Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review of Acts: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Vol VI

Acts: Reformation Commentary on Scripture
ed. by Esther Chung-Kim and Todd R. Hains
ISBN 978-0-8308-2969-9
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is the latest in the series that seeks to gather together Reformation perspectives on different portions of Scripture, and gather them together in a commentary. This particular commentary goes passage by passage through the book of Acts, drawing out what Bible teachers had to say about this portion of Scripture in this important epoch in church history.

Both of the scholars that have edited this particular commentary are fairly early in their academic careers. Esther Chung-Kim teaches at Claremont McKenna College in California. She is a student of church history, and appears to have a lot of experience with doctrinal history within the church, which comes in very helpful in compiling Reformation documents for a Bible commentary. Todd Hains is finishing his doctorate, but also has a career in editorial work at a Christian publisher. It is nice to see IVP empowering young academics in this commentary series. And, these two fine people did a fine job with this commentary.

The editors did a fine job of including a number of different Reformers, using quotes from both the "big guns" of the Reformation, as well as other resources that many people will know less about. This allows the reader to search a certain passage, and see quotes from Calvin and Erasmus next to quotes from Luther and the English Annotations.

The authors also do a great job of balancing certain schools of thought and interpretation that came about during the Reformation era. Some Reformers were more interested in one thing that another, or had local concerns that influenced their writing. The balance of perspectives helps us get a better picture of the Reformation, as well as of the Scripture as a whole.

I recommend highly adding this book to your collection, and considering a subscription to the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review of Virtuous Minds by Phillip E. Dow

Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development
by Phillip E. Dow
ISBN 978-0-8308-2714-5
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This book, as you might be able to tell from the cover, is a book on pedagogical philosophy. Specifically, the author wants educators to pay more attention to teaching students values that will help them grow throughout life instead of just facts that they will forget soon after learning them.

Virtuous Minds makes the case for intellectual character development through seven intellectual virtues. As the book description on the back cover states, "virtue is not just about doing the right things, it is about becoming the right kind of person."

Dow believes that this kind of education of persons can happen in churches, homes, and schools, but as an educator he has written this primarily as a resource for those seeking to formally educate young persons. There are 8 appendices in this book, and all of them have to do with implementing the program in the classroom.

The book starts off with a description of each of the seven intellectual virtues that should be cultivated. Dow then follows the virtues with the benefits of developing these character traits in young people. After that there are a few small practical guides on implementing the philosophy advocated in Virtuous Minds. Finally, there is a discussion guide for university students and church groups followed by appendices.

I think Phillip Dow has some interesting things to say here. I certainly believe that his goals are easier accomplished by charter schools and private schools than in our heavily regimented public school environment. I could especially see them into a classical education model.

Book Review of Justice Awakening by Eddie Byun

by Eddie Byun
ISBN 978-0-8308-4419-7
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Justice Awakening is a neat little book. It is simple. It is straight-forward. It is a passionate call to action.

Eddie Byun, through this book, argues for Christians to join God in being wholly committed to reaching out to help the forgotten who have lost the ability to fight for themselves.

This book begins with sharing the heart of God as it is revealed in Scripture. Byun looks at the themes of God's justice and compassion throughout history. He then exposes the scene today. He talks about the different ways that modern day slavery exists, from countries in the third world, to places that are next door or just around the corner. Some of the issues he brings up are well known, but others are less spoken about. After this, Byun shares why the church should care, and what the church should do in response to injustice and human trafficking in all of its forms.

Please pick up Justice Awakening. For some more aware of the issues involved, there will be sections of the book that will be review. For others, this book will open their eyes for opportunities for ministry that they had never thought of or discovered.

Book Review of Imitating God in Christ by Jason B. Hood

Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern
by Jason B. Hood
ISBN 978-0-8308-271-7
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Being a follower of Jesus is at one time simple, and then at the same time it takes a lifetime to figure out. Imitating God in Christ in a very academic, biblical, and theological way calls believers to imitate God in Christ. And in doing so, Jason Hood opens the eyes of readers to a beautiful way of understanding the journey of discipleship.

This book tracks this theme of imitation from Genesis (image of God), through the gospels (discipleship/apprentice language), and through the Pauline writings, where the imitation language is more direct and constant.

The book then goes on to describe a process for discipleship, and anticipate arguments against the thesis that is presented. It is a through, well-written book that is needed for our day and time. While the language of imitation is not new (see Thomas a Kempis for an example), in some circles it has been called into question for the tendency to describe imitation as a moral ethic, but not grounded in a relationship with Christ. Hood forcefully argues that this way of viewing imitation, from both sides of the theological spectrum, is short-sighted and fails to take into account the entirety of what Scripture has to say on the matter.

Read this book. Read deep. And begin to ponder anew what it means to be a Christ-follower.

Book Review of Balancing It All by Candace Cameron

Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose
by Candace Cameron Burke
ISBN 978-1-4336-8184-4
B&H Publishing Group
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Candace Cameron Bure, the star of Full House and the sister of fellow thespian Kirk Cameron, has recently written a book that shares her story and offers advice about being a Christian mother. Her situation is unique because she is also doing some work acting, and her husband is a professional athlete.

This book is interesting and decently written, but will not be for everyone. Mrs. Bure has a more fundamentalist, conservative worldview, which makes its way into her decisions about parenting, marriage, and life. And while many women will relate to her struggles to balance responsibilities, not all of them will make the same decisions she has.

The book is interesting, and mixes biography and inspiration. I will most likely give it away to someone who can better relate theologically and personally to Bure's story.

The Perils of a Pastoral Staycation

I get 4 weeks of paid vacation a year. This is, for the most part, the standard vacation for ordained pastors in my denomination. My wife gets the equivalent of about 2.5 a year, but she also gets sick time and weekends. She also does not have a Masters Degree with 90 graduate hours of study. But I digress.

I am very thankful for my four weeks a year. I need them. There are folks I know, especially in the public sector, that get more. And there are folks I know that get less.

Our challenge, with Jennifer working part time, is that we don't really have the resources to travel for my time off. Nor does Jennifer have all of the time that I have to be gone, especially having just completed cancer treatment. Being on staycation though, is always fraught with challenges for a pastor, especially when one serves a church that compels the pastor to live in a residence provided by the church as part of their salary package.

One of the challenges comes when one tries to figure out what one should do during worship time on Sunday. Go to another church? Stay at the house? The problem with staying at the house is that it leaves you peeking out the window to see who is attending, and fearful that someone will want to drop by for keys. In the church we served in Fowler, our home was less than 15 yards from the sanctuary, which means that if we stayed in the house we not only were subject to the awkward sense of being home while people were worshiping next door, but we also heard worship next door from our living room.

This year is further complicated by me splitting my Sundays. I took Sunday night off last week, but Sunday morning off this week. My sister came into town on vacation, and I wanted to show her around the Hills for the week. So I did.

And because people know I am not far away, I am often drawn in to do things I otherwise could not if away on vacation. These things include:
  • Doing a funerals (this has happened at while on vacation more than once)
  • Answering questions about who to help with assistance vouchers
  • Going to church social events with family that I have been personally invited to
  • Continuing to "be the pastor" in the community even though I am not working which has impact on how I dress, what I say etc. Even though I am not working, the "weight" of ministry is still not removed 
  • Seeing everything that is happening at the church because I live right next door
  • Having garage sales for the church in my front yard
  • Responding to pastoral concerns via phone regarding illness etc.
  • Much more
Now, with some minor exceptions, there is no blame to be laid. This is part of the deal of the pastoral staycation, and why it is more difficult to leave work as a pastor unless one leaves town.

Perhaps pastors need to talk about home exchanges for vacation stays? I don't know. I just know that a staycation, although sometimes necessary in ministry, is never really completely time off.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Review of Arms Wide Open

Arms Wide Open: A Call to Linger in the Savior's Presence
by Sherri Gragg
ISBN 978-1-4003-2346-3
Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is an easy to read book about the life of Christ. Written to describe how Jesus personally encountered people with real needs in the real world, it can work both as a survey of Christ's life to read straight through, or as a devotional that slowly helps people encounter Jesus through the story of Scripture.

Each chapter begins with a title and few verses from other places in Scripture that further the author's point. The a portion of Scripture is read. After that the teaching tells the story in a more modern manner paying attention to the scene that must have surrounded the people when Jesus originally walked the earth. Some of these stories are first-person reflections. Others are told more from the perspective of an observer.

This book would be great both as a help for Christians wanting to deepen their walk with Christ, and for non-believers who might need to know more about what Jesus is all about.

Book Review of The NIV Fast Facts Bible


NIV Fast Facts Bible
ISBN 978-0-310-4316-6
Zondervan Publishing

Every year, publishers try to come out with a few new Bibles for study and purchase. Each of these Bibles has a different set of "extras" in it. Many of them are very well done. For instance, I got an "Outdoorsman" Bible that was perfect for a friend of mine that loves the outdoors. I have several different kinds of study Bibles, and each offer help in different ways. So, I was excited for this fast facts Bible.

I have to say, after looking through the Fast Facts Bible from Zondervan, I am really quite disappointed. Really they added a very brief book introduction, and a quiz at the end of every book of the Bible, and that is about it. I mean, I expected sidebars highlighting interesting facts, or perhaps the roots of some idioms that we use today, or something.

To add to it, this particular Bible is grossly overpriced. It is a paperback with average print, no study notes, and very little even in the way of a concordance or maps, yet it is being sold for well over twenty dollars. Look elsewhere for a translation to help you grow in your faith, or even just to have a Bible if you are seeking your first. There is a lot better out there.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thinking about where I am, and where I am going...

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, but I am afraid I have not been doing much thinking of consequence for this blog.

Much of my energy the last few years has been directed toward family concerns. Dealing with my wife's illness. Adjusting and readjusting to life with children. Adapting to perhaps the most demanding church I have ever served. Pondering how to get our church to grow, how to find friendships and live life here in Hot Springs. Trying to lose weight and develop healthy habits after bariatric surgery. That has left me with lots to ponder, but not much time to sit and write.

Well, that is not completely correct. What has happened is that I have not been able to structure and discipline myself well-enough to do some of the things that I want to do, and might even need to do. This is partly due to crazy circumstances, and partly due to not setting priorities. I need to set better priorities. I am not sure I have the strength to do that, because it will upset people who want me to do other things urgently. But if I don't set better priorities, I won't be able to do the important things well.

This idea of giving my life a backbone of structure is hard for me. I am not a "S" or a "J" on a Myers-Briggs Test or Kiersey Inventory. It works against my instincts. Yet, more and more I can see it is what I need. I need to use my day planner, of which I have several. I need to be more structured with my sleep time, instead of staying up late at night just attempting to de-stress from everything. I need to plan my exercise, my study and prayer, my writing, and even my work more rigidly. I don't know if I can do this and still be flexible, loving, and such. I tend to be less people-centered when I am task oriented. And I need to be more relationship-oriented than task-oriented in facets of my life. 

I suppose writing about this is the first step toward doing this...more to come.....

Book Review of the Eternal Generation of the Son by Kevin Giles

The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Orthodoxy
by Kevin Giles
ISBN 978-0-8308-3965-0
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Kevin Giles, though relatively unknown in this part of the world, is a top-notch English-speaking theologian. This is perhaps one of his most important books to date, both for its explanation and defense of historic Christian teaching, and for its contemporary relevance in debates over gender issues.

Giles' argument, rather simply, is for the Trinity as an equal partnership of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each part of the Trinity is fully God and fully human. Understanding the Trinity as the three-in-one is essential for orthodox mainstream Christian theology.

One of the early heresies that the church tried to address is that there was some sort of hierarchy in the Godhead, with God the Father being at the top of the pyramid, and the Son and Spirit somehow being lesser part of the Godhead.

This heresy, called subordinationism, has made a comeback lately, especially among Calvinist evangelicals that espouse a "complementarian theology". In other words, using a few proof texts from the epistles of Paul, the folks that espouse women's subordination to men and denying them leadership in the church say that women should take on a subordinate role to men just like Jesus takes on a lesser role in relationship to the Father. Giles argues against people like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, citing both biblical and historical evidence.

Whether one agrees with Giles or not, this is a landmark book in the debate between complimentarians and egalatarians regarding the Biblical witness on women's equality. And one that should certainly be read and critiqued by both sides.

Book Review of Why Church History Matters

Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn From Our Past
by Robert F. Rea
ISBN 978-0-8308-2819-7
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I love history and I love theology. In my college education and seminary education, I took four classes that taught church history. Sadly, as I attended each of these classes, my interest in the subject matter taught slowly waned, and I occupied myself with other matters during my classes. It was not because my professors were not creative in how they communicated historical matters. Quite the opposite.

Where I think the professors fell short in capturing my interest is that they failed to communicate with passion why what happened in the past matters to the world and the church that I am living in today. In Why Church History Matters Robert F. Rea follows one very important issue throughout church history: the church's understanding of Scripture. The result is a fascinating read that should be adopted in college level church history classes everywhere.

The result of the book also brings up another challenging question, especially for evangelicals today. What is the role of tradition in our understanding how we interpret and understand Scripture? When should we look to tradition to guide our understanding today? When should we dismiss tradition because of its lack of biblical support? When is tradition healthy for Christian? When is tradition a hindrance to faith?

The issue of the role of interpretation of Scripture and tradition has several touch points in our life together as Christian evangelicals. How do we understand classical spiritual disciplines as evangelicals when several of them are more grounded in Christian tradition, and non-Protestant traditions at that? What version of Scripture do we choose to use and why? What happens when we have worship that is not rooted in the "cloud of witnesses" that have come before?

Rea has written a book that is both a history book and a compelling read. Much like the history of ideas that we find in secular literature, this book tracks a few ideas throughout church history and draws students and interested readers together on a journey of discovery.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book Review of The Closer by Mariano Rivera

The Closer: My Story
by Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey
ISBN 978-0-316-40073-2
Little, Brown and Company
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have to admit. I am generally not a Yankees fan. I am a West Coast guy first of all. I root for the West Coast team in any sport when I get any opportunity. Also, being a Yankees fan in baseball is like being a Cowboys fan in football. It is entirely too cliche for me. Having said that, I have long been a fan of Mariano Rivera, even when I rooted against him. His faith is inspirational. His story is compelling. His class is undeniable.

His story, his faith, and his class are all evident in this recently released autobiography penned by Mariano. Many of us might know Mariano was a believer in Jesus. Not all of us would know that his wife is the senior pastor of a Spanish-speaking evangelical church in New York. From his struggles in school as a child, to his up and down battle to make it in professional baseball, to his hall-of-fame career, readers will get an inside look in the professional and personal life of Mariano Rivera.

The Closer is clearly written in Mariano's voice. His perspective on the world around him is unique, as are his takes on many issues and people. Mariano is a reflective person, and that shows up in every page. Another thing that is clear is that Mariano has a deep faith in Jesus. He does not get awfully preachy, but his faith just pours out of him as he reflects on God's help in his life, God's blessings he has received, and how his faith guides his decisions and behavior.

As a Christian pastor, I was inspired by Mariano's testimony. As a sports fan, I am intrigued by his story. As his brother in Christ, I am excited to see what the next phase of his life and ministry brings, and expect to see God do even greater things in his "second half".

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review of Crazy Stories, Sane God by John Alan Turner

Crazy Stories, Sane God: Lessons from the Most Unexpected Places in the Bible
by John Alan Turner
ISBN 978-1-4336-8128-8
B&H Publishing
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I was a youth pastor, there was several times when I tried to put together a study called "Strange But True Bible Stories". The study was designed to take on issues that one might not otherwise thought about and discussed, as well as to teach people that the Bible is not nearly as boring as they think it is. As a matter of fact, many of the characters in the Bible story sound like they are in a soap opera and not a Sunday School class.

Crazy Stories, Sane God takes on much of the same ground as I did, only much more artfully than I could have done it. The book grabs a hold of several stories and really challenges people to wrestle with the craziness and messiness of human behavior. Also, it shows how God's character is consistent throughout all of our personal drama.

Thoughtful and creative, this would be a great resource for a small group.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review of Overwhelmed by Perry Noble

Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry
by Perry Noble
ISBN 978-1-4143-6886-3
Reviewed by Clint Walker

We all worry. For some of us, worry motivates us to do the right thing, or gets us off the couch. But for others, their is an unhealthy stress, worry, anxiety or whatever you want to call it that seems to have a negative effect on our happiness and the course of our lives. Perry Noble knows that paralyzing worry, and he has found ways to both deal with it, and at times with God's help overcome this overwhelming anxiety.

Each of the chapters in the book is relatively short. Noble talks about how anxiety has an influence on our decisions, including sinful ones. He also offers practical advice to get unstuck in one's worry battle. There are several friends I might hand this book to, and there are times when I might need to pick it up myself.

Book Review of Chasing God by Angie Smith

Chasing God
by Angie Smith
ISBN 978-1-4336-7661-1
B&H Publishing Group
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Angie Smith is a relatively new and compelling writer. This book is really, like many of her other books, all about discovering that God's grace and love is bigger and more amazing than we ever can anticipate, and that she expects.

This book is really about how she spends a lot of time chasing after God, aspiring to greater spiritual heights, and pushing to draw close to God, and then coming to realize that God is already close her. Instead of chasing after God, she needs to slow down and savor God's presence and receive his grace that was readily available to her all alone.

Smith is thoughtful, deep and vulnerable. Her journey will touch many.

Book Review of If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis

If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life
by Alister McGrath
ISBN 978-1-4143-8378-1
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Alister McGrath is a top notch Christian thinker. He is a thinker, and also engages contemporary issues. Perhaps it is not unnatural then that he would choose the venerable C.S. Lewis as a literary and theological mentor.

Since Lewis died before McGrath got interested in his thinking, there is no way that McGrath could have a personal interaction with him. So he imagines a lunch/seminar with Lewis, exploring Lewis' thinking and his own thinking in relationship to him.

Each chapter McGrath explores a different subject. Some are more theological. Some have more to do the with spirituality and the struggles of everyday life.

The writing is intelligent and thought-provoking. Yet, it is personable at the same time. I think it is a great, creative introduction to Lewis' thinking as well.