Archive for October, 2015

FellowshipDifferentsI only recently jumped on the Scot McKnight bandwagon. This year, in fact, although I have followed him on Twitter for a while and, if I am not mistaken, reviewed a book he wrote on Fasting a long while ago. I became interested in McKnight's writing when I saw another of his books called The King Jesus Gospel and in his important book Kingdom Conspiracy. I have also seen his name mentioned by NT Wright here and there. I enjoy McKnight's work because I think he has important things to say that more people ought to be listening to. I think when it comes to the Kingdom and the Gospel McKnight is dead on point. Now I'm kind of convinced that he's on the right track when it comes to the local church. I'm sure at some point along this journey he'll go off the wall and disappoint me, but so far, so good. Fingers crossed.

I don't say it too often about authors because there are so few authors that I truly appreciate–whose work truly resonates with my own heart. I say that because so many authors who write books for the church are afraid to get dirty, say the hard things that need to be said, and actually dig deep enough in Scripture to challenge the status quo. I don't find any of that to be true about McKnight. He writes his books like he writes his Twitter feed and blog: straight up and if you don't like it, well? We may not want to listen, but McKnight (among others) is saying something important. It's time for the church to hear what is being said.

But seriously, McKnight's commentary and arguments are nuanced, but not so much that they are misunderstood. I think he writes clearly enough–even if at times he has to repeat himself in order to make his point. Sometimes those of us who read are a bit of a challenge to those who write. We have to listen carefully or we might miss the bigger picture someone is painting.

So these three books of McKnight's I have mentioned so far are, I think, some of the most important books I have read. In truth, I don't think he's saying anything I don't already believe. It just so happens that he is smart and got the book deal and I got to teach special education. As I noted above, McKnight is really only doing what needs to be done–it's kind of revolutionary in a way because maybe if more people start writing books like he is writing, saying the things he is saying, and alerting Christians to what the Bible really says, then maybe, just maybe the church will hear what the Spirit has to say. Lord knows it's not like we actually read what the Bible has to say. Seriously. I say this because I read a lot of books and I see the things being written….and it's kind of…thin. I like McKnight's work because he consistently finds a way to take his readers deep into the Scripture without causing them the sort of palpitations that get their itchy fingers dialing the phone trying to get someone fired for preaching the truth.

So, A Fellowship of Differents. I don't think I disagree with much in the book, but I do have a serious question to ask. McKnight is selling us this idea that the church ought to reflect the culture in which we live. That is, the church ought to be made up of all sorts of people: different cultures, different colors, different tribes, nations, orientations, ethnic backgrounds, and so on and so forth. I don't disagree. We all together make up Israel expanded. Yep. No complaints. In fact, the book of Revelation is keen on this point too: "After this I looked and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…" (Revelation 7:9)

But how do we make this universal vision of the church a local reality? In fact, is it necessary to do so? Let me give you an example. The church I belong to and worship with is white. Very white. There is one person in the congregation who is African-American–a young girl. She is quite welcome. She is quite active. She is quite happy. My own family has brought her to worship and taken her to dinner and so on. I'm not bragging. But here's my point. The community is small and I don't even know if there are any black families in the community. When I was growing up in that town, there were two such families. My question is this: for all the call to diversify the church, and yes! diversify!, how is a church in a white-washed town supposed to do such a thing? There's not a single personal or theological reason people of color are not among us. It's simple demographics.

I don't understand why it is 'wrong' for a church to resemble the community where it is located. I get the point McKnight is making, but I don't think it's quite as 'easy' to simply remake the church the way he thinks it should be made. Most congregations resemble the neighborhood where they are situated. Mine is no different. Maybe this works itself out in a different way practically so maybe that is his point. Maybe we are simply not practical enough as Christians when it comes to how we relate one denomination to another. Maybe we need a Revelation 7 kind of vision. Maybe this book will help us. Maybe the church is diverse and we need to simply celebrate what we have.

Maybe more of us ought to think and believe that 'we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.' It's just a thought.

Who knows?

McKnight says something I like very early on: "These three principals are a way of saying that local churches matter far more than we often know." (15). Yep. I agree. Which means, as far as I can tell, that more emphasis ought to be placed on the work that local churches do, that more preachers ought to take seriously what they preach, and that more congregations ought to take seriously the things that the Bible says defines the church. So McKnight is right to ask: What is the church supposed to be? And: If the church is what it is supposed to be, what does the Christian life look like? (17). From which I draw the obvious conclusion: Why are there so many preachers on television?

Yep. So, if the local church matters, and these two questions are right, then what is the problem? Well, I suppose you'll have to read the book to find out what McKnight proposes. I have a hard time not recommending his writing. It's accessible and deep. Mostly what I like is that when he handles the Scripture, he doesn't yank a single word from a single verse from a single chapter from a single book and develop an entire theological dogma from it. This book, like what I've read of McKnight in other places, deals with context: literary, historical, and contextual. The reader will not agree with all of McKnight's conclusions. I didn't. But that doesn't mean the conversation isn't stimulating and worth the effort.

I recommend this book because it challenges us to think about the value of the local church and challenges us to keep that church in context and out of context. At the end of the day, this book is an apologetic for loving people because we love God who loves people. It's kind of hard to argue with that logic.

Notes are appended at the end. There is a Scripture index and subject and name index too.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase A Fellowship of Differents (Amazon: $15.92)
  • Author: Scott McKnight
  • On Twitter: @scotmckight
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Pages: 272
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: preachers, christians, anyone who likes McKnight's work, etc.
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of  BookLook Bloggers blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.

41RdixipILL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This was a really exciting book that I enjoyed immensely. It was well written by two exceptionally intelligent individuals. It is accessible, but not condescending. It is intelligent, but not stuff. It is a science book written for lay-folk like myself who find the mysteries of the universe to be both a source of wonder and a picture of sanity. It all makes sense; it makes no sense.

That's pretty much my takeaway from this book: In truth, we pretty much no nothing about the world in which we live even if we happen to know enough to fill millions of pages with ink and letters and words and sentences. There is a lot we know and perhaps even more that we do not know. At the end of the day, science is an endless journey of discovery which takes us from the gargantuan complexities of galaxies to the uber-minutia of quantum mechanics and biology. Who knows how these things even hold together are what keeps them from imploding or exploding? The book is filled with rampant speculation about such things as the authors note, "…we cannot yet be sure that all of the features we have just described are quantum mechanical." (325).

But isn't it fun to explore, predict, test, and retest?

It kind of makes me wonder every now and then what would become of science and scientists if we ran out of things to investigate? What if there is a world even smaller than the quantum world? What if there is a world larger than the universe? Truth is, we won't know unless we continue to explore–an arduous task that boggles the mind. As I read through this book I often wondered 'how on earth can they do that?' I mean, seriously, the levels of smallness that are being dealt with in this book are quite extraordinary.

I remain unconvinced by their arguments put forth in chapter 7 where the authors dealt with 'quantum genes.' They throw large numbers at the readers like, "The rate of copying errors in DNA replication, what we call mutation, is usually less than one in a billion." (202) But they want us to believe that over the course of 'generations' enough of these mutations collect in an organism to produce something useful in the organism. What I can never figure out is how the organisms survive long enough without the useful something to arrive at the place where the useful something is, well, useful. What I mean is something like this. If all of the sudden the climate on earth changed so dramatically that I needed to grow a horn on my head to survive, but replication errors only occur 1/1,000,000,000, and I need billions of years to complete this replication error in order to survive, then how did I survive long enough without the horn on my head in order for the horn to grow on my head in order for me to survive?

Or, if a robin didn't originally have a 'sense that detects the earth's magnetic field' that helped it 'navigate'–that is, if it needed millions of years to evolve this skill (173), what did it do for all those millions of years when it didn't have this sense? How did it determine it needed this sense? And how did it navigate before it evolved this sense? I confess that these questions perplex me.

Now, if you tell me that organisms change because of their environment then we can have a conversation. But it makes no sense to me for anyone to suggest that there are so few replication errors and yet there are enough that produce what we see. I admire the authors of the book very much for their steadfast hold to something that makes no logical sense whatsoever. I enjoyed the book very much right up to the point where they started flopping around like fish out of water to explain Darwinism in light of quantum mechanics. Maybe sometimes the phenomena we see do not require us to work backwards to a point of origin or necessity. Maybe what we see requires us only to stand slack-jawed in amazement at what is or can be.

At times the authors fall into the error of tautology. For example, in the same chapter 7 on Quantum Genes, the authors are discussing Hugo de Vries and his observations concerning the evening primrose and how one version of this plant was 'taller' and had 'oval-shaped petals rather than the familiar heart-shaped petals.' To this earth shattering observation, the authors write, "He recognized this flower as a 'mutant'; and, more important, he showed that the mutant traits were passed on to the plant's progeny, so they were inherited." (212). Well, of course the 'mutant' plant passed on 'mutated genes'; what else could it pass on to its progeny? And let's be honest, this really doesn't demonstrate anything other than that it was a mutated plant and that it passed on mutated genes. There's no explanation of why it was mutated, what factors led to the mutation, what purpose the mutation might have served, and so on. Maybe a bee just got it wrong when it was pollinating the plant.

This is an exciting book except where it dips into the absurd world of Darwinian evolution–which was inevitable. I find the book to be somewhat whimsical and joyful. They weren't cracking back on people who happen to have philosophical, theological, or logical disagreements with their conclusions. They admit that much of what they are suggesting is speculation and that a lot more research is necessary to prove their ideas. The authors seemed to genuinely amazed by what they were writing about and that made the book a lot of fun to read–that is, I often marked in the margins that something they wrote or discovered was simply 'magnificent.' Like when they talk about robins or clown fish or just life: "Life is remarkable" (25). Yes. It is.

The book is filled with wonderful illustrations and a few pictures. The style of writing is engaging. I really enjoyed this book a lot and I am hopeful that more books concerning quantum biology will be written in the future–books for people like me who enjoy reading and learning about the discoveries scientists and everyday people make about this great planet where we live.

Finally, the book was well researched. Part of what I enjoyed most was how each chapter slowly uncovered a discovery by tracing its history from this scientist to that scientist and all the way to our current day. This was excellent and a lot of the names mentioned are familiar even if a few of them are somewhat obscure. Notes are appended at the end and there is a helpful, lengthy index for readers who wish to do follow-up on the author's sources.

This is an excellent book. I recommend it for those interested in quantum mechanics/biology and for those who simply enjoy delighting in the wonders of this earth. In some ways, this book will cause the reader never to look at life the same way again. Maybe this is a good thing.

May your wonder never cease.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

The_Martian_2014This will not be a normal review full of all sorts of technical considerations and the like. I simply wanted to take a few minutes of space (haha) to note that a) I read this book and b) I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoy the science fiction genre, but I confess it's been a while since I have read science fiction. I think the last time I did was when I read C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy a seriously long while back.

Then one day I was watching something, maybe a ball game, and I saw an advertisement for a movie coming out soon called The Martian staring Matt Damon. Well, I like Matt Damon's overall body of work and I saw Ridley Scott had something to do with it and I noted that I would definitely be seeing the movie. A few days later, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and this book showed up as a Kindle deal. Since I'm cheap like that, I had no problem dishing out the $2.00 or $3.00 for the Kindle version of the book. And then I started reading.

And I loved it. Love. Love. Loved it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book. I thought it was a bit over the top when it came to the language (there were a lot of f-bombs, and it was vulgar at times) but I was able to overcome those issues and enjoy a story. Kind of reminded me a lot of the movie Castaway, but only in theme. Obviously life on Mars is a wee bit different than life on an island on earth. The science behind the book was a lot of fun to navigate. I was able to understand most of it, but there were times when I felt it wasn't necessary to understand everything that was going on scientifically in order to appreciate the story itself.

The story has a nice flow to it even if the ending seem to be a wee bit predictable. I mean, he had a 50-50 chance, but since I was reading the story I wasn't too worried about the main character not surviving.

Obviously I am a bit late to the game on this book hence the short review. Nevertheless, I wanted those who do read this to know that I thought it was a great story and worth the read.