was skewered because of the table's brokenness.

I think the church board ought to be done away with for good and entirely. Frankly, I think the church board actually grieves the Holy Spirit of Jesus and stifles his presence among us.  Why should the Spirit show up to lead and bless us when we have a church board?

Jesus-NowTitle: Jesus Now

Author: Frank Viola

Publisher: David C Cook

Year: 2014

Pages: 210

Other Resources:

    The Deeper Journey

    Love Not the World

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this e-book via NetGalley. It is my duty to inform you that I was provided this resource for a short period of time in exchange for my fair review of the contents. This is yet another example of the government intruding and infringing upon the rights of citizens. Nevertheless, this is my disclaimer.]

I cannot remember how I came across the name Frank Viola. It may have been when I was reading Primal Fire by Neil Cole. It may have been chance. It may have been Twitter. At this juncture, I'm not really sure that it matters all that much because I'm just about sold on his ideas. I probably need to do some more reading, but it is probably important that I started with Jesus Now. This really is an excellent book and I highly recommend that if you are a leader in the church or someone who seeks to be a catalyst for change in an otherwise boring and stagnant vacuum of faithlessness. 

That sounds remarkably harsh, but I speak from experience. Since being evicted from the ranks of paid, professional clergy five years ago, I have had the opportunity to travel about to various churches from various denominational backgrounds and listen to a variety of preachers. It has been my experience that for the most part most churches in most parts of the world are utterly boring–and it is precisely for reasons that Viola expounds upon in this book: "One of the greatest concerns I have for the 'good news' today is that we often present a gospel that is more 'true' than 'useful.' This is never more true than when we're considering the subject and actor of our entire faith: Jesus Christ" (6).

Or maybe I should say it this way: churches are bored. Yet I can attribute the same reason for their boredom: there is simply not any significant emphasis on Jesus as the Resurrected Lord who is our power, as the Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, as the King who has ascended to the Right Hand of God, as the Messiah who has exposed the powers of this earth through His death on the Cross. Frankly (no pun), I don't think the church is enamored with Jesus. Maybe the church doesn't really know Jesus well enough.

I like the idea behind the book: that we will see Jesus didn't just quit working because he ascended to the right hand of the Father, but he continues to work in us, through, and for us in a variety of ways and in a variety of capacities. Some of the important ways Jesus continues to work are as our Great High Priest, as the Chief Shepherd, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, Head of the Church, and Lord of the World. There are others too, but I think you get the idea of where Viola is going with this. He pays particular attention to the book of Hebrews which I appreciated immensely, but that's not all. The book is just filthy with Scripture references, quotes, and exegetical ideas from Scripture. This is for sure: there is no lack of Scripture in this book–in fact, take away the Scripture references and there's not much book left.

Theologically there are, of course, areas where the reader will find some disagreement with Viola. There were a few examples for me. For example, I am somewhat in disagreement with him concerning the idea of cessationism. Many competent theologians have concluded that some of the Spirit's gifts have, in fact, ceased to be fully present in the church–which is not to say that such gifts are not manifested ever. He writes, "There is no biblical merit for the cessationist idea" (65). I'm not so sure about this because there seems to be some indication that even for Paul such gifts were not perpetuated (i.e., leaving people sick at places, exhorting Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach ailments). That said, it's a disagreement that I'm not willing to die for. If the Spirit chooses to do what the Spirit chooses to do, then so be it. Maybe if the church stopped stumbling around in the darkness over silly arguments we would see an atmosphere where the Spirit is manifest more often. Maybe the Holy Spirit is waiting for us to finish with all our petty bickering and treating each other poorly. Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply refuses to show up in churches where the predetermined conclusion is that he is no longer working among his people. That is, maybe we prevent his appearance because of our disbelief. 

There are also areas where I am complete agreement with Viola. In chapter 5 he talks about Jesus the 'builder of ekklesia.' His question early on is: "So what happens when gifted Christians are reared in a human organization built on unbiblical systems rather than in an organic expression of the body of Christ?"  So what happens? Let me be honest. I am new to this whole 'organic church' movement so I remain just a tad bit skeptical when it comes to abandoning the 'old ways' of doing things. On the other hand, as someone who grew up, learned, and sought to perpetuate the 'old way' of doing things, I know how badly I was burned–strike that–how badly my faith has been wrecked by those old people doing old things the old ways. Much of the wrecking of my faith has occurred at the hands of people who simply didn't want to hear the truth about grace, Jesus, and the hard cost of following Jesus.

So I think it is true that Jesus can work through these structures and that perhaps he does; nevertheless, who is to say that the gigantic growth of a relative few churches has been the best thing for the many churches that have not experienced such growth? And who is to say that setting up the church like a multi-million dollar corporation with a CEO at the head is necessarily what Jesus had in mind? We Protestants scoff at the idea of the Papacy of the Catholic Church, but we are no better when we have one preacher set over thousands of people on several different campuses all connected via satellite and the internet. We just do it on a smaller scale than the Catholics.Viola is right: "The great need today in the body of Christ is to reinstate the headship of Christ. Tragically, all sorts of things have replaced Christ's headship. Church boards, committee meetings, church leaders, church programs, manmade rules and regulations, etc., have often supplanted the headship of Jesus Christ" (75).

As someone who has been at the mercy of these supplanters, I can only say 'amen!' and ask how many other preachers like me have suffered at the hands of these interlopers? How many of us have had our faith wrecked and turned upside down because of such ideas? I couldn't agree more that there must be something better for the church. And Viola may not come right out and say it in the book, but I have a suspicion he would agree that these things are not only killing God's prophets, apostles, and evangelists, but they are also slowly choking the church to death. When a church spends more time in committee talking about 'business' than they spend on their knees seeking the face of God there is a problem. A serious problem. "Christ alone has the right to rule his church–not any human or committee. It is His body, not ours" (76).

I could go on and on about this, but I'm writing a review of a book so I must stop. In that spirit, just a couple of final thoughts.

First, I love the few times that Viola gives us big long lists of things such as things the Holy Spirit is doing, names of the enemy, or the ways in which Jesus is exercising his authority over the church and directing the Work. I seriously believe that if the church took more time to see Jesus for who he is the church would be like Josiah whose architects found the word of God: "When the king heard the words of the book of the Law he tore his robes" (2 Kings 22:11) except that we would be tearing our robes and saying, "That is Jesus?!?!?! Woe is us!"

Second, I read the Nook version of this book (e-pub using Adobe Digital Editions) and I found the book very nicely put together (I only found one typo in the book). I always put in a plug for the Nook version of e-books since the other guys seem to get all the publicity.

I highly recommend this book. Again, it is true that not everyone is going to find agreement at all points, but that's not a bad thing. The author's enthusiasm for Jesus is what comes across in the book and is what, in my opinion, needs to come across. If you are interested in what Jesus is doing now, if you need a spark to your boring church life, or if you need your passion for Jesus reignited, this is a good place to start. And when you are finished reading it, give it to a friend or a preacher or to your entire church board. Do your best to be a catalyst to get the church's eyes turned back to Jesus.

This is an important work for the way in which it redirects our attention to Jesus and away from the wreck we have made of the church which will only be repaired when we fix our eyes on Jesus.

5/5 stars

 

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Book Review: Primal Fire

Four-Views-on-the-Historical-AdamTitle: Four Views on the Historical Adam

Authors:

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2013

Pages: 289 (e-book)

Additional Information:

Counterpoints: Bible & Theology Logos Software

General Editors: Ardel B. Caneday | Matthew Barrett

[I was provided with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased and fair review. On another note, the government spends too much time worrying about what books I read and get for free. Thank you.]

I have provided plenty of links for you, the reader, to do your own research into this book because I have a particular point of view on this sort of work that may or may not be particularly helpful. To be sure, I read an 'uncorrected proof for review purposes' which is a bit frustrating because page numbers in references appear as (ooo) which is kind of annoying.

The book is laid out in a fairly manageable format. There is a lengthy introduction by the series editors (Barrett and Caneday) which explains the format and lays out some preliminary observations such as historical background, history of debates, and the various points of view that the authors will subsequently take up in the bulk of the text. Next comes the presentation of the four authors' points of view. Each author presents his view which is followed by responses from the other three authors and, finally, a rejoinder from the original author. I'm not sure if there was a reason for the order in which the various views are presented but they seem to follow from the most 'liberal' (Lamoureux) to the most 'conservative' (Barrick) with the two 'fence straddlers' (Walton & Collins; it's probably unfair to call them 'straddlers'; their positions are as robust as the others) resting in the middle of the sandwich. Finally, pastoral reflections are offered (Boyd & Ryken) representing a broad spectrum of opinion of how these various points of view might affect the church. Surprisingly, this is a debate left entire to the male point of view–that is, no women have left their mark on these pages. Not surprisingly, Boyd takes the more 'liberal' post and Ryken the more 'conservative.'

I should start off right away by noting that Lamoureux's point of view holds no sway with me whatsoever. When an author has to continually defend himself against the charge, imagined or otherwise, that he is saying 'God lied' or that 'Scripture cannot be trusted' then there is a serious problem. On the other hand, Lamoureux, out of all the authors, probably holds to the most literal reading of the book of Genesis even though he doesn't believe a word of Genesis 1-11 to represent anything close to a historical record. This is strange. I never cease to be amazed at those who hold to evolution as a means antithetical to pure ex nihilo creation. They always remind us that they find the evidence 'for evolution is overwhelming' (40). What is amazing is that so many equally trained theologians and scientists find the evidence underwhelming. Frankly, I decided a while ago that I will no longer live in fear of evolution or those who teach it. In my opinion God is a big God and doesn't need me to get all worked up about defending him or what he has done. I'm fairly certain Lamoureux is the only author who felt the need to talk about his academic credentials and, to be sure, much of his article is autobiographical–another defense mechanism.

I think the problem, for me, is that Lamoureux believes that Genesis 1-11 is merely indicative of the way God talks to humans. His evidence is that this is how Jesus talked to his disciples: "The Lord himself accommodated in His teaching ministry by using parables" (54). Honestly I think this is a rather poor understanding of why Jesus spoke using parables; furthermore, the parables were not merely "earthly stories [meant] to deliver inerrant heavenly messages" (54). This is a shallow and rather naive way of understanding parables and, to be sure, has nothing to do with the way God talked to people through Genesis. What I find amazing is the utter lack of faith Lamoureux has in Scripture. This is evident in that he really doesn't seem to get that the Holy Spirit had quite a lot to do with the actual final composition of the original autographs and, I would venture to assume, their translation and transmission to future generations. I'm not sure he gets this or if he does if he just rejects it as more unreliable biblical rhetoric. It is hard to tell at times.

 At the end of each author's presentation there is a hefty response from the other writers of the book. It's all fairly typical, as one might expect, with this type of book. Of course every author has a point of view, of course he defends it, of course others tear apart his arguments, and of course there's all sorts of moving 'what-a-great-guy-he-is' kind of comments. There is much mutual respect, in other words, except that there is some obvious tension between Lamoureux and Barrick. This is how it goes page after page. Honestly, the four points of view are not terribly difficult to understand and the responses are largely predictable. And even though the book is about four views of the historical Adam when it's all said and done there's really only two: you either believe he was a real, historical figure; or you don't. The book really revolves around the points of view concerning creation mechanisms (and various theories about the 'days' in Genesis) and how these points of view impact readings of later Scripture.

I enjoyed reading the responses from the pastors at the end of the book the most and I enjoyed Greg Boyd's best of the two if for nothing else because I think it captured the spirit of his assignment ('pastoral reflections') the best. Ryken wrote a fine reflection, but I thought he focused less on the pastoral implications and more on the theological implications of whatever view one chooses to adopt. 

Every author has something to contribute to the discussion (even though Lamoureux's view, in my opinion, lacks teeth). No one has it perfectly right and no one is absolutely wrong–which is evident by the responses. Frankly, there is a lot of agreement among the authors and this is healthy. It shows that the debate isn't as scary as one might think. It demonstrates that there can be a variety of orthodoxy amongst Christians and that satisfying and healthy debates are indeed possible. It seems to me that any of these men would stand up for one of the others if the debate were to include a die-hard, dyed in the wool atheistic evolutionist. Of this I have no doubt.

The evolution/creation debate is interesting and, sadly, ongoing. There will never be resolution to this discussion this side of the new heavens and new earth. The main question of this book is: does there need to be a real historical Adam in order for the Bible (Lamoureux believes 'real' biblical history starts in Genesis 12) to be true with respect to redemptive history? According to the book, yes and no. Whatever side of the debate the reader happens to side with, this much is true: all of the authors point us to Jesus. We may not necessarily agree with the path they take through Scripture to arrive at Jesus, but they all get there. For this I am glad. At times, however, I do wonder if perhaps we have carried on this debate long enough. It could be that it is time to move on to weightier matters and perhaps see how it is that we can take care of the earth we have been given whether by a Creator or through evolution. That is a different paper altogether.

This is a helpful volume. I don't think it adds anything new to the debate (as far as evidence, one way or the other, is concerned) and those who are well versed in the history and literature of the creation/evolution debate will find the book rather redundant and tired at points. Newcomers to the debate will find this a worthy volume that will help them sort through some of their early questions (about the debate) and develop some clear thinking on certain issues (such as the theological implications of there not being a historical person named Adam). They might even be persuaded to change their minds at certain points. Seasoned readers probably won't find much challenging and will probably only find their a priori arguments bolstered by fresh looks at Scripture (esp. Genesis; I think all four authors contributed some stunning ideas about Genesis even if, again, I didn't happen to agree with all the conclusions they arrived at from the evidence) and repetition of old arguments.

I give this book 3.5/5 Stars and recommend it for readers who are newer to the conversation.

*My page numbers may not align exactly. I read an draft version (.pdf) on my Nook and sometimes the pages and numbering are adjusted later.

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Four Views on the Historical Adam

Book-Review-James-Hamilton-What-is-Biblical-TheologyTitle: What is Biblical Theology?

Author: James M. Hamilton, jr.

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2014

Pages: 130 (e-book)

Additional: For His Renown

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my fair and honest review of the the book What is Biblical Theology? I hope this clears up any confusion.]

Happily, this book was a quick and not terribly difficult read. I took me all of an evening at home to read it on my Nook. The Nook format is very nicely finished. The cover is in nice color and the pages are a nice soft yellowish color which makes it easy on the eyes. The paragraphs are nicely space and the font face is easy to read. I am grateful to Crossway for making this volume available on their available books list.

Unfortunately for authors, the content of a book review cannot rest on the aesthetic value of the book. If that were the case, anyone with a copy of a nice publishing software could write a book. So we must press on an examine the content of the book and see how our author handled his material.

I will note first of all that what I appreciated most about this book is that I hear echoes of other authors/theologians/preachers I have listened to in the past. For example, I have listened to a number of lectures on the Old Testament by Dr John Currid (a lecturer with Reformed Theological Seminary among other things) and I found that Hamiliton's thoughts often align very nicely with what Currid has taught about such things as typology and seeing the 'big' picture in Scripture. Other times I thought I was reading something written by NT Wright. His 'five episodes in the Bible's plot' (p 28) sound very much like Wright's '5-Act hermeneutic' (I think Wright's is superior, but Hamilton's is not without considerable value; see Scripture and the Authority of God, p 124-125; also his reliance upon Isaiah 11:9 as kind of an overarching theme in the book echoes Wright.) And finally, his idea about the world being a 'cosmic temple' sounds very much like John Sailhamer (Genesis) and John Walton (Lost World of Genesis 1.)

Now my point is not that Hamilton is unoriginal or anything of that sort. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the points he makes in his text are solidly grounded in scholarship and have been echoed by others. For me, as a reader and a theologian, I love this. I love when I am reading an author and I see him/her develop the ideas of others and incorporate shadows of that work in their own. This was my first experience with Hamilton so to know that I have seen/heard his ideas elsewhere by scholars with whom I have far more experience, is a sign of security: I can trust this author's ideas even if they do not perfectly align with my own or others. He's on the right track and that matters.

Another thing this tells me is that the author is not afraid to interact with the ideas of others and to allow them to seep into his own work. I appreciate that there are certain aspects of this book where the author demonstrates his humility toward his understanding and application of the Scripture. That being said, I did not appreciate the author's (almost) continuous use of words like 'apparently,' 'appears,' and 'it seems.' Frankly the over-abundance of such qualifiers was a huge distraction and disrupted the flow of the author's thoughts. I have no problem with an author saying flat out what he or she thinks about a text, but just say it and let be what will be. I'd rather a little more authority in the book than less. If I disagree with the author, I disagree. The attempt to mitigate disagreement by using qualifiers is frustrating (see especially chapter 5) and annoying.

I have a couple other minor complaints about the book and, to be sure, these are probably merely stylistic preferences. First, I'm not really sure this book is about Biblical Theology in the strictest sense of the meaning. The author defines the purpose of biblical theology as the aim to 'understand and embrace the worldview of the biblical authors' (13). He then tells us he will use the phrase 'biblical theology' to 'refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors' (15). He elaborates:

…by the phrase biblical theology I mean the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. (14-15)

So my point is this: I think the book might be a little mis-titled. I think what Hamilton is describing in the book are the clues, hints, literary techniques, and things that might be used to develop a biblical theology. Don't get me wrong. There are hints of what might be described as theology proper–such as the last four chapters where he writes about the church. From what I can tell, however, the book is not giving us a drive to a theology proper, but rather a scenic drive through the country where he  points us to various landmarks and signposts that will help us develop a proper biblical theology. To that end, I think the book is absolutely outstanding.

And he's correct: typology is an important signpost; patterns are important signposts; the 'big plot' is of major importance; symbols are important; imagery is important; understanding the narrative flow of the Bible is important. Nevertheless, these are the signposts we look for along the way which help us develop a biblical theology. (I know, he gives away his intentions in the sub-title of the book: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Again, I don't think there is any intention of misleading readers, I just think he answers the question in the first chapter.

Second, I thought the book was a little too full of cliched language. I'm not going to dwell on this point except to say that even for a popular level reading there was too much 'christianese'. In order for the book to have more appeal to a wider audience, I think some of this could stand to be cleaned up a bit. Again this might be a matter of stylistic preference.

In conclusion, I will note a couple of the book's more salient and outstanding points to ponder.

First, Hamilton makes this statement on page 30: "Israel's prophets used the paradigm of Israel's past to predict Israel's future" (30). This is a significant feature of the Bible's story and it can be traced over and over again through the Scripture. Hamilton does well to highlight this for his readers. Seeing this pattern repeat itself time and time again in the Scripture allows the reader to have a glimpse at what God's plans are for this world and for what we might call the future. Creation. Sin. Exile. Redemption. Re-creation. The pattern continues to repeat itself and so we might ask where we are now and what God has planned for us, the church? (Hint: Revelation 21-22 gives important clues. Hamilton writes about this in Chapter 5: The Mystery.) Furthermore, it's not only in the narrative sections where we find this pattern being exposed: "We are not the first to attempt to read these promises in light of the patterns. The biblical authors of the Psalms and the Prophets have blazed this trail for us" (33). I agree.

Second, Hamilton writes, "Don't make this harder than it needs to be. Read the Bible. A lot (81).* I happen to think this is one of the better things he writes in the book. It comes up every so often, the idea of 'biblical illiteracy' among Christians. One author recently went so far as to say we are facing a 'crisis' of biblical illiteracy. It's probably too true. So I am pleased with the way that Hamilton ended his tome. Sometimes I have this sneaking suspicion that we take the Bible for granted here in America. If we are ever going to solve the problems the church currently faces we are going to have to find a way to get people more involved in the Word–and it starts with those in the pulpit. 

This is a helpful book for newer believers. I don't agree with all of his teachings (his thoughts about all 'living Jews' seeing, believing, etc., p 41). I didn't quite get all of his anecdotes (the way he told the story of Gene and Phineas (ch 6). Nevertheless, this is a short, helpful volume that will help newer believers work their way through some of the more challenging ideas in Scripture and lay a good foundation for future, more in depth Bible studies. Understanding the big picture, seeing patterns, and understanding how literary devices like typology and imagery work within a Biblical text will provide useful to the new reader of Scripture. Thinking about how the church fits into these patterns will also prove useful and may provide a wake-up call for churches stuck in the mire of mediocrity.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

*My page numbers may not be exact. For some reason the Nook does page numbers in a strange way. Check your own volume for exact references.

Eugene Peterson wrote, "The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God." (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335)

I wish I could disagree. I wish I could say that when I first read this book in 2005–nearly 10 years ago–that I would have remembered that single line, practiced it, and preached it. I'm sure I did preach it, but upon reflection I think I was far too naive in my thinking that merely standing behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings was enough. I think sometimes I invented an idea of what strength was–standing up under the constant pressure of critics. This was my suffering; my cross. I think my failure was complete when I didn't wait.

Not knowing what else to do with a lack of employment, a mortgage, and no prospects on the horizon, I took the easy way out and went back to school and earned my masters degree. I had an ambition; I didn't want to wait. I did it; I did it well. I finished the course and earned my degree. I got a job shortly thereafter, and here I am. But at what cost?

Now I am doing nothing but waiting. In all my pursuit of safety, education, and security I found nothing satisfactory or substantial. Instead I have found a lonely life because in my pursuit I forgot to wait. Said another way, in my impatience I forgot to pursue the right way. I ran and ran and ran and ran. Lived up to a promise I made that I would not pursue another preaching ministry after the last one. Now here I am–every single day going over and over in my mind why my ambition superseded that of Jesus.

Here I am wondering, often aloud, why I took the path I took instead of just praying and waiting and hoping. I wonder about what my ambition accomplished…since I continue to find nothing but frustration at being at the mercy of someone else's plans for my life because that's what life has become for me. I am no longer in control of my life, my plans, my ambitions. All my ambition got me was a daily frantic concern for myself, a daily hurry to check LinkedIn, a daily frenetic pace to accomplish this or that, and a daily fever pitch hurry to check job postings.

Frankly all it is doing is making me old. And tired. Sadly, all those things that mattered most to me are gone. What I miss is fellowship. God's people. Bible study. Worship. Life has become all about me for the last several years disguised as self-righteous suffering. I pursued myself, instead of righteousness, and that's what I got.

Profound unhappiness.

516zXo8UHjLTitle: Scripture and the Authority of God

Author: N.T. Wright

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year: 2011

Pages: 210

N.T. Wright other works: N.T. Wright Page

[Disclaimer: I paid for this book with a gift card I received at Christmas 2013. It was a very happy time in my life when I could freely spend at amazon.com. It also prevented me from having to humbly admit that I got the book free in exchange for a fair review. I can be as nasty as I wanna be in this review. 🙂 ]

No one will ever accuse N.T. Wright of cutting corners when it comes to Scripture. What he does in Scripture and the Authority of God is take his readers on a whirlwind tour of the complex cultural cancers that have affected and distorted the way we read the Scripture. And if I have read this book correctly, Wright is saying that it is far less about the external forces and far more about internal pressures that have, in a sense, ruined the Scripture. To wit: "This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in an effort to make it into something else" (25). To repeat myself, this is akin to saying: it is less the cultured despisers we have to worry about when it comes to Scripture and far much more the prophets, priests, and preachers in the church. And isn't this, if we are honest, the truth?

Throughout the book Wright maintains a singular thought, which he repeats in earnest as often as he can: "…the phrase 'authority of Scripture' can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for 'the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture" (20). The main problem we have in the church is that we tend to ignore context when it comes to Scripture. Preachers are so bent on a particular theological or political system that the entire corpus of Scripture gets forgotten, the story from beginning to end is either ignored or forgotten. In my opinion, N.T.Wright is absolutely prophetic in this regard because he always, I mean always, keeps this overarching metanarrative in mind when spelling out some of the more microcosmic ideas found in Scripture. And no one is safe from his pen: conservative, liberal, right, left, high-church or country-bumpkin. His solution? There is a profound need for 'fresh, Kingdom-oriented, historically rooted exegesis' (112). I have read many of Dr. Wright's books and if anything can be said of his work, perhaps the best thing that can be said is that he is undeniable consistent: the metanarrative never leaves his focus regardless of the topic he is discussing.

This is like telling people who have been doing the same thing for 100 years that they are doing it wrong and need to change to which they would respond, "We have always done it this way." I hear such sentiments in churches, in schools, in business. And again it is hard to argue when the current methods have resulted in the modern phenomenon of the mega-rich, mega-churches. It's a lot easier to use Scripture to make some politically expedient point or some culturally relevant pop-psychological jabberwocky than it is to do the hard work of actually reading Scripture from front to back, and back to front, seeing what it says and then thinking about what it means. I remember sitting in my office one Sunday morning and listening to the women's Sunday school class on the other side of the wall. We had just started a Bible reading campaign designed to take the entire church the entire Bible in 90 days. I distinctly remember hearing one of the women say, "I don't know why we have to do this."

Wright takes his time explaining to his readers the insidious nature of the various cultural developments and church reactions that have so distorted and warped our reading of Scripture. He covers sixteen centuries of warped exegesis in about 20 pages before he moves on to discuss the enlightenment period in a little more than 20 pages. He then demonstrates for us how those on the 'left' and 'right' have used the flawed methods of those previous generations to distort the Scripture for their own purposes. Then, finally, he moves on give us thoughts on how to get back on track. (Yes, there was much more at the beginning of the book, and I'm not overlooking it. It's there and lays an important foundation.) It is here that I find most agreement with Wright based on my own experience as a local church preacher and a well read Christian. This newer version of the book I read also features two 'test cases' at the end of the book–one on the Sabbath and the other on monogamy.

One wonders what the world would look like if preaching was not always a reaction to the goings on in the world or a mere 'how to feel better about life' medicinal word? I'm sure there is a place to address such things, but the best way to do so is found by consistently preaching how God has brought about his grace in the fullness of time in Jesus–his Kingdom where broken people find hope, peace, and love. We cannot ignore the world and what is happening–indeed, it is the world we are to redeem through our witness to Jesus and the preaching of the Gospel! When we keep the metanarrative in mind, not merely as a backdrop, or for illustrative material, or as I saw in a book I recently read, a place for good quotes, but as the sure historical foundation through which God was bringing about his redemptive purposes and preparing the world for Jesus, we can see how God's word is authoritative in the midst of our own cultural upheaval and turmoil and political intrigue. This is precisely the reason Paul writes that God gave us preachers, teachers, apostles–to equip us…then we will no longer be tossed about by the waves of this world (Ephesians 4:1-16).

Whatever else we take away from this book, it is imperative that we read chapter 8 carefully and thoughtfully. This might mean, gasp, that we are going to be confronted individually or collectively with ideas that challenge us, change us, or choke us: "We who call ourselves Christians must be totally committed to telling the story of Jesus both as the climax of Israel's story and as the foundation of our own" (126). It is especially when he talks about five strategies for honoring the authority of Scripture that we ought to pay attention. I say yes to all of them! Contextual reading? Yes! Liturgically grounded reading of Scripture? Yes! I pause here because my own tradition has a nagging history of neglecting the liturgical, contextual, public reading of Scripture. That is, we prefer a bit before communion or a bit before the sermon or a bit before the plate is passed but we have failed greatly when it comes to the type of reading that reminds us of who we are, of the greater story being told, and our place within that narrative. This will not do. I weep for my tradition precisely at this point because we who have prided ourselves for so long as being a 'people of the book' have utterly neglected our historical roots and the reading Scripture in a liturgical fashion: "It also means that in our public worship, in whatever tradition, we need to make sure the reading of Scripture takes a central place" (131). Amen.

I highly recommend Scripture and the Authority of God and it is my hope that when people read this they will begin to hold their leaders accountable. So I have some suggestions myself of how churches can hold leaders accountable.

First, change your worship. That is, drop a song or two or three in order to create space for the unfiltered reading of the Scripture. This is what Ezra did (Nehemiah 8); this is what Jesus did (Luke 4); and this is what Paul told Timothy he was to do (1 Timothy 4:13). There is just as much worship in hearing the Scripture simply read as there is in singing and dancing (Revelation 1:3).

Second, insist that your preacher have ample time and resources to study the Scripture. Demand less of him in areas where others can serve competently (Acts 6:1-7) so that his/her time in the Scripture is undiluted and undisturbed (2 Timothy 2:14-15). You want the church to grow? Count on the one thing in Scripture that God said would provide growth: Isaiah 55:10-12.

Third, engage your congregation in consistent reading of the entire Bible. Interesting that one of the commands the king was to obey was that he was to write for himself a copy of the law (Deuteronomy 17:18-19) and have it with him all the days of his life. The congregation should do the same, always reading and studying and learning because when we are in Scripture we are bound to see Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44). Keep this metanarrative in mind at all times when reading, studying, and preaching.

Surely there are things I could add to this list, but for now it will do. If churches could get motivated again to take the Scripture seriously, as Wright is ultimately suggesting, we might see the sort of revival take place in our churches. I say this especially to those among my own tradition who have, for far too long, neglected Scripture in favor of methodology. 

Exposing the psalmsTitle: Exposing the Psalms

Author: Peter Nevland

Publisher: Authentic Media

Year: March 2014

Pages: 240 (e-book)

Additional Information: Spoken Groove

Buy at Amazon: Exposing the Psalms

Tree of Psalms project

[Disclaimer: Some high ranking government official had a brainchild one day and said that if I didn't inform my readers that I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review then you, the reader, might assume the review was biased. Either way, I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my mostly unbiased review.]

I am glad Nevland included an index in the back of his book Exposing the Psalms. For me, as a theologian first and a reader second, it is important to know what sort of literature influenced an author who has had the audacity to write about Scripture. I am fairly well read when it comes to commentaries and theology and I have to say that the sources were a bit lacking. There's nothing wrong with reading Matthew Henry's (1700's) commentaries or with reading Jameson, Fausett, and Brown (1800s) or with reading John Gill (1700s), but the fact remains that there are literally hundreds of commentaries that would provide and additional 300 years worth of insight into the Psalms. I'm sure Mr Nevland has his own reasons for using these particular commentaries, maybe not. Still I find it bizarre in a curious sort of way. Again, it's not that it's wrong, it's just strange.

The book itself is an interesting read. One of the more important aspects of the book is that Nevland does not come at the Psalms with an overtly scholarly point of view. He might be a scholar, as is evident (occasionally) by the depth of his writing, and there is a strong theological element to the books too, but maybe he's just good at research and processing. He does outline his methods at the beginning, which is helpful too, but maybe he prefers simply to read and experience the Psalms (such as he did with Psalm 95 where he wrote that he 'must have read it more than twenty times, before it changed me enough to connect to its story', 100.)

Either way, there were times when reading the book that I was simply blown away by the depth of the insight he offered on a verse or a Psalm (e.g., his thoughts on Psalms 148 & 133 were brilliant). Then there were times when I was somewhat shocked by what appeared to be a rather naive approach to a Psalm (e.g., his thoughts on Psalm 23 & 24 were incredibly similar, theologically strange, and in my experience difficult to accept as meaningful: "So the 'paths of righteousness' in Psalm 23 instantly draw a picture of God leading you on a road where you can do no wrong.He'll surround you with so much goodness, you can't make a mistake. Instead of goodness coming from the inside out, it attacks you until it penetrates your soul. Every possible decision is right", 34. Frankly, I have no idea what those sentences mean. See also, pages 39 & 205 where there are hints of this 'prosperity' notion. )

At the end of each section of writing about a specific Psalm (Nevland covers 30 of them in the book, and in random order. I didn't care for the randomness of the order, but again I suppose he had his purposes) Nevland gives the reader 3 questions to mull over and answer. I thought this was an especially nice idea. It helps draw the reader back into the Psalm and also encourages deeper or at least more focused thought about the Psalm. He also included at the end of each section a song or a poem that is somehow closely connected with the Psalm he has just exposed us to. I will say this much, I admire Nevland as an artist, but I didn't have much use for the songs/poems. Frankly, I got to the point where I just stopped reading them. In my opinion, the book was neither better nor worse because of their inclusion. Some readers will enjoy them and read them, others will not.

A small point of contention for me was the imbalance of the book. Some chapters were really long and heavy. Other chapters were very short and ended somewhat abruptly. It may be a personal thing, but I would have preferred a bit more balance to the chapters. (I get that some Psalms are longer than others and require more pages, but I think there are ways to solve that particular problem.) Balance in chapters helps a reader establish a rhythm in their reading and it was difficult to establish such a rhythm with the disproportionate chapters.

The truth is, this is not the type of book one should sit down and read straight through and then review on a blog. This is a slow book. By that I mean, I think it needs to be read slowly, one needs to take their time, one needs to dance a little with the Psalms Nevland is exposing (and by and large I think he did a fine job keeping the Psalms in their historical context) in order to fully appreciate what he is doing–which is where I think Nevland's brilliance shines forth: these are songs, psalms, poems read, performed, or sung at the king's court or in the King's court. These Psalms are neither monotone, nor monolithic. These songs were written, often, in community. They were most certainly performed in community. They are towering, staggering collections of voices, read throughout the generations of those who seek the Face of God from during the high points of festivals to the lowest depths of dereliction. These are the voices of honesty and praise and worship and lament and fear and abandonment and adoration and faith. These are the voices of God's people through the ages attempting to understand God's absence and attempting to stand up in his presence.

If I had to narrow my thoughts down and say something absurd like 'this is the one thing Nevland did exceptionally well in his book' it would be at this point. I think Nevland did a remarkable work helping remind his readers of the historical context, the liturgical voice, the desperate prayers, the communal and personal nature of the Psalms. I enjoyed that he got me thinking about these Psalms not as mere words scratched into a scroll or parchment–detached from all context or historical upheaval–but as the words of living, breathing people who were being chased by rebels, threatened by wild animals, or suffocating and gasping for their last breath. I like that he got me listening to the words as if a full band were playing in the background and dancers were leaping and twirling with every word. He got me thinking about people trembling in the presence of enemies and finding peace in the presence of God. In a word, he had a way of bringing these Psalms out of their scholarly garb and into my work & play clothes. That, in my opinion, is the best part of the book.

I do have one complaint about the book: Jesus just seems kind of thin in the book. There are times when Jesus is Jesus, but there are other times when he is 'some other famous guy' (see 127). This bothered me. It's probably not that Nevland purposely avoided Jesus and I'm certainly not saying that he has no interest in Jesus. I am saying that even Jesus pointed out that the Psalms were, by and large, written about him (see Luke 24:44). Does this mean every Psalm is about Jesus? Maybe. Maybe not. My point is that we may well find that the Psalms speak to us or speak for us (even Jesus prayed the Psalms at his crucifixion, see Luke 23:46, Matthew 27:46), we may find that they offer us great consolation or great consternation, but at the end of the day the Psalms point to something, someone, beyond themselves. The Psalms are not Psalms merely for their own sake.

Nevland doesn't necessarily avoid Jesus, but neither do I think he goes out of his way to make him as fully present, or as evident in the Psalms, as he could have. It's important that the Psalms live, but even the authors of the Psalms would probably tell us they were not writing merely to bring out the emotional best in the readers.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

Related articlesFor other reviews on books about the Psalms, reviews that I have written, please visit the links below. I believe you will find them especially helpful.

Book Review: The Case for the Psalms
Book Review: Psalms for Everyone

I am happy to say that I did not make this task. One of the paraprofessionals who worked in my classroom did. All I had to contribute was a 'seal of approval' and a grateful heart that she put her skills to use and make something wonderful and useful for the students.

IMG_1054This was not a difficult task to build. Nor is it a difficult task to use.

Materials: library pockets, marker, laminate, shapes (either bought or homemade or perhaps from an Ellison machine), a sheet of card stock cut lengthwise, and glue (I prefer Elmer's Rubber Cement).

First, write the numbers that you wish to use on the outside of the library pockets. In our example, we were working with addends that resulted in sums 6-10. You can use whatever numbers (sums) you like so long as the addends correspond to the numbers written on the library pockets.

Second, take whatever little shape you have decided to use and using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, write your addends upon them. In the example from my classroom, we have used three different addends for each sum. These addends are written upon the shapes as shown below–in this case, we used stars. I think they were purchased at the Dollar Tree or some other thrifty store.

IMG_1053After the addends are written upon the shapes, you may choose to laminate them. I personally laminate everything in the classroom because I work in special education and things tend to get folded, spindled, ripped, mutilated, and chewed upon with great frequency. This helps protect them and give them a longer shelf life–so to speak.

Third, take the library pockets and glue them to the piece of card stock (or you can use a piece of poster-board too). If your school has a laminator, it would be a good idea to laminate the entire project.

And that's just about it. The great thing about this task is its flexibility. You can use any numbers you like and even though we used addition facts, you can also use subtraction, multiplication, and division so long as the numbers correspond. IMG_1051

One final thing, I have no problems also allowing my students to use manipulatives (objects) to represent the math they are doing at the time. Students who are visual learners will appreciate having counting bears or some other such objects to help work out the problems.

Two things of note:

    1. Storage might be somewhat of an issue given that the project is oddly shaped. I solved this problem by folding the game in half.

    2. The possibility remains that the students might memorize the answers based solely upon the placement of numbers. Feel free to mix it up as much as possible in order to prevent such a reflex.

Common Core Standards addressed for addition and subtraction: K.OA.1, K.OA.5, K.OA.3, 1.OA.5, 1.OA.6 (perhaps more).

Enjoy!

Related articlesSee also this game that we built in my classroom. It too deals with addition and/or multiplication.

Learning Addition or Multiplication Playing Games

IndexTitle: 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6

Author: Catherine Austen

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company Ltd.

Year: 2014

Pages: 101 (e-book)

Author Page: Catherine Austen

Author Blog: Deadline? What Deadline?

[Disclaimer: I am required by some law of the land to inform you that the FCC thinks you will be better off knowing that I read a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Wow, I feel better having gotten that off my chest.]

I grew up reading Judy Blume whose books for children were, at least when I was reading Blubber and Superfudge and Frecklejuice, at the pinnacle of elementary-junior high reading. Not a single RIF week or Scholastic book club paper went by that someone in our class failed to get a Judy Blume book. In fact, I still happen to own many of those books that I bought in fourth and fifth grades. Now I'm 44 and I still love books that are targeted to kids who are in the 'awkward' stages of life–namely, 5-8 grade. So I was pleased when I was offered the opportunity to read 28 Tricks and review it.
 
When I was in those awkward Junior High days, I remember having fears. I feared things like bullies, my parents' wrath for poor grades, and acne. In 28 Tricks, the fears are a little more subjective: fear of dancing, fear of public speaking, fear of dogs, and a fear of the future. When I was young, I was generally too busy to worry about whether or not the future was something I should worry about, but then again when I was that age we were not having conversations about things like global warming. In the 80s, we were worried about things like the spread of communism and the proliferation of nuclear arms–but we were also not watching nearly as much television, there was no internet, and there were no cell phones. We were outside playing ball, hide and seek, or swimming in the creek.
 
I suppose every generation has to have their fears. This is about as political as the author gets in the book (and it wasn't as bad as I'm probably making it); nevertheless, these are the things that kids worry about nowadays and the author's background in environmental and conservation studies  probably helped shape the last section of the book. It's not  offensive or rammed down the readers' throats and I think it rightfully helps walk children, who may have such fears, through some of those fears and get a good grip in the here and now.
 
And I appreciated this: "Too much reality makes you depressed. But not enough reality makes you a fool. So what we need is just enough reality to manage." This from one of the characters named Claire who has been learning to overcome her fear of the future. There are other insightful thoughts along the way too, but I don't want to spoil the fun. I agree with the author that living now, giving up worry, having hope, and not wasting our time is essential to a wholesome, productive, and less fearful life. These are deep thoughts for Junior High students to absorb and it is far and away from the sorts of worries we were talking about when we read Blubber and Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great.
 
I also appreciated the teacher, Mr. Papadakis. First of all because he is a male teacher. I have this suspicion that there are not nearly enough male teachers in schools today–especially in elementary and junior high. It was nice to see a positive male figure–even if he did remind me a wee bit of Ms. Frizzle with his carefree-let-the-children-learn kind of approach to education. I also thought he was a sympathetic character. His character wasn't intrusive, but he was present. This left the author free to pull him in periodically to dispense some wisdom or humor or reality: male teachers can provide positive links between students and life and need not always be those frowning curmudgeons who haunt our sleep at times.
 
Finally, I enjoyed the flow of the text: it was funny. Even to me, as an adult, I found the book chock full of humor–and more often than not, good humor. I especially enjoyed the malaprops that showed up every so often. I also found the humor wasn't quite as acerbic as what I used to read when I was kid. It had a softer touch to it which made it more palatable and enjoyable. The running gag featuring the Canadian national anthem was good times too–and it would be funny if readers could go on youtube and find links to some of the songs Dave and his band invented.
 
I'm sticking with a positive review of this book because I really believe children will enjoy it. It's a quick read, it's funny, but it's not a throwaway book. By that I mean, this is a book that can be re-read with a certain satisfaction–maybe to explore some of the subplots about things like bullying and telling the truth and simply being nice to our friends.
 
I am hopeful this book will get a wide audience because it is good fun and a good, thoughtful story.
 
5/5 Stars