Saturday, March 09, 2019

An Introduction to the New Testament by David A. deSilva

An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation
An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation (Second Edition)
By David A. deSilva
ISBN 978-0-8308-5217-8
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

There are a lot of New Testament textbooks out there. Some are more entry level in nature. Some are more academic. None is as good as deSilva's Introduction to the New Testament at both equipping ministers to understand and live in the word, as well as training students of the word to be academically engaged in understanding key issues of biblical scholarship. As deSilva says in his introduction that he "seeks to nurture this kind of integrated approach to Scripture, attend both the methods and results of the academic, critical study of the New Testament and to the ways in which these text continue to speak a word from the Lord about discipleship, community, and ministry" (xx).

Throughout the text, deSilva endeavors to teach the content of the material, while at the same time introducte exegetical methods to the reader. For instance, in Luke attention is paid to interpreting parables, and in John the reader is introduced to narrative criticism.

Each study of each Biblical book ends with a way of taking a theme from the book that has been introduced in the rest of the chapter, and relating it to ministry formation. Sometimes readers are challenged to lead themselves and congregations with integrity. Other times it reminds us that the gospel has a "communal context" that we should pay attention to (337).

In my opinion, this book would be great for academic classrooms in college and seminary, but it would also be helpful for pastors leading a church. For some of us, there is material that is review. However, I think the author does a good job at making the readers experience both formational and informational.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Book Review of Understanding Scientific Theories of Orgins by Bishop, Funck, Lewis, Moshier and Walton

Image result for understanding scientific theories of origins

Understanding Scientific Theories of Orgins: Cosmology, Geology, Biology in Christian Perspective
By Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Moshier, and John H. Walton
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

For decades, a group of professors at Wheaton College has taught a class on Theories of Orgins of the universe from a Christian perspective. In doing so, they have not advocated for an understanding of a young earth. Using multiple scientific and academic disciplines, they have shown how it is possible to have a number of view of orgins based on Scripture, including one that integrates the findings of science that lean toward evolution with an honest interpretation of Scripture, especially Genesis 1-3.

This book is a result of the up-to-date results of their work together, designed as a text that other professors in other schools can use to replicate the experience that these professors have had in their class. Published in partnership with Biologos, an organization that seeks to integrate scientific perspectives with Biblical truth, this is sure to be used in Christian schools and maybe some secular institutions as well across the country.

What a great addition to the study of orgins. I need to give it a more thorough reading. As for now, it has a place on my shelf both as a resource and a conversation piece.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Alternative thoughts on the Methodists and the Traditional Plan

The United Methodist General Conference just voted to accept the "traditional" plan in relationship to same-sex marriage unions in their congregations, and same-sex relationships and sexual activity among their clergy. There is a lot to say about this, the nature of church institutions in relationship to their membership and more. I will leave that for another day and another time.

What I find interesting about the whole process is the interplay of the global church with the American/Western church. If left to itself, the Methodists in the USA would have adopted a more LGBTQIA friendly plan. However, because the denomination makes decisions globally, it adopted a plan that maintains its discipline on sexual morality, with plans for more strict enforcement of the denomination's covenant.

Having been involved in a Methodist fellowship a few years ago, I was party to some conversations between a bishop and clergy leaders. This bishop, at the time, chaired the congregation of bishops in the UMC, and thus was the "lead" bishop. (Not sure what all that entailed) In that discussion, the bishop shared that although he knew the global church was more conservative, he believed that those churches who were historically founded by Western mission work would not vote for a measure that would lead to division in the Methodist fellowship. He believed this because the conservatives and liberal churches in the USA were like parents to the global church, and they would vote for family preservation instead of their "parents" divorcing. Furthermore, it was implied that the global church would not want division because they were dependent on a "united" support of the churches in the USA.

The non-American churches, especially those in Africa, by voting for the traditional plan, rejected not only a more liberal interpretation of Scripture and human sexuality, they rejected the paternalistic rule of the Western church that the bishop I heard articulated. No longer willing to have their theology and ethical standards dictated to them by the powers that be, they decided that they could read the Bible, discern what it said, and continue in obedience to the Scripture and the historic stance of their fellowship.

This is a lesson for both conservatives and liberals in the church as they seek to develop global relationships in years to come. Christianity, whether it be Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, or nearly any other denomination, is going to be centered more in the southern hemisphere in the years to come. The people groups that were reached in years past are now going to become the leaders of the global church, and the United States and Western Europe are going to become less a mission leader and more of a mission field.

We need to speak about, engage with, and work with our ministry partners around the world as partners instead of thinking of them "children". We need to realize that their voice matters, that they have truth to speak to us, and that our parners from all around the world have leadership to offer and truth to speak. The same Holy Spirit leads us all.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Covington Catholic Kids, Native American Elders and an opportunity for growth

So, if you were like me, at some point this weekend you may have seen a couple of viral videos documenting an encounter between teenagers from Kentucky and a Native American man who resides in Michigan. Many of us were rightly concerned as we observed the video of this conflict. As the conflict played out in the media, longer videos were released which demonstrated that there was more context that needed to be considered that helped observers understand the predicament that these young people were in.

Apparently, the teenagers were harassed by a group called the "Black Israelites". These folks, as best as I can understand, are people of African heritage who also claim heritage to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Although there were many more of the teenagers than there were Black Israelites, some of the Black Israelites said things that were interpreted as threatening. As the Native American elder and his entourage approached, in part to make peace, the teens interpreted their approach as a threat. At least one of the teens reportedly responded directly through impeding the path of the elder. The teens then surrounded the Native American, which he interpreted as a threat. Especially when some teens began to chant and laugh.

Slowly, the viral video, and competing viral videos prompted outrage, conflict, blaming, and all sorts of responses through media, social media, and in conversations in communities small and large. What I find intriguing, however, is not the dumpster fire of labeling, blaming, and shaming that social media has advanced about this event, but the lessons that can be learned from this complicated encounter.

Here we go, like it or not:

  • We need to realize, before making sweeping judgments, that all events have context. Whether it the mainstream or partisan/propagandist arms of media, or social media, people who report problems often neglect context.
  • Secondarily, the complications of a specific context may explain poor behavior, and may even be a prompt to offer people a little grace, but it does not excuse the poor behavior. In other words, the viral video that of the teens at the Lincoln Memorial still demonstrates behavior on those teens part that needs to be corrected and disciplined, though perhaps with a little openness to forgiveness and grace considering the context. 
  • Third, we need to understand that symbols that we may understand as harmless or positive in our context may be considered a threat in other contexts. Like it or not,  MAGA hats, especially when paired with chanting, are considered as much of a threat in a some environments as waving confederate flags.
  • Fourth, our blatant disrespect for elders was on full display, and this is a problem across all elements of our culture
  • Fifth, just because you have an excuse and an explanation, does not mean that your non verbals don't betray your true need for growth. The kid that confronted that Native American elder, and the kids around him, even though there were extenuating circumstances, did demonstrate latent insensitivity to other cultures at best, and prejudice at worst, even given the broader context. To not acknoweldge that is to not offer the opportunity for them to grow and be changed. 
  • Finally the true lesson of this event is not for those teens or our children. It is for us! These teens were simply mirroring attitudes and behaviors than had seen elsewhere.

Book Review of The First Testament by John Goldingay

The First Testament: A New Translation  -     By: John Goldingay

The First Testament: A New Translation
John Goldingay
IVP Academic
ISBN 978-0-830805199-7
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I was sent this book to review by IVP Academic to review for them a few months back. Stated simply The First Testament is a new translation of what is commonly referred to as the "Old Testament". It comes to us from John Goldingay, who is an Old Testament scholar who has written a number of books. Although I am confident that many of his books are phenomenal, he is best known for writting the "For Everyone" commentaries on the Old Testament for which N.T. Wright penned the New Testament portion of the series previously.

For my purposes, The First Testament offers the kind of reading experience I had hoped for. What I hope to get out of a translation like this, or The Message or The Kingdom New Testament, is to read over texts in Scripture that I have heard and read several times, and to be awakened to new insight or understanding. In this translation, Goldingay does just that. For example, as I study Proverbs I become curious  how the word "dimwit" is translated by more traditional versions, and wonder whether Goldingay takes to much liberty translating the "fear of the Lord" as "awe" (Proverbs 15:16). Also, I am challenged to pay attention in different ways in Genesis when the names of the patriarchs and some of the Biblical lands are translated with words that may be more accurate, but are also less familiar.

Like many newer translations, versions, and different study Bibles, intoductions are provided for each book. The introductions are helpful in and of themselves as well. A glossary is provided in the back of the book as well.

As I read through the text, however, I wonder the following:

  • Is this translation "accessible" to the average folks in the pews? (I have my doubts, especially with the more accurate yet unfamiliar translations of names and places).
  • Would this translation be helpful for sermon preparation? (I actually think it would be.)
  • Will this translation find a broad audience (no clue)
Thus, to summarize, I enjoy reading this translation. It teaches me a lot. However, it may not be for everyone, especially the laypersons of your congregation.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Book Review of The Gift of Hard Things by Mark Yaconelli

The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places
by Mark Yaconelli
ISBN 978-0-8308-4608-5
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Since my years in youth ministry, Mark Yaconelli has been one of my favorite writers and thinkers. Earlier in his career, he led a ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary teaching about and promoting Contemplative Youth Ministry.

This book is a gift. It comes to us from the next phase of his career, now living in Southern Oregon. I would say the book is more of an experience than a guide, leading its readers to see from his personal experience and the experience of others how God can work in challenging circumstances and difficult places in life.

From the start, Yaconelli acknowledges that the insights of this book will not be helpful to all, and it not intended to take the place of skilled counseling from major trauma. Having clearly stated this disclaimer, The Gift of Hard Things is a tour de force on finding hope in difficult seasons, and discerning the presence of God in the "Dark Night of the Soul"

Each chapter addresses a different experience, a different issue, and through the use of narrative helps the reader see glimers of grace in the middle of harsh landscapes of life. I loved the opening chapter as Mark discussed his own journey with burnout. And, I enjoyed the discussion of a failure of a ministry, and how God was uniquely present in that situation as well.

This is a book not only to be read, but to be savored, and then read again.

Book Review of Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life  -     By: Tish Harrison Warren

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
by Tish Harrison Warren
IVP Formatio
ISBN 978-0-8308-4628-8
Reviewed by Clint Walker

For those of you who are readers of this blog, I apologize! I have received this book quite a while back for review. However, as is the case with many of the books that I review that I want to really dig into, this review is coming to you a little later than it should. It is a well-loved book by this point in many circles, having won Christianity Today's book of the year. Since the publication of this book I have also had the opportunity to see miss Warren speak, and she communicates as authentically and powerfully in person as she does in this book. I recommend getting yourself a copy as soon as you can.

Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest (Church of England but not Episcopal). This is important for the reader to understand. As I understand, she came to this tradition as an adult, and it really informs her book in powerful ways. You see, the premise of the book is that the liturgy of our everyday lives, if we let it, can mirror the liturgy of the church, and vice versa. Both the rhythms of our workday life and the liturgy of the church can work together to form us into the kind of people that God wants us to be. There has to be some intentional openness to being grown through this each liturgy, and the symbiosis between the two, but the growth is indeed possible, and has some beauty to it.

I remember when I was first teaching some of the practices I had learned regarding spiritual formation with young adults, there was quite a lot of resistance from some young mothers who struggled to understand how to implement spiritual disciplines into their everyday life while their kids were young. Of course, they were correct. It is hard to take time for one's self when you live your life is a hamster wheel of diaper changes, feedings, baths, and playing on the floor with one's kids. However, Tish Harrison Warren opens up the possibility of reflecting on the ordinary routines of the day in order to discover new movements of the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God.

The book is both winsome and beautiful. I highly recommend it to all.

Book Review of the Advent of the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey

Image result for the advent of the lamb of god

The Advent of the Lamb of God
by Russ Ramsey
IVP Books
ISBN 978-0-8308-4388-5
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Advent of the Lamb of God is a great book for beginning to understand the Story of Jesus. It is the first book in a three part Retelling the Story Series published by IVP Books. It would be a wonderful family devotion for couples or people with children well into grade school or older.

Advent of the Lamb tells about the coming of Christ in two parts. After a brief two chapters setting the scene of God's intention through the Messiah, Russ Ramsey summarizes the biblical story through sharing a number of excepts from Scripture. He does this both by referencing the Scripture, and also putting it the narrative of Scripture in his own words.

The second half of the book gets into the traditional narrative of the Advent and Christmas stories, ending with an except from the book of Galatians to summarize what God was doing in Christ at his birth.

There are several benefits of reading this book:

  • It is an easy way to understand Scriptures story in a way that the reader can easy sense and feel the flow of the Biblical narrative. This is more user friendly than simply picking up a Bible if you are trying to get a general flow of God's redemption story. I would recommend reading the Scripture narrative as a part of reading Ramsey's retelling of the story.
  • This book draws its readers into celebrating the Christian year, which I think is very important.
  •  It is very readable in its style, which makes the study of this book not only spiritually beneficial, but also pleasurable.
  • The narrative teaches as it tells.
Even in January, this would be a great read in helping the reader understanding the story of Jesus.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Holding on for dear life may hasten our death

We had an interesting discussion in our deacon board meeting the other night. Our Wednesday night supper is declining in attendance. Some have opted out of the meal because the meal tends to have what I will call "low nutritional value". Others have dietary concern. There are a few folks who don't like getting out to come to a church meal every week. For others, as the numbers have dwindled, it "just isn't there scene" anymore.

Related to this concern, there is a shortage of people willing to cook. Some folks are not capable of doing all the legwork that is required to prepare the meal. Others were, but are not longer capable of cooking a meal for a large group of people. People want to eat early, which means that working folks have to take vacation time to cook, which they are less willing to do. So, we beg and plead to get people to cover the meal, and it just limps along.

One of our deacons suggested a birthday dinner for folks might draw in more participants. Her idea is not a bad one. I think it may increase attendance slightly once a month, but it is not a long term solution to making a dying traditional program suddenly more relevant.

I commented that in this situation we need to examen the meal ministry, evaluate if the program is meeting the needs it was designed to meet, and then either modify the program, or realize its at the end of its life cycle and discontinue the program.

Some people disagreed. Other agreed with what I said. A few misunderstood what I said and labeled me as "against" the Wednesday Night Supper.

This is what I know about church programs and church development. Holding on for dear life to dying programs, events and traditions only hastens the death of both the program, and sometimes the institution.

In our fast changing world, adaptation in ministry is not a one time process, it is a continual process. We cannot rest on the change we just made in ministry we must have an ongoing process of adaptation and change in nearly all of our ministry nearly all of the time if we are going to be vibrant, growing churches.

I learned this lesson through failure.

In the last church I served I helped to reorganize the youth ministry and move it forward for a bit. For a season, this adaptation worked. We combined two smaller groups into a meaningful program. Kids were connecting with the church, the Lord, and one another. Because most of the ministry was with unchurched kids, it was a challenge for some of our church folks, but they did well. At the end of the first year we had some set backs.

In addition to this, my wife was diagnosed with cancer as I started my second year trying to help it develop. This forced us to adapt again, combining the church youth ministry and the contemporary service. For a season both grew and thrived.

The next year, we started a children's outreach at the same time. That had a good start as well. The kids outreach was going well. The youth ministry, without continuing to adapt and adjust, was struggling a little more, but still working well.

The following year, without being able to adapt and adjust, was beginning to struggle. Before wrong it shrank to nothing. The kids ministry followed suit. Then the contemporary service lost its key leadership due to a move, and everything slowly crumbled.

Here is the lesson I learned from that (among many), if you don't continue to change and adapt you begin to die.


Holding on for dear life may hasten your death.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review for Blue Ocean Shift

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Blue Ocean Shift: Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth
by W, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
ISBN 978-0-316-31404-6
Hachette Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

In this wonderful follow up to Blue Ocean Strategy, the authors of Blue Ocean Shift seek to further plot the course toward reaching undiscovered and undreamed of markets for folks seeking to make their mark on the business world, the non-profit world and more.

First, it may be helpful to understand the language of "Blue Ocean" that the authors have trademarked in their studies of business development and adaptation. Markets that are saturated with customers and sellers are referred to as "red" and "Red Ocean".  Blue Ocean markets are unknown and undiscovered markets that businesses and salespersons can move into.

In Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne seemed to advocate for the concept of "Blue Oceans", advocating entrepreneurs seek to be in this space. This book, as I understand it, is more about adaptation. How do you adapt your new or established business to move from "red oceans" to blue oceans"

Blue Ocean Strategy is filled with great stories and examples that push the reader toward embracing their viewpoint, and helping people move into open spaces in the buisness world. Thoughtful, inspiring, and smart, many business persons would be wise to read this book and seek their niche.

For me as a pastor, this book applies to church growth as well. In what ways are churches seeking an already saturated market, and in what ways can the church move into new space that are blue oceans full of outreach possibilities? Something to consider...