Archive for April, 2015
Author: Randy Frazee
Additional links: Believe the Story
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by Zondervan Publishers in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.]
The problem with this book is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with it. I think. I mean, you can read through it and not be offended, or unsettled, or argumentative. There's nothing in it that's going to make the person write the author and rip him a new one. There's nothing in it that will start a theological dialogue spanning the next year or two or start a publishing war. It's a fairly standard, straightforward, new Christian handbook.
Then again, there is everything wrong with it. This is the kind of book a person reads if they are interested in being comfortable in their faith, self-centered in their faith, and really understanding very little about what it means to 'think, act, and be' like the Jesus of the Bible. It's like he's saying that all Jesus was about was making people who think, act, and do certain things, in certain ways so that they fit into the club.
Yes. That's what I'm going for with this review: there is nothing about this book that actually inspires me to think, act, and be like Jesus. Instead a person comes away thinking, acting, and being like your every day, standard, run of the mill join the club, go to church, and be good kind of Christian. There's nothing exciting about this book. There's nothing revolutionary about this book. There is nothing revelationary about this book. In a word, it's boring.
To get through this book, the reader has to wade through countless tired illustrations and stories that have been regurgitated in other books (like, say, the story of Steve Saint p. 178-179; great story, but I'm sick of hearing it), wrestle with some troubling statements (like, say, 'If we want to have a relationship with God and have eternal life, then, Jesus says, we need to do good works' (his emphasis); even in context this statement makes little sense, p 41), listen as verse after verse of out of context Scripture is 'applied' to a systematic theology of 'life after baptism' (for example, the out of context thought that Jesus talked about money all the time, p 146), and plod through a nearly 300 page book of randomly generated, arbitrary 'practices' and 'beliefs' that are supposed to make us wholly Christian (for example, in his list of worship 'convictions' on page 97-87, there is a conviction about God, a personal God, salvation, The Bible, Identity in Christ, Church, humanity, compassion, stewardship, and eternity but nothing, specifically, about Jesus, Kingdom, hope, grace, the Holy Spirit, etc.)
There were times, yes, when I thought the author handled Scripture fairly well and was able to draw out significant and meaningful applications and thoughts. For example, on pages 100-102, he does a little exegesis of the story of David dancing before the ark of the Lord. He does a great job of contrasting David's actions with those of Michal, Saul's daughter. In this place, I thought he was dead-on and did a good job. Then there were times when I thought he was off target. For example, when he talks about Matthew 25 and the king who separates the sheep from the goats. He could have given us more context and showed us that Jesus wasn't talking about the poor and imprisoned in general but those who are 'the least of these, his brothers and sisters' (See pages 166-167).
I also thought he did a good job in the beginning (pages 18-20) talking about eternity and what it will be like. Here, he and I are in nearly full agreement. His discussion of what eternity is like, what 'heaven' is all about, and what will happen in the consummation of the ages is, in my opinion, probably the best part of the book. '
But there is so much more he could have talked about and written about in the book. He had nearly 300 pages and I feel like I didn't really read anything. For a seasoned Christian, this is a one sitting book because there will be a lot of skimming and skipping.
It should be noted that there is not really, necessarily, anything wrong with the book. He gives us ten things we probably should believe even if I would formulate those things differently, eliminate some of them, add others, and develop their theology from a more contextual format as opposed to his style of plucking Scripture from its context. He gives us ten things we ought to 'do' and who among us will argue that any of those ten things are 'bad' or 'wrong'? Of course we should worship, pray, study the Bible, and more. Sure; I have no argument there. And finally, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with 'being' like Jesus when it comes to love, peace, self-control and more. The church might be a happier place if more of us practiced such things. So, yes, Amen to all of those things. (Except that in the introduction to Part 3: Be Like Jesus, he didn't bother to tell us that the ten things he will write about are actually the fruit of the Spirit. I get about being connected to the Vine, but that's not the context of Galatians 5 where his chapter headings come from.)
I just think these things have been said by others and better. These things are on the shallow end of what is meant to be a deep faith and all of these things need to be spoken of in the greater context of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. The title of the book carries the name of Jesus and I simply didn't find enough Jesus in the book. Maybe he should have taken ten stories about Jesus and simply expounded upon them–that would be compelling reading. Here's the thing, the church simply does not need another program for spiritual development (whatever that means). They are all over the market place and the church is over-saturated with these sort of books. I realize it's too late since the book is already published, but I wonder if there is no end to these sort of books? There is so much more to the Jesus story than mere spiritual disciplines and can the fundamentals of Christian faith really be narrowed down to a mere ten different (arbitrary) beliefs?
At the end of the book, this is the spiritual formation of one man for his church, but I'm not of the opinion that this is the best program of formation of life in Jesus for a larger body of Christ. I get that it is for a new believer (I think it is anyhow) and that depth isn't necessarily the point (although it should be!) Nevertheless, some depth would be nice. I don't understand why the only place to get depth from authors is to go to the academic side of publishing houses. I hate to be that way, but self-centered spiritual disciplines and belief in tiny fragments of things Scripture says in a larger meta-narrative are simply not going to produce the sort of Jesus people that will stand up when life really starts to suck for us who are comfortable here in American churches.
We need our preachers who write books to do more, to say more, to help end the drought. We need our publishing houses to give us more depth–less books, more depth. I hate to say it, but this book is simply not all that helpful.
Grounding Text: Daniel 2:44-45; Hebrews 12:28-29
This is part of a sermon I preached from Daniel 2. I think it is still relevant and still carries some weight. If you would like to read the text of the entire sermon, click the link above.
The Kingdom of God will come upon when we least expect it, when we most fear it, when we are least prepared for it. It does not come upon those who have done all things right, prayed all things well, and said all things. It comes upon those who are ignorant and secure. It comes upon those who are sleeping or naked. It comes like a thief in the night or like a bridegroom arriving home to take his bride away. It comes like a seed that is planted small and grows beyond measure. The Kingdom of God—this unshakable, unquenchable, this undeniable Kingdom of God—will come upon those who are indifferent and looking the other way; we do well to keep an eye on the sky.
Walter Kaiser states, in his most emphatic voice: “The Kingdom of God will come into the midst of this world’s kingdoms with irresistible and unstoppable power. It will alter history forever. Christ will come into this world and destroy all kingdoms. He is calling us to action.” We are progressing not in some evolutionary sense of ‘getting betterism’ or ‘improvingism’. We are progressing rather towards the theological goal, the teleological goal, the eschatological Kingdom of God when all things will be enveloped in His power and ruled by his righteousness, when all tongues will confess His Name, when all knees will bow, when people willingly and unwillingly will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that there is none But Him. And what shall be our response? To what action are we called? But what else can we possibly do?
What did Daniel do when the mystery was made known to him? He broke out in a grand doxology. Not some cheap imitation of a praise song that merely extols the feelings and virtues of the hearts of men, but a doxology that cannot contain the truth that fills it: Here is Our King, He rules, He reigns, He does what He wants and asks for no opinion of the way He does it, He is God who is in control and not under the influence of any, He is God to Whom this world is and is going. Daniel, in other words, broke out in praise of God: Daniel Worshiped the Lord because when such information is given, there is, frankly, nothing else we can do, there is no other response, there is no other action that is appropriate. He broke out in wonder at the work of God. This is no action of man: The Rock was cut out by a hand that was not a human hand.
And when Nebuchadnezzar finally heard the truth of what God was doing, what God was revealing in his dreams, what did Nebuchadnezzar do? “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The King said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’” What else could Nebuchadnezzar do? When you hear and know and believe in the God whose Kingdom is one of power, one that is undeniably unshakable, when you are convinced of the action and work and providence of God, what other response is humanly possible? You fall prostrate before the God who condescends and reveals to man what He is doing and will do: We fail to worship at our own peril.
The book of Hebrews says: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
So we go through all this to make the point that when we come into an awareness of the Work God is doing, the goals of His Providence, and the Majesty of His Kingdom that cannot be shaken, that will last forever, that will not be destroyed, but that lays waste to all other Kingdoms, there is only one response: Worship. Annie Dillard wrote a little book called Teaching a Stone to Talk. In it, she writes about her experiences at worship with a couple of different congregations: a Catholic congregation and Congregational congregation. She compares worship of a Holy God to an expedition to the arctic pole. She writes,
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (58-59)
“In my hand I discover a tambourine. Ahead as far as the bright horizon, I see icebergs among the floes. I see tabular bergs and floe-bergs and dark cracks in the water between them. Low overhead on the underside of the thickening cloud cover are dark colorless stripes reflecting pools of open water in the distance. I am banging on the tambourine, and singing whatever the piano player plays; now it is ‘On Top of Old Smokey.’ I am banging the tambourine and belting the song so loudly that people are edging away. But how can any of us tone it down? For we are nearing the Pole.” (70)
We worship the King without fear because we belong to a Kingdom that will not fail, that will not falter, that will not be unseated or defeated. We belong to Him: Let us worship with the sort of reckless abandon that is required of the subjects of a Kingdom such as this!
Author: Patricia Romanowski Bashe
Publisher: Harmony Books
Date: 2014 (3rd rev ed)
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a favorable review. There you go.]
This book has been around long enough and been through enough iterations that I don't need to spend a great deal of time writing about it's overall contents and objectives. The subtitle says enough: "Advice, inspiration, insight, and hope from early intervention to adulthood." Straight up: this is a book about Autism Spectrum Disorders with a special emphasis on Asperger Syndrome.
The book is thorough and comprehensive and what began as an internet project eventually morphed into this present (3rd edition) volume–a veritable encyclopedia of information, resources, and insight into the world of ASDs and AS. The importance of the volume is expressed early on:
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that 1 in 68 children have ASD. Autism spectrum disorder is more common than childhood cancer, Down syndrome, muscular distrophy, or cerebral palsy. Authorities who focus on AS estimate that perhaps 1 in 250 present with that profile. (15)
These are staggering and important numbers. On the one hand, it means that more and more parents need to be provided with resources and information for early intervention, treatment options, transition services, and long term stability of their children. On the other hand, it means that the public education sector needs to continue preparing educators, therapists, and intervention specialists to service the needs of this growing and demanding population of children. We need to know about evidence based practices, service providers, and available resources for our students who present with an ASD in general or AS in particular.
There is no shortage of 'experts' in the field of ASD and wading through the plethora of information, discerning between this expert and that expert, is no easy task–especially for those parents whose children are being identified earlier and earlier. As an educator, I will say this: wading through the muddled mess that is special education is a mind-job in and of itself. Having a resource at your fingertips that can provide you with a clear path and information on reliable sources is a must when first encountering a director of special education, an intervention specialist, and the handful of therapists who will work with the child.
This book will be a reliable resource for such parents. In the book you will find:
- Information about what AS looks like; although, the saying, 'If you have met one person with an ASD you have met one person with an ASD.' No two people with AS are alike. There is a lot professionals know; there is a lot they do not know.
- Discussion of various interventions including one of the most popular, Applied Behavior Analysis. Parents are cautioned to keep their children first and to ask questions–a lot of questions before undergoing any sort of treatment regimen. I found the section on OT (Occupational Therapy) especially helpful.
- There's an important chapter about medications. As always, it is important to ask a lot of questions of experts before undergoing any sort of treatment involving medication
- A significant chapter covering aspects of the child's life at school. Here, I speak as a professional. The child's life at school can be one of the most complex, draining, demanding, and beautiful experiences if the professionals working with the student are 'all on the same page' and work together. Consistency across the board and respect for the student's disorder is vital.
- Discussions about various laws and how they affect the families of children with an ASD both as young people and as the child grows into adulthood.
There is much, much more too. The book is written in a nice, conversational style and technical jargon is carefully explained making the book accessible to lay-folks–for whom it is written!–but also stimulating for the professional. I don't think this is the sort of book a person will read for pleasure, but I do think this is the sort of book that will need to be kept close. I expect the new parent will want to keep a pen handy for highlighting and underlining and perhaps also some sticky-notes for noting important websites and other resources they want to pursue.
The general education teacher will also find this a helpful volume too since many students with AS are fully integrated into the general population of students at school. This book will be a handy resource when learning about characteristics and qualities that make students with AS so unique and valuable in the classroom. The teacher will also have a helpful resource to share with colleagues and parents who have questions.
Finally, the intervention specialist will want a copy of this book too. There is a helpful index where subjects can be accessed easily and quickly and also scattered throughout the book are various resources–both online and in print–that the teacher may want to add to their library. The section between page 356 and 374 dealing with tantrums, rages, and meltdowns is essential reading for parents and professionals alike. It is this section, among others, that I will be sharing with the paraprofessionals in my own classroom.
I highly recommend this book. Even if the prevalence of ASD levels off, there will still be a large portion of the population in need of care and intervention. There will always be families and educators who need helpful and thoughtful resources in order to meet these needs. This book is as timely as ever and should be in every parent's hands. It is comprehensive and thorough yet highly accessible.
PS-I am not, necessarily, an advocate for any of the particular 'treatment' or 'therapy' options in the book. I think the book is a helpful resource for someone who is searching for direction in a maze of opinion and experts. As a special educator, I try to keep an open mind about therapies when it comes to students with an ASD or AS. Given that every child is different, I extrapolate from this that every child will respond to treatment differently. I am advocate of whatever works. And every parent needs to follow their own heart, their own medical professional's expert advice, and be patient with their child. There is beauty in the uniqueness of every child with AS and it is my hope that every parent will see this beauty and choose what is best for their child and their family. The book is a guide and it should be taken as that.
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Pages: 93 (NOOK version)
[Disclaimer: I was provided and ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review of this book. I was not compensated in any way and I was not required to write a positive review of the book.]
Travels with Gannon & Wyatt: Ireland, is one book in a series of books featuring Gannon and Wyatt, two young men who have the good fortune of being able to travel around the world visiting new places and doing all sorts of adventurous things. The series of books are 'loosely based on real-life travels' of a real-life Gannon and Wyatt.
Their travels have taken them to many different places including Egypt, Botswana, Greenland, and the Rain Forest. The current iteration of these adventures takes place in a more low-key environment: Ireland.
The book is written in the form of a journal with the entries of the journal alternating between the two protagonists–Wyatt and Gannon. This is an interesting format because we end up getting two perspectives on nearly every event and we certainly get to experience different personalities in this way. I did wonder about a couple of features. First, I wondered about the style of journal entries and how so much could be remembered about, for example, conversations between people in the story. That's just my thing. Perhaps we are supposed to suspend disbelief or maybe some people really write journals in that format and have prodigious memories. Second, each journal entry includes a date, time, location, temperature, weather conditions, and specific GPS locations. This is fairly succinct information that, again, might be a style of this sort of journal keeping. Journals are usually written after the fact and with all the adventure going on in the story, I wonder how they had time to keep track of such information.
Maybe that's just how adventure journals of home schooled children are written. It does add a certain realness to the story which, however strange, made the reading a little more fun. It might also be fun for students reading these books in a classroom or otherwise to use the coordinates to look up specific locations using GPS or Google Earth. Again, it adds depth to the story and makes the reading an interactive experience which will help engage reluctant readers.
Another important feature of the book is the photographs that are scattered throughout. I enjoyed seeing pictures of real and historical aspects of Ireland (and much more besides). I especially liked the picture of the library at Trinity College. I think the pictures add significant depth to the story and help keep the reader in touch with the comings and goings of the two young men. They give the story a real feel which will certainly help young readers make a connection. In a word, they are engaging.
A lot of stories that are written for children today are just absurd because they are devoid of anything smacking of culture. Many of these works tend to be fairly narcissistic stories about how to overcome some personal defect or how to become 'truly oneself.' The characters are real and even if they have certain defects, they are what I call strong characters. I didn't find any of the narcissism that plagues a lot of children's stories in this story. I read about the history of Ireland, about famous people from Ireland, and about some of the more significant aspects of Ireland. I was encouraged to read about famous locations in Ireland and about some of the significant traditions that our Irish friends have given us. I was hopeful when names like Monet and Cezanne and Van Gogh made passing appearances. Space is made for Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. I was also happy to learn about "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" and conduct a little of my own research on this magnificent piece of art. And finally, the interspersing of Irish lingo throughout the book was fun (thankfully the authors provided a glossary of these terms for the lingu-ignorant among us.)
So as far as it goes, there is a lot to commend with this book, but if I am to be truthful in my review, I will quickly add that I didn't find the overall story very compelling. It seemed a little heavy on the 'preachy' side of things. The authors note at the end that '[F]armers must deal with issues of volume and efficiency. Not to mention make a profit. All legitimate concerns. So, what's the solution? We don't know. What we do know is that there are humane and healthy ways to go about it." I can appreciate this and if the book happens to provide a somewhat outrageous and convenient solution to these problems, I can at least confess that the story does raise a significant and legitimate concerns that humans from all countries need to address. Animals should be treated ethically and our environment should not be destroyed at the expense of farmers making a profit. Contrasting the corporate mega-farm with that of the smaller, local farm was a nice touch and maybe therein is part of the solution: local farms working with renewable and sustainable resources to provide for local families and communities. Maybe such wisdom can be shared and perpetuated around the world. Perhaps some readers would be interested in reading the work of Wendell Berry who provides a great deal of commentary on such matters.
In the meantime, having the conversation is important and perhaps young readers will sense the urgency of these issues and begin to think of solutions that us adults have yet to consider. At least the authors are candid enough to admit their own ignorance; I stand with them in ignorance. But there are thoughtful young people in the world who will help us overcome our ignorance. Perhaps books like this will serve as catalysts for growth and change as our individual and collective conscience is raised in awareness.
All in all this was a fun book to read. It was also a quick read and shouldn't pose any problems for its intended audience. This would be a good companion story to read along with a unit on Ireland and I can envision all sorts of side projects to go along with it in social studies–geography, history, conservation, environmental issues, language, local polity, and more. It would be exciting to watch a group of students take the main issue in the book and debate it and/or present solutions to solving it. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the story because even if there are a lot of strange, outrageous things that happen in the story, it is still worth the effort if it helps students do things like write their own daily journals, explore the world around them, or begin thinking about how we might solve some of the more problematic issues our world continues to encounter in the face of unrestricted greed.
“[If] in our faith we do not feel and own a power infinitely greater than any of the historic or cosmic forces of the time, our religion has but a limited future, and every effort we make to organize it into line with the powers which we secretly and practically call most effective, is bound to end in deep disappointment. We need organization, but it is very far from being the thing we most need, or need most immediately. From the New Testament point of view the seat of chief power and authority in the universe is the cross of resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Forsyth, The Power of the Resurrection)
Author: Mette Bach
Publisher: James Lorimer & Company Ltd. Publishers
[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was neither compensated nor compelled to write a positive review of the book.]
I had my suspicions when the email arrived in my inbox announcing I was pre-approved for this ( and a couple other) books from Lorimer that this book would be a challenging read for me. It was. I will tell you at the outset, before you read too far, that I did not like this book, that it was not a well written book, and that I cannot recommend this book to any readers–let alone the ages 13+, reading level 3.0 that it is designed for. I have a suspicion that Bach sat down one afternoon and started writing in her journal and the next day sent it off to Lorimer for publishing. I simply cannot envision a scenario where this book took more than 3 or 4 hours to write. It is predictable and stereotypical in every conceivable way.
The problems begin very early in the book when the protagonist begins identifying other characters who will play some role or other in the story. Predictably, Rachel Mackenzie is the 'prettiest girl in the school' and Brooke-Lynn Bradley is another pretty, spoiled, rich girl who will cause Sofie problems in the story. And of course there is Paul, the boyfriend whose only interest seems to be in finding new places (as in, the car) to kiss, or otherwise, his girlfriend Sofie and playing video games.
The book reads like a manual for how to stereotype characters–from the pretty blonde bullies, to the rugged butch lesbian Clea (13), to the popular dumb boyfriend Paul, to the confused and 'femme' Sofie–not one character is original or appealing.
The book is filled with terrible language–especially if it's for kids to read (I understand kids talk 'this way', but there's no reason to perpetuate it). There is a drinking involved in the book (8 and elsewhere). There are hints at sexual intercourse in the book (20, 46). There's yet another 'terrible father' in a book (10). The language is appalling (20, 28, 48, 54, 56, and elsewhere). And besides all this, there is the under-current of problems with the 'church' and the church's view of homosexuality (59) and predictably a 'counter-church' church where the all-inclusive minister is 'married' to his homosexual partner for '25-years' (64; which means they got married in 1990 when this was scarcely an issue).
I'm no prude and am certainly opposed to censorship, but the bottom line is that this book simply had no thought put into it. It manages to cull every stereotype conceivable about homsexuality, the church, bullies, school, friends, and put them all into the hopper that produced this book. The book is filled with meaningless drivel that is supposed to be dialogue–yet this dialogue does nothing to advance the story or help develop a plot. In fact, I'm not really sure there was a plot other than the constant tension of whether or not Sofie and Clea would kiss each other which they do after a back rub, a road trip together, a visit to a gay party, an episode of spooning, and some petty Facebook jealousy.
I'm amazed, frankly, that a girl who starts out the book infatuated with a boy–the best looking boy in the school no less–is able to decide in a few pages that she is, in fact, gay. She does wrestle a bit with this tension in the book, but it seems so strange to me that this all resulted from her being paired with Clea in a Literature class. So it made me wonder: If Sofie had never been paired with Clea in class would she have decided she was a lesbian after all or would she have stayed 'straight'?
In my opinion, the best and most realistic part of the book was the interaction Sofie had with her mother in chapter 15. In this chapter, they visit a church that is gay-friendly (whatever that means). The minister comes in 'wearing rainbow colors' (more stereotyping) and mom is 'puzzled' (63). On subsequent pages, we see the mother crying (we are told several times on the following pages that the mother is crying) after Sofie confirms she is gay. I think this is probably the most honest part of the book because it speaks to that aspect of 'coming out' that we do not hear about. We frequently hear about the supportive families or those who utterly reject their children, but we don't often learn about the families for whom this 'coming out' becomes a sincere moment of emotional upheaval.
I cannot imagine it is easy for a mother or a father to learn about such things, but we are never given this sort of middle ground response. Typically people are either throwing parties for their new gay child or they are casting them into hell. I think both responses are reactionary and thoughtless. I think the response given in this book by the author is honest: I imagine it to be a heartbreaking experience for most people. This was the best part of the book because I think it was the most honest and if I applaud the author at all, it is here.
The bullies are predictable (calling her a 'dyke'; although I sensed that the main bully, Brooke-Lynn, was more offended that Sophie had Paul than she was that Sophie was a lesbian): there's a Facebook page set up by the bullies, there's the name calling, and there's the bullies getting caught and all being made well in the world. The book ends rather predictably with all the conflicts resolved and Clea and Sofie as girlfriends happily in love.
There's nothing about this book that is interesting. There is nothing about it that is unique. There is nothing about it that is driven by a sense of creativity. It is rife with stereotype and predictability. It's not a good story (there really is no plot). It's not well written (too much reliance upon base language). I understand the book is written for young people (13+ according to the cover), but I think authors ought to hold their readers to a higher standard and I think publishers ought to hold their authors to a higher standard as well. The book is billed as a girl whose 'new friendship with the only out lesbian at school' leading her to question her own 'sexuality and future.' It really wasn't so much a matter of questioning such things in the book. It was about the inevitability of her deciding she was a lesbian.
This is not one of Lorimer's better publications and not because it deals with some serious questions regarding homosexuality, but because it is just a terrible story and poorly written.
Title: The Man Christ Jesus
Author: Bruce A. Ware
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book via Crossway's Beyond the Page book review program. I am not required to write a positive review and I am not compensated in any way for my review. This is my way of living life to the fullest.]
I've never understood why publishers feel the compulsion to put several pages worth of praise for the book being held at the front of the book being held. I can understand praise for one book in another book, but not in the same book. Furthermore, I wonder why in the case of The Man Christ Jesus there is still a lengthy quote from Mark Driscoll. Seems kind of amusing to me. Maybe I have an old printing of it.
The Man Christ Jesus is a book designed to talk about the one thing, I assume, we rarely spend much time talking about as Christians: Jesus the man ('My sense, though, is that evangelicals understand better Christ's deity than they do his humanity, and so my focus here will be on the latter', 12). Yet, at the same time, that seems just a bit strange to me because the only things we really know about Jesus are the things he did as a man. I'm sure we have some speculation as to what he was and did before the incarnation, that's not my point. It just seems to me that we are necessarily talking about a man when we talk about Jesus. But that's not what this book is about.
Ware is hoping to split the hair between what Jesus knew as a human and as God and help you and me, 'ordinary Christians' (as if there's any other type; from D.A. Carson's praise of the book in the first few pages) understand how this affected what he did. This book reads like a psychological profile at times as Ware tries to help us understand things that it appears even Jesus did not fully understand at times. Ware works really hard to back up his thoughts with Scripture, but in the end his carefully constructed 'anthropology' of Jesus is little more than his speculation and prooftexting. In other words, Ware doesn't really add anything unique or compelling to the story of Jesus. His insights and exegesis of certain bible texts follow along the theological construct he subscribes to (Reformed) and the version of atonement he finds most compelling (penal substitution).
To be sure, I don't think Jesus happened to be walking about this earth constructing Reformed Theology and neither, for that matter, was the apostle who spent a great deal of time talking and writing about Jesus. I understand the book is published by a Reformed publishing house, but I dare say that it would have been a more interesting read if Ware had toned down his allegiance to the Reformation and simply talked about Jesus–what Jesus did, who he was, and what he accomplished. And when he did, the book was compelling and Ware was at his very best. (I'm thinking here of the chapter when he talked about Jesus in Gethsemane, resisting temptation.) Other than that, I'm not really certain what the book is hoping to accomplish–except perhaps to answer questions that began plaguing Ware when he was but ten years old and returned in his 'seminary years'–questions his theology already had answers to.
Ware states his goal thus: "I long for Jesus to be honored through the reflections upon his humanity in this book" (12). This is a worthy and noble goal and I'm sure at some level Jesus was honored. Sadly, I think that is all that is accomplished because the book did little for me as a human. There is a lot of speculation in the book, the writing style is boring (with his 'Oh for this' and 'Marvel at that' kind of language), and Ware is unable to refrain from his typical condescension to his readers. This is how he writes and it gets old; quickly. A couple of thoughts then.
First, Ware, at times, asks silly questions like, "If he lived his life out of his intrinsic divine nature as God, yet we have no such divine nature and clearly are not God, is it legitimate for biblical writers to encourage–indeed, command–us to live as he did?" (27) To me, this is a silly question no matter how well intended because it smacks of a condescending attitude towards us 'ordinary Christians.' It is questions like this that remind me of those written to in Hebrews who needed to be weened off the milk and onto solid food. Frankly, this is an unhelpful question because it borders on the absurd.
Another significant problem I see in this book is Ware's understanding of suffering. He writes that 'suffering, affliction, trials, testing–these are gifts granted to us by God for our growth, the necessary paving stones along the pathway that leads to our fullness of character and joy" (59). Suffering, affliction, trials, and testing are gifts? Seriously? It almost sounds as if there's no room in this world for sin–the cause of suffering, afflictions, trials, and testing. I mean seriously, what about all those people who suffer apart from Jesus? What's the goal of their suffering, to push them further away from Jesus? I fully grant that we can and should 'rejoice in our sufferings' and that God uses suffering as a means of discipline, correction, and rebuke. But to call these things gifts–as if we are to look forward to a package on Thursday afternoons, wrapped in a bow, with a card saying 'To Jerry, From God; best wishes" is absurd. It seems to me that suffering and affliction are among the very things that Jesus came to this earth to remove. Just because these things exist, and just because God uses them, does not mean that they are 'from God' or that God 'ordained them.'
Of all the areas of Reformation theology that I take issue with, it is this area with which I take the most issue. I simply cannot understand how anyone can think that suffering, affliction and all the rest–regardless of how well these taskmasters train us–are desirable.
Third, 'ordinary Christians' who read this book will occasionally find themselves completely and utterly ordinary when Ware brings out the big guns: "Obviously affirming the dyothelitism of the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 680 writes, 'An impeccable will is one that is so might in its self-determination to good that it cannot be conquered by any temptation to evil, however great" (64). I was thinking the same thing; obviously.
There were a few other issues I had with the book. For example, Ware expends a great deal of energy discussing whether or not Jesus could have been a female (Chapter 6). To my mind, this was a pointless chapter. Consider this, the Bible says that Jesus was born a male. If Jesus was, in fact, born a male then this question is both illogical and beside the point: "Is it necessary that the Savior be born, live, and die as a man, or could our Savior have been a woman?" (80). If Jesus was born a male then it is impossible that he could have been born a female; therefore, even to speculate about such a question is meaningless–unless, obviously, one wishes to build a theological construct or bore us with time worn arguments about what a marriage should look like–as if only one way is correct (which is not to say that all ways are righteous). Which is what Ware does. I don't think he asked this question because he wanted to think about Jesus as much as he wanted to rant about things like 'mutual submission in marriage' (88). He also wrote, "….to affirm the theological necessity of Christ's male identity entails an undergirding of male headship' (92). I'm just not sure it is logical to make the leap from Jesus necessarily being a man and a carte blanche evisceration of egalitarianism, but this is what Ware does. Fact is, we do not need 'eight reasons' why Jesus 'must be a male.' The fact is, he was a male. What else needs to be said?
The one chapter I did appreciate was the chapter in which Ware talks about the temptations that Jesus underwent as a human. Again, there's a lot of pointless speculation in this chapter because, for example, if the Bible says Jesus was without sin, it seems to me it is rather fruitless to speculate about how he managed to accomplish such a feat (was he impeccable as God or a human–really it became very difficult at times to follow Ware's reasoning). At another level, though, I found some of Ware's points rather well thought out and expressed. His emphasis on Jesus' reliance upon the indwelling word of God and his empowerment by the indwelling Holy Spirit was excellent. It truly helped me think through the way we deal with sin and temptation and the fact that Jesus' temptations–especially early in his life (after his baptism) and near the end (in Gethsemane)–are recorded for us in Scripture gives me courage in the face of my own temptations. In fact, I find these stories about Jesus to be some of the most compelling, convincing stories about who he was and what he did. I think Ware did a great job in chapter 5 ('Resisting Temptation') even if the chapter was often muddled by meaningless questions and fruitless speculation.
I wanted to enjoy this book, but in the end it wasn't what I had hoped for. There is simply too much in the book that is not conducive to helping people grow in faith in Jesus–precisely because it is rife with commitment to a theological idea and riddled with meaningless questions and speculation. I have read other of Ware's works where he did a much better job thinking through the topic (even though I still disagreed with him). This book struggles to find a genre: is it a theological treatise or a devotional or a textbook or a psychological profile or something else entirely? At least I can say that Ware did struggle (in the good sense of the word struggle) with the Bible a lot in this book. I think there are times when he was taking things out of context or laying his theological construct over top of Scripture, but at least when someone reads this book they will read something about the Bible and something about Jesus.
The application section was nice at the end of each chapter. The discussion questions were, well, discussion questions and I have no particular opinion of them one way or another. It was unhelpful there was no bibliography where we might dig a little deeper into some of the authors' works that stimulated his own thought–you know, fellas like Constantinople III from 680.
3/5 stars (on the weight of chapter 5)