Posts Tagged ‘theology’

9781601426703Title: Bringing Heaven to Earth

At Amazon: Bringing Heaven to Earth

Authors: Josh Ross & Jonathan Storment

Publisher: Waterbrook Multnomah

Year: 2015

Pages: 215

I like to mark up the books I read with my pen. In this way, I will be able to go back through the book at a later time and note important passages or thoughts that I may wish to use in a lesson or blog or whatever. For this book, I used a nice red ink and on page 2, near the bottom, I wrote, "I'm already on board!" I wrote that after reading this:

We don't believe the primary purpose of following Jesus is to enjoy the gift of heaven. Rather, it is to be united with Christ in His love and mission. The call to conversion in the New Testament isn't a decision for salvation, but a decision for Jesus. It is more than a change in status; it is a shift in allegiance, passion, and calling. (2)

I like that. I like that very, very much. I like it because it resonates with me deeply in that I want something different from the pie in the sky Christianity I was raised on–the kind I have complained about elsewhere. That sort of Christianity gets us in the club and we talk an awful lot about how to get into the club. Then we go through the motions. I was a church preacher for nearly 20 years and I have seen the results of preaching that simply aimed to get people into the club and along for the ride.

Frankly, it's boring. It's meaningless. And it has killed the church. Or it has at least ruined it for some of us. Books like Bringing Heaven to Earth will, hopefully, go a long way towards rectifying one of our most significant problems in the church: definitions. In my opinion, for too long the church has misused some of its language. We have misused words like kingdom, heaven, mission, and judgment. Maybe we have even misused the name of Jesus. N.T. Wright has done the lion's share of the work in helping us re-acquire proper definitions of bible words and others, more recently Scot McKnight in his book Kingdom Conspiracy, and I think Tim Keller to an extent (we might also say Yancey, Hauerwas, Willimon, and others), have taken Wright's heavily historical and theological work and brought it down to the level of the pew. I do not mean this in the sense that McKnight's work or the current book is 'easy' or pedestrian. Wright's work needed a filter for the average pew sitter and these author's have done remarkable work in bringing Wright's message home to the church.

The church has benefited from their work and now I am hopeful that the church will also benefit from the work of Ross and Storment. I come from the same church background as Storment and I can say with utmost confidence that this is a message our churches need desperately to hear. IF there is a denomination in America deeply entrenched in mis-applied definitions it is the church tradition I belong to. Storment's message resonated with me deeply for this reason–especially since I only have a limited voice in that church at this point in my life.

Back to definitions. As one example, take the word 'heaven.' Churches in America have this strange idea that heaven is a place 'we go' after we die. Preachers have done a remarkable job painting pictures of mansions within mansions, ethereal whispiness, clouds, and harps. I confess that when I was younger I used to think to myself that such an existence, no matter how long, would be utterly mind-numbing. And I could never reconcile that vision with Jesus' words about 'heaven being God's throne and the earth being his footstool.' Then along came N.T.Wright who began articulating for me what my heart had only been whispering. I'll never forget the time I preached from the pulpit that when we are resurrected we will have bodies, real flesh and blood bodies and one of the ladies approached me afterward and virtually questioned my sanity. Didn't matter that Jesus was resurrected with a body. But I digress. Ross and Storment bring it home to all of us:

In the Christian worldview, heaven is the realm in which everything is as God wills; it is not just a far off location out past Jupiter. Heaven is less a location and more a reality defined by God's will being done. Yet here on earth, a lot of people are working against heaven by trying to make sure that what they will is what gets done. (33; their emphasis.)

And,

Don't get us wrong, the Gospel is about heaven. But heaven is not the distant, otherworldly place we often imagine it to be. Heaven will come down to earth. We will live on earth in a renewed, restored world. (59; except that the Gospel is not necessarily about heaven; it's about Jesus and how he has brought about heaven's rule here on earth.)

This is good, solid theology for the masses here (except I would eliminate the word 'just' in the first sentence.) The point is clear: so many Christians are caught up thinking about the 'Promised Land' that they haven't given any thought to what God is doing right here, right now, and how what he is doing right here and now will last into eternity. Our lives are about what Jesus continued to do and teach (Acts 1) and what we are doing will be tested in fire. Some will burn up; some will last. Yet there is a reason why Jesus died, was resurrected, and bids us to keep on living here instead of swooping us up as soon as we believe. There is work to be done here, now, and it matters now and then. In one sense it is true that 'this world is not' our home, but there's a better sense in which we do not have much of a choice.

Later on, the author's write:

If we think God's future has nothing to do with our lives and this world, then it won't affect how we live. It's possible to be a Christian and waste your life. It's possible to think that the gospel is all about another time and another place, and totally miss out on what God is doing right in front of you. (190)

What encourages me greatly about this book is that it was written by two preachers. What this tells me is that the message is getting into the hands and hearts of people who live in the world every day of their lives. It tells me that at least in some places in the church words are being defined properly and people are taking in the message and not kicking out the preachers who are doing the defining. What it tells me is that there is leadership in positions of authority who are supporting the message of these preachers. Finally, what it tells me is that the Holy Spirit is indeed moving in our congregations and that the famine might be staved off for a while yet.

This book greatly encourages me not because they have it all correct (although there were more than a couple of times when their insights were deep), but because they are living it, preaching it, and sharing it with others. It's easy to be innovative for the sake of an audience, but I don't sense innovation in this book. I sense a deep personal conviction that this is a message that needs to be heard by the people of the church. It's a strange sense of conviction I get from these two authors/preachers that this is a fire in their bones that cannot be quenched. I'm encouraged because when so many preachers are taking the easy way, they are sticking with the Gospel.

The book reads easily; although, it's easy to get reading and miss the depth. They tell plenty of stories. Quote plenty of Scripture even though I thought perhaps a little too much prominence was given to the story of the Prodigal son. There are several pages of discussion questions at the end and also notes are at the end as well. In my ARC there was no subject index but it may have been added in the final edition.

The only real quibble I have is that I wish they had pushed the metaphor a little more. That is, I wish 'bringing heaven to earth' had been a little more obvious in each chapter because I thought at times it was a bit obscured by other things. It doesn't take away from the book. It just means that a little more work has to be done to find it.

This is an excellent volume and I think it will be a welcome edition to anyone's library–preacher, teacher, church member/parishioner, Protestant or Catholic, or whoever. I applaud the men on their work of bringing this timely message to bear on the church in these days.

5*/5

Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books readers' program. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review. I was only expected to be honest and that I have been. Enjoy.

 

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51mRs0mJYRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Man Christ Jesus

Author: Bruce A. Ware

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2012

Pages: 160

[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)

ImagesTitle: Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Author: N.T. Wright

Publisher: HarperOne

Year: 2011

Pages: 240

I am typically disinclined to give an N.T.Wright book a poor review. I'm not going to start doing so here. That's not to say I have no criticisms; I do. But I really have a difficult time understanding why so many folks get their pants in a wad when it comes to Wright's work.

Every now and again an author comes along on our planet who understands that deep inside the human heart there is a profound emptiness–an emptiness that cannot and will not ever be filled by the things this world has to offer or withhold. What I think N.T. Wright does is points his readers in the direction where that emptiness, that intellectual, spiritual, psychological void, can be filled. But he doesn't do so in the way of so many other authors–where Jesus is a mere helper who teaches folks how to be a good American. Many theologians are just that: therapists or counselors. That is, they have an eye for the great God of the universe, but very little idea of how that great God has effectively taken back this world. Oh, yes, God is sovereign, they say, but only in some sort of strange and controlling way that most folks can scarcely relate to or understand. Thus the stories of the Gospels, the Old Testament, Acts, and the Epistles are merely the stories a good counselor might tell a patient: here's how to pray, here's how to be compassionate, here's how to have a good marriage, or here's what Jesus said about conservative (or liberal!) American politics.

Wright will have none of that. His is the voice not of a counselor or therapist who sics Jesus on a would be patient who is having a bad day or a bad year or a bad life. N.T. Wright is the voice of the prophet crying out in the wilderness: here is your King! So the subtitle, a 'new vision,' is not entirely accurate because what Wright is really doing is pointing us back to what has always been there but what has been covered over by so much encrustation and (wrong) theology in the 2,000 or so years since Jesus walked among us. If Wright is doing anything he is chiseling away the barnacles that have been built up around the Scripture–barnacles I suppose that may have at one time been designed to protect the Bible but that in more recent years have been thickened over in order to protect a theological and/or political system from scrutiny. It is this action of Wright that I suspect lends many folks to label him a theological liberal. To wit:

We have reduced the Kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself. (5)

This is the point in a nutshell. And sermons that do little more than teach me how to be a good Christian or worse a good American (complete with the requisite 'special worship services' on significant holidays) do nothing for me. I want to hear about Jesus and what he has and is doing to upbraid the world and bring about his rule and reign. This is why I read N.T. Wright over and over and over again. He shows me Jesus. "We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world!" (5) And so right he is.

Wright has a way of making God understandable, but certainly not palatable in the 'I'm now comfortable with this God' kind of way, to everyone and I don't really care if you are reading his lofty theologies or if you are reading his 'made for the popular reader' books. He challenges readers at every step of their presuppositions. He confounds them at every point of their preconceptions. He unravels every blanket of theological safety they believe they have wrapped themselves up into. He does this in such a way that, you might not believe me unless you read it, neither political (or theological) conservatives nor liberals come out unscathed. And, frankly, this is so because Jesus spared no such pain to anyone either. Jesus is the King. God is taking back the world. Get on board or get left behind, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop Jesus from being King and, in Wright's words, 'setting things to rights.'

Simply Jesus is another of Wright's books that does so much the same. He places Jesus firmly in the context of his culture and is quite content to interpret the New Testament within that context. And let me be frank: that's exactly where Jesus ought to be interpreted. Preachers spend far, far too much time trying making Jesus 'relevant.' I say leave Jesus in the first century, understand what his words and actions meant then and there, and then figure out how that works out in words and actions in our own time and place. But here's the key: Jesus' words and actions really have one meaning and purpose. Preachers around about our times have made Jesus far too predictable. "Blessed are those who can see this, who can spot what's going on, who are prepared to go with Jesus rather than with the princelings of the earth, even though what Jesus wasn't what they had expected" (84).

The only quibble I have with Wright, in general (and as it particularly pertains to Simply Jesus), is his take on the event of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent war afterwards. I fully understand that, ultimately, our battle is against the satan. Yes! (See pp 126ff.) With this I find no disagreement. I have no doubt that the satan uses people and powers to his/her own end. Yes! But he writes, "It is the battle against the satan himself. And, though the satan no doubt uses Rome, uses Herod, uses even the chief priests themselves, Jesus keeps his eye on the fact that the satan is not identified with any of these, and that to make such an identification is already to give up, and so to lose the real battle" (126). But Wright appears to mitigate human responsibility when he says such things. Maybe I'm not reading closely enough; maybe I'm reading too closely. I'm not sure.

That is, I'm not sure how to understand Wright when he accuses (!) the U.S. government in power during 9/11 (a conservative government, to be sure; yet a government that passed bi-partisan legislation authorizing the sword) and fails to see what those who might otherwise be labeled 'enemies' did to provoke the U.S. government (and many nations around the world besides, including his own!) He is fond of Romans 8; not so fond of Romans 13. I think this is bothersome. He is fond of criticizing the United States (and not so subtly George W. Bush) but eschews criticism of other governments who were also involved in action against those who attacked the U.S.A on September 11, 2001. Here I think Wright is unable to make the correct theological connection and fails to understand the difference between a secular government charged with responsibility to protect its citizens (Romans 13 and elsewhere) and an ecclesial authority not authorized to use the sword ('put your sword away', Jesus said to Peter).

In my opinion, Wright makes a serious error here. Yes, war is bad. Yes, we should avoid it. But the truth is this: in international politics, in global politics, the ethics of the kingdom of God are not always so neat and tidy or evenly applied or understood or appreciated or cared for. Ask one of the folks who flew an airplane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 if he cares a lick about what Jesus said about war, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. I'm not sure what the answer is; I'm not sure Wright's ongoing criticism of the United States government (he rarely says anything about the current government of Barack Obama) is wholly justified. I do know this: the radicals who continue to kill (women, children), main, murder, and provoke wars in the name of God are not the same as those folks who take up the sword to defend women, children, the weak, and others whose daily goal is simply to live life. Is it fair to apply a biblical standard of ethics (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.) to a secular government?

The reality of this life is this: sometimes evil does have a face. Sometimes evil is more than an invisible being or force. Sometimes evil does have a name and we do well to name it as such. I'm not suggesting I have all this worked out, and at times (like when Jesus looked at Peter and commanded Satan to get behind) I am stretched too thin to wholly justify my position. What I am suggesting is that Wright's position at this point is weak and, in my opinion, mitigates human culpability. Suggesting there are no evil people really fails to understand the full workings of evil and the evil one in this world.

I can go on and on telling you how important this book, along with any other by Wright, is. I could tell you that Wright is at his best when he is engaging the text and tying together all the threads he is remarkably twisted from so much ancient history and text. I could tell you of his masterful understanding and application of Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. I could tell you about his superior interpretation of the historical events from the time of Jesus. But to what end? Those who have read Wright already know and those who haven't will not be disappointed.

I have read enough of Wright's work to see and know that a lot of what is in this book is repetitive. How God Became King is a similar, and in my opinion, superior book by Wright. His monumental Jesus and the Victory of God is a much expanded and academic version of Simply Jesus that may appeal to more detail oriented readers. Simply Jesus kind of distills a lot of what is written in the academic volumes to a more popular level; it is no less potent.

The person who knows Jesus will appreciate very much Wright's work to interpret Jesus within his own context. The historical details Wright brings to our attention, the cultural phenomena of the time, the complexities of would be messiahs, revolutionaries, and temple authorities, and the sophistication and intrigue of secular politics are all woven together nicely and interpreted brilliantly to help the reader see that God's plan has always been the same: to reclaim the earth for himself through his appointed Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God.

And God wins.

4/5 stars (because he has written better versions of these thoughts elsewhere and it gets repetitive, and because I struggle with his interpretation of evil and his seeming inability to distinguish the role of a secular government in protecting innocent people from the forces of evil at play in this world.)

I'm doing some research on the Old Testament book of Daniel in preparation for a project I am about to undertake in the not too distant future. I'm taking it slowly. I'm still in chapter 1.

Daniel 1 is an interesting place to begin a book. I mean, Daniel isn't typical prophecy. It has prophetic elements in it as well as some so-called apocalyptic elements too, but it's not typical of a book of prophecy like, say, Isaiah or Jeremiah. There's no long poems or sermons. There's no real sweeping judgments against nations even if there are some heavy judgments against individuals who happen to rule those nations. Daniel is stories and dreams and visions. And that's about it.

With that in mind, I was thinking: why does Daniel begin where it begins? I mean, what's the point of opening a book of prophecy or a book about a prophet, by telling a story about who will eat and what food they will eat? Then I got to thinking that perhaps Daniel 1 isn't really about food or eating after all. Maybe the subtle point Daniel is making is that there is more going on in his life than mere appetite–there is more going on in his life than the king can possibly satisfy with portions from his table.

Several years ago, I wrote something similar in a devotional I had prepared for my congregation. I wrote:

I do not think Daniel and his friends felt they had a mandate to change the Babylonian culture and make it Jewish. What Daniel and his friends did have a mandate to do was to remain faithful to God–at any cost. They resolved not to be dependent on the culture in which they lived by eating food from the king's table. To eat from the king's table was like saying, 'we are going to be dependent upon the king. We will ingratiate ourselves to his providence.'

I think the short and long of it is this: when you eat like the king, you become like the king. Daniel and his friends were ultimately saying: we do not want to be like Nebudchadnezzer, and by not being like him, we will be better and more useful. It seems to me this is a larger story for us too: when we partake of the culture, we become like the culture. The culture of Babylon, in particular the person of the king, started changing because Daniel and friends remained faithful. It's a short road to the compromising of faithfulness. Daniel and his friends want to remain distinctly Hebrew in the context of Babylon. I'm not even certain Daniel's motive had anything to do with seeking God since there are no explicit commands anywhere that prohibit people from eating the king's food in captivity.

There's probably no such specific commands for Christians either. We are free to enjoy life and liberty and, if we choose, to eat from the king's table. Paul did write that all things are permissible. He also wrote, however, that not all things are profitable. So here we are faced with the crazy idea that we have to decide what is and is not compromise here in America where the king's table is so abundantly spread.

Given where Daniel's book begins (1:1): In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebudchadnezzer king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And given where chapter 1 ends (1:21): And Daniel remained there until the first year of king Cyrus. I would say that Daniel's decision not to take his sustenance from the king's table benefited him, and many others besides, well: He outlived them all and provided counsel for many kings and peoples. I would say that his decision to remain unique and distinct among the culture of Babylon was well played.

18148523Title: The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs

Authors: Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2014

Pages: 160

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free e-book copy of this work via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I noted this in compliance with the rules that govern earth, Mars, and Neptune.]

Forward: David Platt

Twitter: David Platt

Secret Church

I was thinking as I started this book that I was going to have problems right away when David Platt referred to retirement as unbiblical. And I was not disappointed in my thinking. This book was a major letdown; a disaster of biblical proportions.

Don't get me wrong: a lot of important and well connected, celebrity Christians endorsed this book. I'm sure in some way they really thought they were helping. Either that or they have made an idol out of endorsing books and simply couldn't resist. Either way, it's just not a good book. It is riddled with cliches, full of step by step instructions, and seemingly goes out of its way to make work more of a chore than it already is (and I'm confused as to whether or not I'm actually allowed to enjoy my work and find personal satisfaction in it). When I wake up in the morning and go to my classroom to educated my kiddos, I really do not need to go through 160 pages of checklists or bullet points to make sure that I am 'doing it correctly' or to make certain I haven't 'made my job into an idol.'

The best advice we need is this: Just do it! Seriously. Work should in no way be as complicated as these two gentleman–fine gentlemen I am sure–have made it to be. Get up, be joyful, go to work, do your job, do it as best you can, come home and do whatever you have planned or whatever comes to mind. Be free! Live! Move about! Serve! Love! Be! I hardly think we need a treatise on what it means to work. I know, maybe I shouldn't have read the book. I seriously thought it was about something else.

There are a couple of serious issues I have with the book. I will note them briefly. First, there is simply no sustained, in depth exegetical arguments supporting their theology of work. The points the authors make are proof-texted. That is, they pull a passage from here or there and just because it uses the word 'work' they have assumed they can build an entire theological system out of it. Doing this, however, means that they have to ignore context and they also have to ignore the meta-narrative of the Bible. This is my biggest pet-peeve with the onslaught of books the Evangelical publishing world produces. There is a singular disregard for the Biblical narrative in order to produce 'principles'. And I don't care what word is used: 'motivations,' 'principles,' 'axioms,' 'truths,' 'steps,' or 'rules.' The Bible is not a book of principles.

Books that reduce the Bible to a set of principles frighten me. Couple this use of the Bible with phrases like 'minimum standard of faithfulness' and I start smelling legalism. If any aspect of our relationship with Jesus can be reduced to mere principles, such as the many found in this book, then there is something seriously wrong with the relationship or our understanding of Jesus. And all of this goes back to the utterly horrifying use of the Scripture and the way it has been reduced from narrative to verses.

This is my main objection to this book (and to all books like it.) It simply has no anchor in the meta-narrative. The authors even point out that there is nothing inherently Christian about what they are saying: "Yes, this passage is speaking about the local church, but we believe the same principles hold when we apply them to society at large" (140). Well, if there is nothing distinctly Christian about the principles, then it is unnecessary to use the Bible to make the points in the first place. And in the second place, there are better books to read to find said principles.

Now let me make it worse. When the authors do happen to quote large swaths of Scripture, and it's never more than a parable, it is again taken out of context and/or utterly misunderstood (e.g., Matthew 20:1-16, quoted in full, and then: "The point of this incredible story is simple." But they get it terribly, terribly wrong because they avoid the narrative context; 138-139). Let me give a couple of the more egregious examples. Over and over again the authors make reference to the New Testament's conversations about 'slaves' and 'masters.' Now, in all fairness, there is a rather lengthy section explaining that slavery is, among other things, bad. With that said, in my estimation it is simply unreasonable to take those passages where an apostle talks about slavery and apply it, in any way, to the relationship between me and my principal.

Another example is when the authors talk about Joseph, David, and Nehemiah. They conclude their conversation by saying, "We're going to guess you're neither the vice-regent of Pharaoh nor a king, but the principle is the same for you: authority rightly exercised leads to flourishing" (118). Well, I will leave aside the fact that this 'principle' is just unbelievably ignorant and simply point out that I don't know how anyone can say the 'principle' is the same when there is simply no evidence that story is intending to lay down a set of principles.

In conclusion, then, I will say this much: I'm not sure what the purpose of writing this book was. One author had a business, sold it, was unemployed for a while and all of a sudden he is an expert on what it means to get up every day and go to work as a Christian. Meh. Too many principles have no meaning because they speak only his experience. He had a couple of crisis moments in life (unemployment, birth of a child) but so what? Many of us have. That doesn't mean we were somehow, now, experts with books in the wings. And what's ironic is that his angst wasn't born out of his every day work, which he evidently did well, but out of his unemployment for a spell. And if that's not bad enough, he goes on to write, "Are you unemployed right now? Even then, you need to understand your assignment from God, right now, is to be unemployed" (90).

I spent 10 months unemployed once. I had lost three jobs in a span of 2.5 years. I cannot imagine a minute that that was God's assignment for me. It was the most miserable 10 months of my life. I cannot imagine why God wanted me to be that miserable. And if I'm reading this book, and I'm unemployed, and I come across those words….then I'm closing this book and never heading to the nearest church.

There is nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking about this book. I detect a bit of Reformed Theology under girding the ideas in the book which is an issue as bothersome as their poor use of Scripture to make 'points.' There are helpful moments, but there are not enough to outweigh the utter absurdity of much of what was written. For example, I was unsure why it's OK to give up family time to be at church, but it's not OK to give up church time to be with family (see 94, 95).

I didn't like this book at all. From the very first pages when David Platt announced, without any justification, that retirement is 'unbiblical' I was bored. The book is not short on platitudes or cliches or hyperbole or legalism. Meh.

1/5

PS. On page 25, the authors make reference to 'little golden statues that Indiana Jones swiped from the Temple of Doom.' It wasn't the Temple of Doom that featured the scene of Indiana Jones swapping a small golden statue. It was the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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

Authors:

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2013

Pages: 289 (e-book)

Additional Information:

Counterpoints: Bible & Theology Logos Software

General Editors: Ardel B. Caneday | Matthew Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles

Four Views on the Historical Adam

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

Author: James M. Hamilton, jr.

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2014

Pages: 130 (e-book)

Additional: For His Renown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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

516zXo8UHjLTitle: Scripture and the Authority of God

Author: N.T. Wright

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year: 2011

Pages: 210

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DDD

Author: Joshua Harris

Title: Dug Down Deep

Pages: 232; +study guide & endnotes

(study guide written by Thomas Womack)

Publisher: Multnomah Books

Date: 2010, 2011

 I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my review by Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing

"A religious person is trying to put God in their debt through hard work…A Christian knows they are in debt to God; it's an absolute miracle…"–Tim KellerBeholding the Love of God sermon.

When I read any book written by a Christian the very first thing I pay attention to, regardless of who wrote it or what the subject matter is, is how long it takes for grace to make an appearance. I literally count how many pages it takes for the author to use the word, talk about it, expound upon it, and associate it with the theological point of view from which he/she is writing. In this way, I learn pretty much all I need to know about the author, the book, and the subject matter–especially if said book is a book of theology as Dug Down Deep in fact is. 

In the case of Dug Down Deep it took 12 introductory pages (introduction, TOC, etc) and 25 pages for grace to make an appearance and then only because someone else 'talked about grace, sin…' I didn't really get to bite into grace until page 27 when Mr Harris states, "The deeper I delved into Christian doctrine, the more I saw that the good news of salvation by grace alone in Jesus, who died for sin–the Gospel–was the main message of the whole Bible" (27). Sad to say that it takes a while for grace to get back into the book with any substance. I think for me it was about page 72 and then again around page 124 where we get a less than compelling definition of grace from another author. To be sure, he finishes strong, but by then I had wondered if it was too late. 

I sensed in this book that Harris was having trouble letting grace outweigh doctrinal orthodoxy–as if doctrinal orthodoxy is our salvation. I do get it: doctrine matters, but it is in no way as vital as God's grace: "The message of Christian orthodoxy isn't that I'm right and someone else is wrong. It's that I am wrong and yet God is filled with grace" (231). If that's true, why did we need this book? Because at the end of the day, it's all about grace since not one single human who has ever lived will get it 100% right. So again I ask: whose orthodoxy matters?

None of this is to say that I think Joshua Harris is preaching a gospel of works salvation. I don't think he is, but there are times when he treads the waters a little too carelessly. For example, he writes, "Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished–a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine" (19). It is all to easy to point to the apostle Paul's thought that we should 'work out our faith with fear and trembling' (Philippians 2:12-13) to justify such sentiments, but I'm not buying it at all. He spend more time talking about what we do in the first 3 chapters than he does talking about what God does. 

It may be implied, but it seems to me that the weak might miss it. I'm glad that Harris learned theological words like propitiation, sovereignty, and justification (23). But what about grace? What I wanted, what I kept hoping for, was more of Harris exorting us to seek Jesus instead of theological propositions: "Pursuing orthodoxy and sound doctrine has to begin with a heart drawing close to Jesus–not to a theological system, denomination, or book" (30). Here I agree 100%! Sadly this is not always how the book came together for me. I wanted an explosion of grace to flood the pages, but aside from a few spring showers, I was left dry. I wanted a deluge of theological propositions about God's grace to fill every page, but most of the time it was merely a Wadi.

In the first chapter, My Rumspringa, he writes, "Theology matters, but if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong" (11). He then spends a lot time time (about 220 pages of time) telling his readers that "theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity" (15). And I just do not know if this is true. Can I be wrong at one point of theology and get my whole life upside down? I think Harris is wrong about tongue speaking; he thinks I'm wrong. Who is to say who is holding the orthodox position? Does it matter? 

There is a nagging thought tthat kept creeping up on the pages while I read: Whose theology? 

I have no problem accepting that orthodoxy matters. I have no problem accepting that 'right theology' matters. I have very little problem with most of the ideas Harris expounds upon in this book–that is, they are basic enough theological ideas that, with the exception of a few minor points here and there, most Christians will agree with him. But spare me the idea that Biblical Theology matters if you are going to begin by reciting one of the creeds (14). Creeds are neither theology nor orthodoxy. 

There is, on the other hand, a lot to like about this book. It is, in fact, easy to read and filled with happy little anecdotes. Personally, I disliked chapter 7 (How Jesus Saved Gregg Eugene Harris) and I thought chapter 9 (I Believe in the Holy Spirit) was a bit condescending, but for the most part Harris is self-effacing and humorous (maybe more than I think) and takes a stab at himself ever so often for his blunders and failures. It was interesting to follow his early paths where he 'learned to dig' and see what he came up with out of the dirt. Yet he has led a life of theological and pastoral privilege and sometimes I think his lack of experience outside the pastoral walls clouds his view of what in the dirt theology really is. 

Second, even though there are times when I disagree with Harris profoundly (I'd like to see one passage of Scripture that tells us baptism is merely the entry point into the church, 204), I do believe he is grounded in Scipture and has a high view of it. He quotes it a lot and at times takes a page or two to expound it. I wish his theology sprung more from the Bible than the collected works of Grudem, Calvin, Stott, and Mahaney–but isn't that just the point? When I ask "Whose Theology?" I am directly pointing here to this point: even Harris is the product of a mixture of theological propositions and ideas–all of whom disagree with one another at some point. 

So when I ask the question "Whose theology?" I am kind of asking "What is orthodoxy?" This leads into my third positive point: The last chapter is the best. "I am wrong, but through faith in Jesus, I can be made right before a holy God" (231). Because of Jesus. Because of Grace. 

I rate this book 3/5 stars. It will be helpful for new Christians, but I think it will leave a more mature audience wanting. 

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Friends,

This post attempts to dismiss the angst many have over so-called ‘feminine’ theology. Much of the angst comes from those who are simply afraid that God might not fit into their pre-conceived ideas. Of special concern is the angst many have over The Shack’s presentation of God as a fat, African-American woman. (I suspect much of it comes, too, because people haven’t actually read The Shack.)–jerry

I read this:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

Then I read this:

After looking at an increasingly androgynous Rob Bell in this video, I’d say Bell doesn’t seem limited to a gender either. Any time the feminine side of God is touted by religious leaders, support for homosexuality is never far behind. After all, the thinking goes, if man is made in God’s image, why would he/she be limited to a gender either, right? The goddess, feminine theology, introduced here by Bell and also by the recent Shack novel, will go a long way to push this thinking forward.

Then I thought, “Hmm….I’m an educated man (did very well in college thank you very much). I read a lot. I read The Shack. Strange that when I finished reading it I didn’t come away with even the foggiest notion of goddess worship. Strange that when I finished reading the book I came away with a profound sense that perhaps, yes, God is still very real even when stories don’t have happy endings. Strange that while I was reading the book I had a profound sense of humility that more often than not I have tried to create God in my image instead of allowing the Scripture to control my imagination and, thus, allowing God to be God in his own image. Strange that when I finished reading The Shack, I didn’t feel inclined to worship Aphrodite or Diana or even my wife. However, it was equally strange that I didn’t feel like worshiping an old man with a long white beard, or Zeus, or even myself.

“Strange that I, an educated man who reads, writes, and preaches for a living was not at all uncomfortable with idea that God might look more like Aunt Jemima than Arnold S, more like The Oracle (from the Matrix) than Charlton Heston. Strange that someone might think God purposely goes further out of his way to avoid our stereotypes and pigeonholes than we give him credit for. Strange that when I finished reading The Shack I suddenly believed that God was more powerful, more compassionate, more wise than even I had imagined. Strange, this God who delights in ambiguity and mystery.”

Then I remembered:

“I guess here is my real question in all this…why couldn’t you have made things clear? People go to the Bible and find all these ways to disagree with each other, even or especially theologians. Everybody seems to want to acquire their little piece of doctrinal territory and put fences around it so only those with the secret handshake can get in. Some find support for Universal Reconciliation; some find proofs for eternal torment in hell, and some find it just easier to annihilate everyone who doesn’t make it.” Now I am ranting, but can’t seem to help myself. “The Calvinists find all their verses to debate the Armenians, who find their list. Then there are the ones who believe in eternal security fighting with the ones that don’t.  Every silly idea of eschatology finds its own proof texts and in the middle of all these debates it seems that love is all that gets left behind. We even find ways to fight about grace and love. Couldn’t you have just made it simple and clear; unambiguous?”

I look up and Papa has a big grin on her face, but I don’t return the smile. Without really understanding why, this question is suddenly important to me and I can sense that it has threads connecting many of my internal conflicts.

Papa simply let me tread water in my rant for a while, until some of the emotional residue subsides. “Do you think that all this has surprised me?” she asks gently? “Do you think that I thought, ‘There, they now have the scriptures; they will totally get this’?   Human beings are very creative. They have an incredible facility to take some of the simplest and most obvious truths and make them ambiguous. If I didn’t know better, it would surprise even me.”

“But,” I am struggling to keep my question from becoming an accusation, “Why couldn’t you have made it clearer? How hard would it have been to just have one of the writers put truth down in such a way that there would be no confusion?”

I look up and she is still grinning, obviously enjoying the conversation more than I am. “Like a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) at the back of the Bible?” I roll my eyes, even though part of me thinks that might have been a good idea. Papa pauses to take another sip of her steaming whatever. “Have you ever thought that ambiguity, that mystery, might have purpose?” she posed.

The question actually surprises me and I begin to feel the uneasiness that usually precedes my paradigms being challenged. “Nope. I’ve never thought about that at all. I’ve spent most of my life so focused on certainty, that ambiguity and mystery have always been, sort of…the enemy. Are you telling me that ambiguity is a good thing?”

I think the reason some are afraid of a ‘feminine’ [and there’s a big difference between saying ‘feminine God’ and ‘female God’] God is because we haven’t been properly instructed in Scripture. Truth be told, those who think God looks (or acts or is shaped) like a man have a woefully inadequate understanding of God who is Spirit. Truth be told, those who think God looks (or acts or is shaped) like a woman have a woefully inadequate understanding of God who is Spirit. Truth be told, those who cannot imagine God as either, both, and neither have a woefully inadequate picture of the Holy God who will not be limited by the imagination that he built within us in the beginning. Why is this so hard to understand?

I suppose those who think God is one or the other are perfectly satisfied with their understanding of God and, thus, have nothing more to search for, nothing more to seek, no more reason to open their bibles, no more reason to pray, no more reason to even hope. Those who reject ‘feminine’ metaphors have no need for a mother; those who reject ‘masculine’ metaphors have no need for a father. But is aren’t we incomplete without both? Can we even exist if one is absent? I don’t want a god who is limited by my ideas of ‘male’ and ‘female’. I don’t even want a god who is limited by my ideas of mere ‘god’ and ‘goddess.’ I want a God who is strong and sensitive, masculine and feminine, burly and beautiful, willing and wonderful, purposeful and passionate. I want a God who is perfectly masculine and perfectly feminine and creates both to His own glory. I want the God of the Scripture who is perfectly shown us in Jesus.

Ambiguity is a good thing because it keeps us from becoming content in our misconceptions. Ambiguity is good because it keeps us from becoming careless with our caricatures. Ambiguity is a good thing because it keeps us from becoming conceited about our wisdom. Ambiguity is good because it chops us down to size, turns us all around, and makes us rely on grace all over again. I reject out of hand the idea that we will be saved because we have all the right answers to all the wrong questions. Ambiguity is good because it strips us of pride and causes us to cry out all over again, “God have mercy on me, a sinner!” Ahh, grace.

Then it all came together:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Now I understand why God gave me a mother and a father. There is a subtle ambiguity in this verse if both man and woman can be created in the image of the same God. Thus, this sentence is just wrong: “Any time the feminine side of God is touted by religious leaders, support for homosexuality is never far behind.” Wrong! That sentence is so wrong it could not be more wrong. It is beyond wrong. It is abysmally wrong. When both sides of the coin are presented, when they are held in tension, when the ambiguity is unresolved, we have a complete picture of God in whose image man and woman were created. I reject the idea that because both ’sides’ of God are present that a teaching about homosexuality is, and must necessarily be, close behind. Rather it seems to me that when one side is neglected, and only one side is presented, then will homosexuality follow behind closely. I wonder how many male homosexuals didn’t have a father? I wonder how many female homosexuals didn’t have a mother? Not all, mind you; but I wonder how many. In other words it is the absence of correct theology of the ‘feminine’ side of God that creates the problems for the church, not its presence.

I’m troubled by all this talk not because I feel a personal need to defend The Shack (although I do) or because I think there is a glaring omission of ‘feminine’ theology in the church (although there is). I’m troubled because in all our talk about God we are missing the greater point: The only real image of God we have is Jesus. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Jesus said (John14:9).

And Jesus wasn’t afraid of feminine metaphors or masculine metaphors as images of God. Jesus was perfectly content, it seems to me, to allow that God would be the perfect standard of righteousness for both men and women. If God’s image is the image in which men and women are created, and God’s righteousness is the perfect standard for masculinity and femininity in the church (unless there is more than one God!), then it seems to me that exploring both ’sides’ should not only be encouraged, but it is also quite necessary for our understanding of ourselves and God. He gave us one image by which to explore ‘both sides’: Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Originally posted at CRN.info

Friends,

I finally managed to find my CD copies of my manuscripts from The Dangerous God sermon series of which I have posted a couple of the mp3’s here. I will be posting more of the mp3’s, but for now I would like to provide you with the sermon manuscripts. These sermons are filled with quotes from authors like David Wells, PT Forsyth, Mark Buchanan, Philip Yancey and more. Expository sermons from the lives of Gideon, David, Joshua, the disciples and more.  I hope they are a help to you.

Dangerous God, pt 1: Judges 7,  The God Who Does More with Less, PPT

Dangerous God, pt 2: 1 Samuel 17:1-58, The God Who Does Greater with Smaller

Dangerous God, pt 3: Joshua 1:1-18; 5:13-27, The God Who Does the Impossible with the Improbable

Dangerous God, pt 4: Matthew 1:18-25, Revelation 12, The God Who Enters Chaos to Bring Order

Dangerous God, pt 5: Luke 23; Various, The God Who Saves in the Midst of Loss

Dangerous God, pt 6: Acts 2:22-36, The God Whose Life is Greater than Our Death

Dangerous God, pt 7: Acts 9:1-18, etc., The God Who Uses the World’s Rejects

Dangerous God, pt 8: Matthew 5-7,  The Dangerous God’s Message to His People: A Radical Way of Counterculturally Living

Thanks for stopping by. Again, I hope you find these sermons helpful.

And, as always,

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here is part 3 of my current sermon series that coincides with The Bible in 90 Days reading program. In this sermon, which I divided into two parts, we begin looking at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. In my estimation, the Exodus is one probably the single most significant historical event in the history of earth. In the event we see the complete work of God in miniature as he confronts the godless Egypt and the idols of Egypt as represented by Pharaoh. There are four main points that I will eventually make, and in this first part I made the first two points. First, I deal with prophets (Moses and Aaron). Here we see a discovery of who speaks for God. Ultimately, this works itself out in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Second, I deal with the plagues where we see a declaration of who is God as YHWH systematically dismantles the the religious hierarchy of Egypt. Ultimately, I conclude this sermon by noting that what matters most here is that YHWH is known. Tune in next week for part 2 where I will deal with Pharaoh and Passover. jerry

You can listen here: Exodus 7-12, Freedom for God’s People.

Or use the inline audio below:

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Print version available here: Exodus 7-12, Freedom For God’s People (or at Box.net)

Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People

Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.

Always for His glory!

Friends,

I am always happy to share with you when I discover what so many others already knew about the www: There is more than can be imagined out there!

I’ll be adding this link to my side bar soon, but for now here’s a happy link to the Carl F H Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

I haven’t had much time to explore, but from some of the names I’ve seen associated with the actual Center itself, I’m impressed. The Center also has a podcast that can be downloaded through itunes. (I found it by searching ‘theological lectures.’) I downloaded about seven lectures tonight. I also came across this at their blog:

The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is excited to announce that on October 9th, 2008 at 6:30pm, it will host a Trinity Debate at the TEDS Chapel featuring Drs. Bruce Ware (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and WayneGrudem(Phoenix Seminary) versus Drs. Tom McCall (TEDS) and Keith Yandell (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on the question:

“Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?”

This debate follows current argumentation in the academic sphere between the two sides. Though a theological exchange between expert scholars, this event will prove beneficial for Christians of all backgrounds. The doctrine of the Trinity is at the heart of the Christian faith and takes into account questions of scriptural interpretation, theological synthesis, and philosophical reasoning. Determining the identities and roles of the persons of the Godhead is thus of great importance not only to the academician, but to the pastor, the layperson, the student and all who would seek to probe and comprehend the beautiful complexity of orthodox Christianity.

The Center anticipates that the debate will be lively, informative, charitable, enjoyable, and, we trust, helpful to a wide variety of Christians and even non-Christians who wish to better understand one of the central realities of the faith. This event is not intended to be intramural, but rather to stimulate discussion that clarifies the Word of God in the life of Christ’s church. All should consider themselves invited and welcome to this free evening of debate and dialogue over theological issues that matter.

I won’t be able to get to it in person, so here’s hoping they podcast or transcript it for us. The Center has also made available two papersthat look very promising. One by Kirsten Birkett on “I Believe in Nature: An Exploration of Naturalism and the Biblical Worldview” (available as a .pdf download) and the other by Chawkat Moucarry on “A Christian Perspective on Islam”(also available as a .pdf). I haven’t read either, but for anyone interested in these two topics, the papers should at minimum provide good reading and perhaps stimulate thought and conversation. Looks like there is a lot of stuff available at this website. Enjoy.

jerry

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Evangelical Holiness/WesleyanYou are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
100%
Neo orthodox
68%
Fundamentalist
61%
Emergent/Postmodern
46%
Reformed Evangelical
32%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
7%
Roman Catholic
7%
Modern Liberal
0%
Classical Liberal
0%

Just for the record, I do not believe that I am totally depraved. Nor do I believe anyone is totally depraved. I cannot earn my salvation, but I can make a choice. –jerry

Friends,

David Wells has written some of the most important books I have personally read. (I referenced four of them on my ‘Books’ page.) Here’s an excerpt from an essay I found online:

The nature of evangelical theology is determined for it by the nature of that Word of which it is the exposition and application. The Word of God is the unique, written disclosure of God’s character, will, acts, and plans. It is given so that men and women who have come to faith through its teaching might learn to five [sic.] in God’s world on his terms, loving and honoring him in all that they do and seeking to make known to the world his law and gospel. That is the purpose of God’s revelation and the task of theology is to facilitate this.

This facilitation begins with the recognition of the bipolar nature of biblical revelation. Biblical revelation was given in a particular cultural context but it is also intended to be heard in our own context. This revelatory trajectory, then, has a point of origination and a point of arrival. It is the fact of inspiration and the contemporary work of the Spirit which secure a consistency between its terminus a quo and its terminus a quem. The work of the Holy Spirit was such that the responsible human agents who were used in the writing of Scripture were able to employ cultural materials and, indeed, to shape the revelation in terms of their own understanding, but what God the Spirit willed should be revealed was exactly what was written, and the content and intent of this revelation were alike transcultural. The biblical revelation, because of its inspired nature, can therefore be captive neither to the culture in which it arose nor to the culture in which it arrives. It was not distorted as it was given, nor need it be distorted as we seek to understand it many centuries later in contexts far removed from those in which it was originally given.

It may sound naive, but I think a lot of arguments that we have concerning Scripture could easily be settled if we remember the role of the Holy Spirit in the transmission of Scripture. This simple fact is all too easily forgotten or neglected.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry