Archive for July, 2015

Compels

God's Love Compels Us is a collection of sermons based on the text of 2 Corinthians 4-5 (4 sermons), Psalm 22 (1 sermon), and two other topical sermons written by well educated men who are preachers or scholars or missionaries. The first three sermons are by D.A. Carson (who also edited the book), David Platt, and John Piper. The rest of the sermons were written by gentlemen I've never heard of before, but hearing their stories and ideas was refreshing and was welcome. I especially enjoyed the contributions written by Michael Oh and Mack Stiles. 

The first four sermons (each sermon makes up a chapter for a total of 7 chapters) are wholly exegetical sermons and follow the text being expounded closely. Two of the last three sermons are topical. Michael Oh's contribution is an exposition of Psalm 22. I would expect nothing else from a Don Carson book. The book is dense and packed with deep theological thoughts and ideas which flow from a deeply held Reformed theology. There is not a lot of nuance to the sermons. They are fairly straightforward propositional and exegetical sermons.

The work focuses primarily on the issue of missions work and why we do it and perhaps to a lesser extent how we do it. There's a lot of emphasis on where we do missions work also.

I have but a couple of thoughts.

There are a lot of stories about missionaries from days gone by who did the hard work of taking the Gospel to strange and exotic locations–like CT Studd who went to China or Hudson Taylor who did the same. And even though I've heard these stories hundreds of times in books and sermons it is still good to hear them afresh, maybe from a different angle. There are a lot of statistics about how many people live in the world and how many are unsaved ("If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it is the height of arrogance to sit quietly by while 597 million Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs in North India go to hell.", 26*, sermon by David Platt. I'm not sure who among us is sitting around arrogantly while this happens, but I suppose a little rhetorical hyperbole is the way preachers work.) You will also find in this book a lot of the standard Reformed doctrines of salvation. This is not a bad thing in and of itself (even if I don't happen to buy all of the propositions), but it seems to me there is so much more worth exploring that perhaps the preachers should have given some thought to varying the messages. In other words, there is a tremendous amount of repetition in the book. And as good as salvation is, I am inclined to think that the apostle Paul, who wrote the letter a number of these sermons are based upon, had a little more in mind when he was writing than mere formulations of theological salvation propositions.

For example, what about the kingdom of God? I was able to find all of four references to the Kingdom of God in the entire book. This was disappointing if it is true that we 'represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God' (Stiles, chapter 4). I wish this idea had been explored a little more within the context of God's love compelling us to missionary work.

We also hear a lot about the exotic locations around the world where there is a serious deficiency of Gospel proclamation and belief. Yes. It is true there are a lot of Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus without the Gospel in the Middle East, India, and Asia. What we don't hear a lot about in this book is the deficits here in America. If we are looking for depth of faith as opposed to width of belief then maybe those who are Christians in the Middle East or India or Asia or Africa ought to be sending missionaries to the United States instead of the other way around. It's just a thought, but it seems to me that, to a certain extent, this book is too well educated to stir up the common American Christian to do much. Indeed, it is based on a pre-conference conference on world mission 'designed especially, though not exclusively, for students' in 'April 2013' (from the preface).

Is this a book that will stir up the church in general? Is the audience preachers who will read it? Students who will study it for a cross-cultural evangelism class in undergraduate school? This is a book that needs to be in the hands of the church in general so I wonder if the authors are, to a sad extent, preaching to the choir?

Carson writes in the preface that world mission is no longer "'from the West to the rest,' but more like 'from everywhere to everywhere..'" And this is my point. Still, the book doesn't lay much emphasis on this 'everywhereness' to include the USA. I well understand the book's intention, but this seems to me a deficiency. If it is true that, as Carson writes, there are 'thousands of unreached people groups' and 'larger populations where knowledge of Scripture is desperately thin' and places where 'nominalism or syncretism reigns supreme' and 'the gospel is poorly understood and widely disbelieved' then it seems to me someone ought to have addressed this concern directly here in the USA where all of this is true too. This is my opinion. I didn't edit or write the book. I just think that what he is describing is, in fact, America. Look around! The famine is here in America too.

Another important aspect of the book is something that Stiles said in chapter four, something I have not heard any other preacher say in the days since our world in America changed: "We were convinced that the response of the church to the events of 9/11 must not be military, but missionary. So we moved when the home sold" (p 53).  This is absolutely overwhelming! And what Stiles did was move to the Middle East. I don't think I have read a single line like this in all the books I have read since 9/11/01, by any author, from any denomination. I don't think I've heard a single preacher say this. Why? This quote alone should be preached and is worth the price of the book.

I wish this had been said more by preachers. I'm convinced that it is the only way anything is going to happen even now so many years removed from that event. I think what's happening, though, is that the church is ceding more and more of this prerogative to our government. It's not just in matters of international diplomacy either. It's all around us as churches lose ground in our cities and states and small towns and governments, big and little, local, state, and federal gain ground. It's sad, really, that this Kingdom to which we belong and which we are gives so much ground. The gates of hell shall not prevail, said Jesus. Hmm.

A book on missions is, thus, important and necessary for here in America too.

Finally, a disappointment. There is not a single contribution by a woman in the book. Yes, it is edited by Kathleen Nielson and she gets some props in the preface written by Carson. But she doesn't even get a line on a dedication page. I'm terribly disappointed that we get to hear from zero of the outstanding female voices in the evangelical church–voices that would certainly add depth and perspective to the idea of world missions. I wish the editors and publisher would have given this more thought and tried to include at least one female voice.

When it's all said and done, I think this is a helpful book. I'm not enamored with the all of the writing (mostly because I've read enough of Carson's work that he is predictable at this point and I'm not really a fan of Piper). Hearing from some fresh voices was a good thing for this book (Oh, Stiles, and Um were especially welcome voices) and I hope to hear some more from these preachers in the future.

The book has a helpful page at the end where we learn more of the biographical information about the authors–their education, family life, and educational background. There is a very helpful index and another Scripture index that I found especially useful. On my ePub version everything is hyperlinked which I love! I was also able to highlight and add notes which again I love. Notes are at the end of each chapter which is better than at the end of the book.

I will leave this review with a quote from the book that I found to be especially fruitful and which, in my opinion, needs to be offered more and more by preachers in America. To this end, it is my hope that preachers who read this book will be challenged to preach the Gospel–in season and out of season, to their congregations–in order that this Kingdom to which we belong, that this God who loves us so, will be plainly evident to the world and so that once again the church will start pushing back the gates of hell:

Consider Luke 14:13-14…Note that, in context, Jesus is primarily concerned not with giving guidelines for how to throw a party, but with challenging the give-to-get economy under which the Pharisees are operating. They throw parties and invite honorable guests in order to be invited to parties thrown by honorable guests. Jesus is suggesting that they radically flip this on its head. He is making the point that, if you know the unrepayable, nonmercenary nature of God's grace, it is borne out in your actions: you engage in one-way giving, being radically generous with your time, money, and relational capital. In other words, those who have received a gift that they can never repay are those who have the resources to give away gifts that can never be repaid. (101)

Yep. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase God's Love Compels Us Amazon (Kindle, $9.59)  CBD ($11.49)  Crossway ($14.99)
  • Author: D.A. Carson & Kathleen Nielson
  • Publisher: Crossway
  • Pages: 126
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, students
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of Crossway via the Beyond the Book Blogger program
  • *My page numbers are based on the ePub version I downloaded for my NOOK reader. Page numbers may or may not correspond to print versions or Kindle locations.

Beyond-the-page

 

MessyMany, may years ago when I was still young, I felt I was being led to be the preacher of a certain church. I began going through all the motions–sending a resume, sample sermon, meeting families and members of the church, preaching trial sermon(s), and finally submitting to a vote of the congregation. During the course of this process I met with a particular gentleman who also happened to be an elder in the church. He was an older man, from a different generation, and was necessarily conservative in his theology. I distinctly recall our meeting one day before I was hired. We were sitting in a quiet room off of the main sanctuary talking with the door closed. I distinctly remember his question to me: What do you think about 'the gays'? Not, "What do you think about Jesus?" But, "What do you think about 'the gays'?"

This is all prefatory to my review of this book called Messy Grace. I received this in the mail on July 21 and on July 22 made it my ambition to read it. I did. It took me about 3 hours (because I underline and make a lot of notes.) I will just say, straight up, I love this book. That's right. I love it. Now don't mistake my loving of the book for agreement with all things written in the book, but I think it is safe to say that by and large there is nothing in this book that I find theologically repugnant. 

For this review, I'm staying wholly positive. Except for a couple of minor quibbles (his use of the word 'gender' as a synonym for 'sex', and a couple of generalizations, for example), I have no complaints at all about this book. This is an important book that needs to be read because it strikes a beautiful balance between grace and truth and helps us apply both wisely in our relationships and witness to people who are different from us. So while I understand that he is writing to Christians about the manner in which we relate to homosexuals, as you will see in my conclusion, it's really about how we relate to anyone who is different from us.

So, a few points to highlight.

This past Sunday our preacher made a statement that was utterly profound in its simplicity. He said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We cannot build relationships with people unless we start them." I couldn't agree with him more. The author of Messy Grace makes similar statements throughout the book. One that I found helpful begins on page 31: "It's imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with. And we need to overcome our own inner resistance to getting involved in a relationship with them. A real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us" (31-32, his emphasis.) Isn't this how all of us want to be treated? Do any of us want to be outcasts from the church until we get all of our life together?

The church would be empty.

Kaltenbach consistently calls us to evaluate this question of how we treat other people.  He is absolutely on mark when he calls the church to think differently about the way we treat those who are different from us–those who happen to be on a journey that moves at a different speed than the one we are on. I think it is fair for Christians to ask why someone would say, "Christians don't like anyone who's not like them" (39). Could it be that in some ways those who are different from us are in fact more understanding and loving and compassionate than those of us who are called to be defined by those very things: loving, kind, compassionate, and understanding? Shouldn't this change? Shouldn't the church be a place where people can be vulnerable and weak and loved?

"Part of the pursuit is being honest with people, but doing so in a loving way." (45) This theme is developed over and over again in the book. He's asking us to evaluate who we are because of Jesus. Has Jesus changed us? Has he made us new or not? If we are still stuck in days gone by ways of thinking and judging then might we not ask if we have really met Jesus at all?

Second, I want to add that by and large the author handles Scripture very well and does not shy away from the so-called hard passages that talk about homosexuality. He affirms over and over again the testimony of Jesus, Paul, and others. So for example, he notes that "nowhere in the New Testament, however, does God define acceptable sexuality as being other than between one man and one woman. In fact, the New Testament specifically reaffirms the Old Testament's position that same-gender sexual activity is not acceptable" (86). He says later, "Another way to say this is that Jesus had to chance to define an intimate relationship as being other than male-female, but he did not" (90).

This book, so far as I can tell, is wholly orthodox which is a way of saying that he is not blurring lines in Scripture in order to spare people the truth. In contrast to other books on this subject, he is not performing exegetical somersaults to make his point one way or another. He is reading Scripture and talking about its plain meaning. He lays it out for us and allows us to think on matters. He candidly admits we might disagree with him and that he is still searching some things. He is telling us what the Bible says. But he is saying we need to be gracious…much in the same way 'God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' We do well, as Christians, to bear this in mind continually in our dealings with people.

Finally, there is one more thing that stood out to me as important and something that I think served to minister to the author and in some ways served as the catalyst for the writing of the book. He tells in the book the story of his own conversion experience and he tells how his family reacted to his conversion to Jesus. I wrote in the margin on page 118 that Caleb is saying we should respond to homosexuals about their sexuality exactly not how his parents responded to him about his faith. Then a couple of pages later I read that 'the irony of this situation was that my parents thought I would disown them, when in actuality I felt as if they were disowning me" (123). The point is that he did not like at all the way he felt when he was rejected for his faith in Jesus. I'm glad he remembered that feeling. I'm even gladder he shared it with us.

Something tells me that this feeling stayed with him as he grew older and was trying to work through all the things he writes of in the book–in particular, how is he going to treat others because of his faith in Jesus? There is a significant lesson here for all of us who claim Jesus. In America we experience very little rejection because of our faith, but maybe that's not the best thing at all. We grow in our experience. Caleb's experience of rejection taught him how it feels to be rejected and thus how someone else might feel if they are rejected. I see God's brilliance here and I see a brilliant man who understood well the lesson that Jesus was teaching him. Would that more of us learned this lesson. It might make us more compassionate believers and more easily accessible to those who face it daily.

I love that he is open and honest about the relationships he has formed in life with those God has brought to him. I love that this guy didn't write a book crying and moaning and complaining about his 'terrible life' being raised by divorced, gay parents. I love that this guy wrote a book that at its core is telling us to get over ourselves and get to loving people–like Jesus did.

I love that he is open and honest. I love that he weeps and laughs and gets angry and is confused and is (still) searching–I love that when this guy lost someone close to him, he had a group of people to weep with him. I mean this when I say that this book touched me precisely because it is honest and unflinching and yet vulnerable and emotive. He helps us understand that no matter what we believe, there are no easy answers and that there will be pain along the way. But he also lets us see that we belong to a God of hope and mercy and grace and truth and love and Jesus.

Let me tell you how much I love this book!

Here's the truth that I have figured out after a long time in and out of ministry: this book isn't just about Christians and LGBT people even if that is the overwhelming paradigm being established in it. It's about Christians and all people. It's about the way Christians treat one another: abysmally. It's about the way we treat old people: horribly. It's about the way we treat young people: dismally. It's about the way we treat poor people: dishonorably. It's about the way we treat liberals: ugly. It's about the way we treat conservatives: angrily. It's about the way we treat foreigners: condescendingly. Frankly, it's about the way we treat one another–all the time, in every way, in every circumstance. We are not nice people when it comes too most people who are different from us. I could tell you how I have been treated by the church when I was a preacher. It's not pretty.

I teach special education. I have since I was removed from ministry against my will about 6 years ago. You know what I have learned since I started working with students who have autism, Down Syndrome, emotional and behavioral disabilities, ADHD, and more? They all, all to a very large extent although not literally all, come from extremely dysfunctional, broken, and wrecked families. Yep. Almost without fail there is divorce, separation, jail, death, poverty, substance abuse, abuse (in one form or another) and more. And these are the people that God has called me to minister to–not just the students, but the parents. And you know what I have to do? I have to be nice. To all of them. All the time. Every day. I can't tell the parents what I really think. I can't make them all rich or fix all of their marriages. But I say this honestly: I have learned–as an educator in public schools–how not to be judgmental. That's right: how to love people, all people, any people is my daily objective. Anyone who walks through my classroom door. Anyone with whom I come in contact with: I am an agent of God's grace in an often ugly environment.

But it's not just about being nice while something else is swirling in my head. It's about changing and actually becoming a different person (CS Lewis describes this change brilliantly in Mere Christianity, chapter 10, "Nice people or new men?") It's about being a nice person and not just about being nice to people. Anyone can be nice, but not all of us are truly, genuinely lovers of people. God takes these barriers of soft bigotry and hard prejudice and breaks them down–like he did the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. I truly believe this book, Messy Grace, will go a long way towards helping people not just be nice (which is a nice way of saying 'being hypocrites') but also to transform them  into the sort of people who actually, truly, genuinely love people for Jesus' sake, love people for their own sake. This is what he has called us to do. To love people, other humans–our brothers and sisters in flesh. To minister to them. To bring the healing of Jesus into their lives when they are ready for it. And to let God do his work on them when he is ready to do his work.

"Christians need to stop trying to convert people's sexuality. It isn't our job to change someone's sexual orientation. You and I are not called by God to make gay people straight. It is our job to lead anyone and everyone to Christ. I believe God is big enough to deal with a person's sexuality" (185).

Well said. Very well said.

It will never be easy for Christians in this culture of 'I want to see results now.' But we can if we are patient, if we pray, and if we pay attention to the often subtle movements of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. My prayer is that our Father will use this book to change the hearts and minds and attitudes of the church of Christ into such as we see in Jesus who welcomed all who came and never drove any away, who called all to repentance, who loved all right where they were but wasn't content to leave them there, who didn't condemn but commanded us to change.

And this is the message to the church. First. First Jesus speaks to the church. And we must listen.

You will do well to pre-order this book and read it prayerfully in one sitting. You will be rewarded for doing so.

5/5 stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Messy Grace Amazon (Paperback, pre-order for $11.24; October 20, 2015)  CBD (Paper back, $10.99; pre-order 10/20/2015); WaterBrook Multnomah (Trade paperback, $14.99; pre-order).
  • Author: Caleb Kaltenbach on Twitter | Messy Grace
  • Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
  • Pages: 212 (ARC, page count may be different in final publication)
  • Year: October 20, 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, elders, deacons, young people, old people
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance reading copy courtesy of WaterBrook Press via the Blogging for Books Blogger program
  • Page numbers in this review are based on the ARC. Numbering may be different in final publication.

Logo

 

StanleyThis is the sixth book in the Stanley series written by children's author Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin. It was my first introduction to the Stanley series and the experience was a good one.

One of the best things about being an elementary school teacher is that I am exposed to children's books all day, every day. In graduate school, I had to take two or three classes just on children's literature alone in order to be fully qualified to teach. I love picture books and I find that, as I've noted elsewhere, it's kind of difficult to write a bad children's book. I mean, you really have to work hard to mess it up. Bailey and Slavin did not mess this book up at all. It was well written and a fancy story about some dogs and a dog name Stanley.

Part of the problem I had with reading this book is that it is the latest in the series of Stanley books. I had no context for how to interpret these characters. Early on I had to get to know the characters in the book (viz., Stanley's friends) and get a feel for who they are and what they are about. Some of that is revealed in their names. They have funny names like Nutsy and Gassy Jack, not terribly original, but fun. I imagine the boys in my classroom would have a proverbial field day with those sorts of names. Of course it's difficult to come up with such a creative name for his female friend, Alice, so Alice is just Alice. And Stanley is just Stanley. Back to my problem: now I have to go to the library and collect the other five because I want to know more about Stanley.

This is probably a good thing.

Humans play a minimal role in the book and the animals move all the action forward in a quick pace–there's a lot to do in 32 short pages. The first human words we hear are 'Bad dogs' from an unhappy custodian wielding a menacing broom. A chase ensues and more and more messes are made as the dogs run from place to place and eventually end up sitting in the principal's office where we hear from another human, "There now, my sweeties." The only voices we hear are those of the dogs and of two adults. There are no children's voices heard in the book at all, although we do see them in action at times. This may or may not be a bad thing; I don't know. Sometimes when reading children's books it is important to hear children's voices. In this case, maybe this is part of the author's purpose in writing. The kids are only shown in school, or going to school, or running around inside the school. The children are always smiling and happy in the story (with one exception). It is interesting that the dogs desired so greatly to be in this place called school where they encounter happy children doing fun things like recess, playing ball, and laughing with the dogs.

Teaching children lessons by anthropomorphizing animals is a time honored tradition. As an elementary school teacher, I see this a lot and, furthermore, I see a lot of dog books. This is another fine 'dog book' to add to my collection and to share with my students who often come into the classroom rather unhappy about being in school and all that being in school entails. Perhaps in reading this book to them, they will see that school isn't such a drag and that even dogs are anxious to get in and get around the building. I like that the dogs are enthusiastic about their plans for the day. Hopefully this will transfer to the students who read this book too. I also like that the principal in the book is kind to the dogs even after the dogs make a wreck her school building. There's probably an important lesson in this for adults.

The artwork is fluid and well done. When I saw fluid I mean to say that the edges are soft and rounded and have a comforting feel. Buildings are somewhat distorted. The dogs have different shapes even if they all seem to have the same feet. And we are always looking at the story from an outsiders point of view. We see the action and the dogs, but we are not the dogs. An opening scene features the dogs looking up at the door to the school. The distortion makes the building appear even bigger than it might be. I imagine this is how a young student might feel when seeing the building for the first time. The artwork gives us the opportunity to have a laugh at the chaos and mayhem and messes created by the dogs. The artwork definitely enhances the story and moves it forward.

I enjoyed this book immensely and I will most certainly be going to my local library to obtain more of the Stanley series. I will also be sharing these stories with my students.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Stanley at School Amazon (Hardcover, $17.95) or Kids Can Press (Hardcover, $17.95) (Available August 1, 2015)
  • Author: Linda Bailey
  • Author at Kids Can Press: Linda Bailey
  • Illustrator: Bill Slavin
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Resources from Kids Can Press: Stanley at School
  • More Stanley books from KCP: Stanley
  • Pages: 32 (picture book)
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:Children (primarily), anyone who can read would enjoy it
  • Reading Level: K-2
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of  Kids Can Press via NetGalley.

CircleI came across this book quite by accident. I don't even remember what other resource I was reading when I saw a reference or a quote to Fewell's book. I do remember being immediately drawn to the book because I had my suspicions that it was not mere commentary on the book but true exegesis. I was not disappointed. This book is a whirlwind of wonderful understanding and exegesis and application of the Book of Daniel.

If a book's worth can be judged based on the amount of underlines and margin notes a reader makes, then this book is worth a lot. I scratched and scribbled and underlined and underscored something on nearly every page of the book. The most important thing for me about this book is simple: I found the author was in agreement with a lot of the things that I was already seeing during the course of my own study of Daniel. For example, many people read the book of Daniel and see nothing but monsters and maniacal masters and mayhem–i.e., apocalypse. And that is then the hermeneutical lens through which the book is interpreted. 

I don't deny there are elements of apocalypse in the book, but I take issue with anyone who says that is the only way to read the book. Fewell notes this too: "Despite the appeal of the apocalyptic to subsequent generations and the propensity of scholars in recent days to classify the entire book as an apocalypse, the book of Daniel introduces itself as a narrative. An extended story comprised of six episodes about Daniel and his friends provides the literary context of the visions that follow" (11). Right. And Fewell's scheme follows this observation: the bulk of her work focuses on chapters 1-6 of Daniel while only chapter is devoted to an exegesis of chapters 7-12. In some ways this is frustrating and disappointing. In other ways it is wonderful because so many authors want to focus on chapters 7-12 and figuring out who is who and what is what that the beauty and depth of 1-6 is often left behind.

That said, she digs deep in the few pages she devotes to chapters 7-12 and helps the reader understand their relationship to 1-6. The time stamps given at the beginning of chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 show us where to place the chapters historically with respect to chapters 1-6. This aids in understanding both the narrative and vision cycles. So Fewell, "The temporal settings of the visions mark them as expansion of the plot. Some visions take us back in Daniel's career, some move us forward; but they all continue to reveal character and to sustain political themes" (119). I agree. I didn't always agree with Fewell's final analysis of a text (e.g., I wholly disagree with her that Daniel 4 is a triumph of 'the human imagination…able to overpower human history' or that Daniel 3 is mere metaphor.) but I certainly agree that it makes much better sense to interpret these visions based on their historical position than their canonical position.

Fewell pays very careful attention to the details of the text–something I appreciate very much in those who dare write books about the Scripture. She consistently makes observations about the text of Daniel and brings out details of the story that might otherwise be overlooked or underplayed. It is too easy for scholars and preachers to overlook simple narrative techniques whereby the author tells us what a story is about simply forming a chiasm and narrowing the reader's focus, or tirelessly repeating some aspect of the story (note how in Daniel 3 the list of people and instruments are repeated numerous times), duplicating vocabulary from chapter to chapter, or by connecting a later story with images from an earlier story.Fewell does an outstanding work of drawing our attention to the intentions of the author of Daniel by noting the subtleties in the text and redirecting our attention to plot devices and character development (e.g., noting for the reader that in chapter 1 the reader is privy to information that the characters in the story are not, especially the king, 14).

It was somewhat difficult to tell where Fewell comes down as far as Daniel's authorship is concerned. I finished reading with the idea that she sees the book as a unified piece of literature based on her literary reading of the book. She does not delve into authorship, redaction, or dates, but reads the book as a whole piece and interprets it thus. At this juncture in all our lives, debates about times and dates seems a bit pointless and, to be sure, those things are not the focus of her exegesis of the Daniel text.

Fewell tells us at the beginning of her book what the point of Daniel is, and for her the point is decidedly political: "The central political issue in Daniel is that of sovereignty. Who is sovereign in the human world? The question is, of course, also a theological one because the principal conflict in the book is between God and human monarchs over the very question: Who rules?" (12) I absolutely agree with Fewell's point here. Over and over in the book of Daniel we see this point being made to one person after another as one king rises and another falls. By the time we get to Daniel 7-12 our minds are hardwired to see God's sovereignty so much at work in the seemingly mundane details of local and world politics that God is scarcely mentioned. We have come to expect it because we have been conditioned to see it by the way we see God interacting with Nebuchadnezzer, Belshazzar, and Darius. Perhaps we would do well to ask ourselves, even now, if God is not more involved in the political world we live in, bringing about his own ends, than we truly consider.

One final note about the book. It seemed somewhat incomplete. I fully appreciate when a book of the Bible is allowed to stand on its own and be read for its own sake without feeling the need or compulsion to automatically attach or derive meaning from elsewhere. With that said, I note that Fewell not once talks about the church, Jesus, or the New Testament. Not once. I understand the need to interpret Daniel as it stands and in its own context–and I respect that–but it seems to be somewhat of a loss that when Jesus himself quotes from Daniel or adopts key imagery (i.e., 'son of man') or when an entire book adopts key language and imagery for its own construction and narrative (i.e., the Revelation) that it is not taken into consideration how this might affect our understanding of the book. In this regard, Circle of Sovereignty was a bit of a disappointment and an otherwise complete book was left incomplete, the circle was a bit broken.

Overall, I think the book is excellent. Fewell's attention to narrative detail is outstanding and her interpretation of the book as a complete book is excellent too. My only misgiving is that there is no attention paid to the New Testament or to Jesus. For all the care and attention given to the book in situ, it seems to me that even an appendix might have been warranted to broach the subject of its place in the entire corpus of Scripture.  Nevertheless, the well read reader will have ample opportunity to forge his own connections with the New Testament and even though this neglect of the New Testament was a disappointment for me, it doesn't detract from the quality of Fewell's  exegesis of Daniel.

4/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Circle of Sovereignty Amazon (Paperback $20.63); Abingdon Press (Paperback $21.99)
  • Author: Danna Nolan Fewell
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Pages: 136 (+notes, bibliography, indexes)
  • Year: 1991
  • Audience: preachers, scholars, students of OT, well read general audience
  • Reading Level: College
  • Disclaimer: Purchased

MagnificentIt's rather difficult to dislike a children's book–especially a picture book. I mean the book has to be pretty bad to get any negative feedback from anyone. After all, children's books are written for children: there's a lot of pictures, few words, colorful artwork, and few pages. What could go wrong?

So it took me all of 5 minutes to read The Most Magnificent Thing and I'm glad I did. Sometimes I think those authors who write children's books are really writing to adults; secretly though, as if adults are the true intended audience. I could be wrong, but sometimes I think the intended audience should be adults when I read these certain children's books. What is a shame is that the lessons we learn when we read children's books do not stick with us when we finally become adults. It's a shame, really, that, I'm paraphrasing here, children's literature is lost on children. To them it's a fine story, a jolly good romp through a forest or a field or a fantasy. To adults, children's literature is a sword cutting deep.

This is probably why I read so much of it. It's easier to understand the lessons the author is teaching. I don't have to wade through a dictionary when I don't understand a word–I can just look at the pictures. I don't have to think too deeply if I don't want to and yet I find that even when I don't want to I can't help but notice something deeper about the book than I had hope for.

I like The Most Magnificent Thing. I teach special education and one of the things that I have found with my students is that they too easily give up. I recall a time when a particular student was having a most difficult time with a simple art project we were completing in the classroom. The student's first instinct was to get angry, throw everything on the floor, and simply quit. I assure you it was more complicated than that, but I'll spare the details. There was no reasoning with the student. That's how the day ended (or began, depending on how one looks at it). It is a constant, day in, day out, effort to convince my students that failure is OK as long as it is not the final word on a matter. In short, my students have a terrible time persevering through difficulty.

And I'm not sure why. There are probably studies available and perhaps some expert can explain in ten different ways why students with E/BD have a propensity to quit when the quitting is easier than the sticking with something.

This is the kind of book that I always need in my classroom because this is the kind of book that teaches us those important lessons we always need to learn. What I like about this book is the fact that the main character sticks with it. I like that there are adults in the story, but only somewhat invisibly. The character–who is unnamed–has to find a way through her difficulty on her own. We call this self-regulation, learning how to overcome difficulties and keep ourselves under control because we have learned to generalize skills we have been taught by others. I like that she goes for a walk. She clears her head. She distracts herself with other thoughts. Then, only then, does she come back to the problem and see it from a different angle.

Then she grows.

This is an important lesson for my children to learn and, I think, also for adults. We tend to downplay failure here in America but every now and again someone comes along and shows us that failure need not have the last word. I like that the failure of our main character did not have the last word but served as a catalyst for better and more creative thinking. I also like how others in the story even found uses for the 'failures.'

My students, despite all that they are typically capable of, will sit and listen to a story. Stories are the best intervention I have in my classroom. They are cheap, they are always ready, and they require little planning. This book fits that formula nicely.

This book has great artwork and I like how the text is written on the pages. I'm not sure how the pages render on a Kindle, but I viewed it on a NOOK and I wasn't too happy with the rendering either on portrait or landscape view. That's a small thing and didn't take away from the content.

Excellent picture book. Kids Can Press publishes excellent stories and I'm happy I can read and review the work of excellent authors like Ashley Spires. This is a great pick-up for the general education classroom or the special education resource room or self-contained unit.

5/5 stars

Preview the Book here:

 

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase The Most Magnificent Thing Amazon (Kindle, $7.39)
  • Author: Ashley Spires on Twitter: @ashleyspires
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Resources from Kids Can Press: The Most Magnificent Thing
  • Pages: 32; picture book
  • Year: 2014
  • Audience:Children (primarily), anyone who can read would enjoy it
  • Reading Level: K-2
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of  Kids Can Press via NetGalley.

KuhnEvery now and then I come across a book that hooks me with the title. Sometimes after turning the cover and reading the first couple pages I find the old adage to be true that I should not judge a book by its cover or, as in this case, the title. This was not one of those times. I had previously seen this book on Amazon and added it to my wishlist and by chance came across it when I was browsing NetGalley's publishers one day. I was thrilled to find the book. I was even more thrilled to read the book. And, now that I am finished with it, I am absolutely ecstatic about its content. I don't think I am overstating the case when I suggest that this reading of Luke-Acts is one of the most significant and important readings since Robert Tannehill's reading in The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts was published. 

Kuhn's thesis is stated succinctly in the introduction (and repeated periodically for emphasis): "This study aims to introduce reader's to Luke's two-volume work, focusing on its urgent call for Theophilus and others to embrace Jesus and the Kingdom of God" (13*). And introduce us he does. But he does even more than merely introduce us to a theory or an idea about the Gospel according to Luke. Kuhn digs deeply even as he surveys the landscape of the massive two volumes. He reaches into the nooks and crannies and sheds like in the darkened corners of Luke's literary masterpiece. He explores the caves of literary technique and rhetorical devices. He demonstrates how Luke parallels characters and stories in the two books. What I appreciate the most about this book is that Kuhn looks at Luke as a piece of literature that should be, and needs to be, interpreted. In other words, Luke had a purpose in mind when he wrote and it is the readers' job to read his work as a piece of literature and discover that meaning. Kuhn's thesis demonstrates that the purpose behind the book isn't all that difficult to discover if the reader reads well.

It is Kuhn's contention that Luke is writing a piece of Kingdom work designed specifically for Theophilus and generally for anyone who reads it. There are things associated with this Kingdom of which he (Luke) writes that Theophilus needs to thoughtfully consider before, or now that he already has, walks in this Kingdom way, this following of Jesus: "This is meant to challenge Theophilus and others to understand that they cannot truly embrace the Kingdom while still participating in the norms and values of Rome" (232). When I read this statement, I leaped with excitement. 'Yes!' I shouted as I took out my phone and started to Tweet the quote. It is this, I think, that we most often miss as Christians saturated by American values and norms. Somehow or other we have taken to believe the silly notion that being American is equivalent to being a 'Christian.' Kuhn goes to great lengths to demonstrate to Theophilus that he cannot have it both ways. And if Theophilus cannot, how much less can we?

But this is exactly what makes this work by Kuhn so special: everything is kept in context. The books of Luke and Acts are kept in there historical and social contexts so Kuhn's work begins with a fairly detailed exploration of Roman culture. Part 1 thus takes up about the first 70 pages or so of the book. Frankly, this part of the book is kind of boring although essential to Kuhn's theory of Luke-Acts as a whole. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did the second part of this contextual reading of Luke-Acts: the literary context. Part 2 thus spans pages 71-202 and is, in my opinion, the best part of the book. Granted, it gets repetitive at times because as he explores one literary aspect there is necessarily some overlap with another. Kuhn spends a significant amount of space writing about Luke 1-2 and 24 and draws such beautiful meaning out of the chapters that I am tempted to say I will never read those chapters the same way again. And, to be sure, some of the most brilliant exegesis is on display in part 2 that I have seen in a long time. Part 3 tells of the book's theological context and spans pages 203-274 and Kuhn reasserts his position that one of Luke's main objectives was to "call Theophilus and other members of the elite to abandon their privileged stations and their allegiance to Rome and to embrace the Kingdom of God and Jesus as Lord" (299).

It may be that Kuhn overstates his case when it comes to Luke's focus on the 'elite' and I'm not sure it will hold up under closer scrutiny. Others will no doubt challenge his idea of this being Luke's focus but I'm not so sure that the idea should be waived off–especially if Theophilus was in fact Luke's patron and Luke himself was a member of the Israelite elite. If Kuhn is correct then perhaps Luke-Acts is even more significant for the American church than previously thought. The problem of course lies with those who will preach these books. If the preaching of Luke-Acts continues to be a mere monologue before an invitation to something we tend to call 'salvation', as is often the case, then the bulk of the books will be nothing more than prolegomena to Jesus' death and Resurrection and Pentecost. But if by some strange chance preachers actually start reading Luke-Acts and discerning his entire message then perhaps the affluent American Church might start to be challenged the way Luke intended the affluent to be challenged: "Instead, as indicated regarding Acts 17, the gospel proclaimed by Luke is one that calls upon humanity to turn their allegiance from Caesar and the kingdom of Rome to another realm and another as Luke. Luke's aim was not accommodation but resistance" (15).

I think this is a message the American church desperately needs to hear.

Which leads into my final point. In college I remember hearing and learning how one of Luke's purposes in writing the books was to demonstrate to certain Roman officials that Christianity was no threat at all to the pax Romana of the time. Christians are peaceful people as is demonstrated by Paul on several ocassions in Acts. So: "Luke's aim was not accommodation but resistance. He considered the reign of God to be not a benign reality but a deeply subversive and disturbing force that was already undermining the foundations of Rome and all earthly claims to power" (15). He writes later, "I find it equally unlikely that Luke-Acts was a narrative designed to convince elite persons used to squashing resistance to their rule that the Christian movement was compatible with Rome's maintenance of elite wealth, status, and control" (307).

Christianity is dangerous and subversive. I think American Christians need to hear this message too and it needs to start being preached more thoughtfully from the pulpits of our churches. The problem is that we have been coddled by American culture and lulled to sleep by this coddling. But Luke will have none of this: the Church is the force, the movement, The Way, that turned the world upside down. It was the world that put Jesus to the cross, how can we then partner with this world? It seems to me that the church nowadays is far more content to set the world right side up again by being satisfied to work hand in hand with the very kingdoms that Jesus came to destroy. Not only do we tell the world, "the Church means you no harm," but we have listened to the world when they tell us, "we mean the Church no harm." This is not the experience of the church or Jesus in Acts and Luke.

This should be more carefully considered by pastors, preachers, and theologians and more prophetically proclaimed in our pulpits. I think we are seeing more and more the results of this hand holding experiment in the church.

I could go on and on but I must stop. I love this book. I'm not ashamed to confess that this is a book I absolutely love and will read again soon. I am glad publishing companies are making more space for books that talk about the real, Biblical meaning of the Kingdom of God and in the case of this present book, Baker Academic has done us a huge favor and I applaud them. More publishing of these kind of books where the literary purposes of the bible's authors are discussed is necessary. I cannot say enough about how important and well done this book is and how, if you are a preacher, you should buy it, read it slowly, and carefully consider how you will challenge your congregation to live up to the high call of God: "…as one who manifests the identity and mission of Yahweh, Jesus the lowly one, not Caesar, is Lord and Savior of all" (267).

The book utilizes end notes and the hyperlinks to and from these notes worked well on my Nook. There is a substantial bibliography which is most helpful and also a large subject index which also had working hyperlinks. The book is of a scholarly flair, but it is accessible to most readers who share an interest in reading such works.

Buy this book. You will not be disappointed and you just may find that your own world is being turned upside down in the process.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts Amazon (Kindle, $15.65)  CBD ($19.99) Baker Academic ($28.99) (Prices current as of July 7, 2015)
  • Author: Karl Allen Kuhn
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Pages: 367 (Nook epub version); 336 (paper)
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: Christians, pastors, preachers, college professors, students of New Testament
  • Reading Level: College Level
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of Baker Academic via NetGalley.

*All page numbers I note are references to the epub version of this book on my Nook reader and may not correspond to the pages in a paperback version or location on a Kindle.

Barth on Salvation

The peace between God and man and the salvation which comes to us men is not something general, but the specific thing itself: that concrete thing which is indicated by the name of Jesus Christ and not by any other name. For He who bears this name is Himself the peace and salvation. The peace and salvation can be known, therefore, only in Him, and proclaimed only in His name. #KarlBarth #ChurchDogmatics The Doctrine of Reconciliation IV.1 (21)

For those of you who visit, I'd like to direct your attention to a new project I am working on: Studies in the Bible as Literature. This is a google site that I am building where I will post my teachings on the books of the Bible. There is a lot to do and there will be more as I am adding new content every day.

Along with Bible studies (I am currently working through the book of Daniel), there are links to amazing places, sermon manuscripts, book reviews, audio, and more. Give it a try. It's a 'move at your own pace' kind of thing right now.

Studies in the Bible as Literature

your host,

Jerry

It appears that I still get visitors to this blog so I have decided to start making the occasional post. To start, I will invite you to visit my google site where I am currently writing and publishing Bible studies on the book of Daniel. Feel free to browse and read and download.

There are also sermon texts, book reviews, and audio.

Studies in the Bible as Literaure

 

Thanks for (continuing) to read.

jerry