Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review of Resignation of Eve by Jim Henderson

The Resignation of Eve: What if  Adam's rib is no longer willing to be the Church's backbone?
by Jim Henderson
ISBN 978-14143-3730-2
Tyndale Publishers
Barna Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

If you walk into most churches on Sunday morning, it is easy to notice a few things In most churches, it doesn't take a highly observant person to notice that the age of membership in most congregations continues to get older and older. In many churches, it does also fairly obvious to most observers that there are a lot more women at most church events than there are men.

Jim Henderson has noticed this trend. He also noticed a few other things. First of all, the culture of the church tends to burden more and more of the work of the ministry to competent women in the congregation. Secondarily, there are many women in the church that are willing to serve in the church, but they are not honored with a place of influence in the church. Instead they are dismissed, their gifts are denied, and their ministry is demeaned simply because it is done by a woman.

To speak about this phenomenon, Jim Henderson uses the language of "resignation". This has a triple meaning in the title of The Resignation of Eve. In light of many churches intentionally or not so intentionally devaluing women, some women resign themselves to less than ideal circumstances. Others leave the church because they believe it is untenable--the "resign" from church. Still others find ways to renegotiate roles and expectations within congregations and "Re-sign" up for service in the family of God.

What I enjoy about this book is that it speaks about issues in general, but then it tells a specific person's story to show the truth in what is being said. The stories of these women transcend age, race, and socio-economic status. They are well-creafted, and at credibility to Henderson's argument.

The Resignation of Eve both advocates for fuller inclusion of women in leadership, as well as honoring women more often for all they do for the church. In both senses, I agree with Jim Henderson and what it says in this fine book.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review for For Calvinism by Michael Horton

For Calvinism
by Michael Horton
ISBN 978-0-310-32465-2
Published by Zondervan
Reviewed by Clint Walker

John Calvin walked the earth over 500 years ago. His Institutes of the Christian Religion still remains as the standard of systematic theology. One may agree with Calvin or disagree with him, but it is very hard to ignore his contributions to theology, church practice, and the development of Protestant Christendom.

At sometime after Calvin lived and developed his theology and ministry, people began to refer to themselves as "Calvinists". As "Calvinism" developed, it came to be defined with five certain viewpoints most clearly articulated by the Synod of Dordt in response to the rise of Armenianism. These five viewpoints are commonly summarized with the acronym TULIP, which stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and perseverance of the saints.

Michael Horton, in his book For Calvinism does a great job of defending what has been labeled as Calvinist beliefs (although he would say Calvinist beliefs should be associated with orthodox Christianity before they are associated with a sect of Christianity called "Calvinism"). Horton spends the first half of the book defending what was articulated in the Synod of Dordt, although he prefers other language than what the TULIP acronym necessitates. He spends the second half of his defense of Calvinism addresssing particular concerns with how Calvinist belief is practiced in the church and in the lives of individual believers.

Calvinist belief is often unfairly caricatured. In addition to this, many of Calvinism's strongest proponents come across as very stern and angry. The strength of For Calvinism is Horton's ability to articulate Calvinist thought in a kinder, gentler manner without compromising the convictions he is representing.

Horton commends Calvinist thought by highlighting parts of Calvinist doctrine that other people ignore. For example, in regard to total depravity, Horton says, "Reformed theology never starts with the fall, but God's good creation" (p. 38). When Horton commends creation in this way, he at one time corrects a stereotype about Calvinism (that God made persons to sin), and describes how "free will" fits into a theology of complete divine sovereignty.

Over and over again, Horton continues to address stereotypes against Calvinism without compromising Calvinist doctrine. In relationship to unconditional election, he says that God does not arbitrarily "drag some people into heaven kicking and screaming, while telling others who want to be saved that they are simply not on the list" (p. 57). He discusses the doctrine of limited atonement in terms it "extent" and "nature" (p.80ff). Also, Horton's chapters about living the Calvinist faith defend Calvinism against many erroneous ideas. Many say that a Calvinist cannot believe in missions or evangelism. For Calvinism takes a whole chapter to destroy this myth.

For Calvism is a very informative book. As is its partner book Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. And with the rise of "New Calvinism" in American Christianity, it will be more and more important for Christians and church leaders to be conversant on issues of Reformed and Armenian theology. Horton may be one of Calvinism's best advocates, and one of its more clear communicators to everyday lay persons. For these reasons, I cannot commend this book more highly for anyone interested in such theological concerns.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review of Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings edited by Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell

Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings (Third Edition)
edited by Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell
ISBN 978-0-8006-9883-6
Fortress Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

For several years now, I have become more interested in what the Reformer Martin Luther had to say in his writings. The problem is, I have not had any idea where to start in Luther's writings to hear what he had to say in his own words. So, when it became possible for me to get a copy of the new edition of the reader Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, I jumped at the opportunity.

For ease of reading, this collection of Luther's writings is organized thematically. This allows readers to quickly study what Martin Luther said on a certain subject, without having to wade through the chronological development of his thoughts. The subjects covered includes Luther's contributions to the academic disciplines of biblical studies, ethics, and theology, as well as more detailed discussion of certain issues, such as the sacraments, reform, and the nature of the gospel.

As is the case with many of the high quality academic works that Fortress publishes, the "extras" in the book are especially well done, and make the text even better. I especially enjoyed the timeline of the works of Luther in the front of the book, as well as glossary in the back.

Many of the entries in this book are excerpts from larger works by Luther. Other chapters contain entire "pamphlets" teaching about something or pursuading someone to a certain position. Together, the selections chosen give a well rounded picture of Luther as a man, a leader, a churchman, and theologian.

I think this book would be helpful for a number of people. For pastors who are like me, and believe that a pastor should be a pastor/theologian, this book will be great for becoming more familiar with Luther and his thought. For teachers and students in search of a textbook on Luther, this would be a great resource as well.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The faith and the practice of the Earliest Christians by Tony Jones

The Faith and Practice of the Earliest Christians
by Tony Jones
DVD Study
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker
The Faith and Practice of the Earliest Christians: a DVD Study on the Didache with Tony Jones

I have had an interest in the Didache for years. So, when I had the opportunity to read and follow a video study of this book that guided the practice of the early church, I seized that opportunity.

I was especially excited to watch The Faith and Practice of the Earliest Christians because Tony Jones was leading the DVD study. I did not know that he had also written a book on the Didache, and written a translation of the Didache himself. This made the study even more exciting to get into.

The Didache was, for lack of better words, the membership covenant of one of the earliest Christians in the ancient world. As such, it informs its readers what the early church did as they practiced their faith in the area near the border of Syria and Israel. The Didache gives believers clear instructions on how their faith should be practiced on a daily basis.

The video goes through the subject matter within the Didache in a clear and understandable manner. It rotates between Tony Jones talking to the viewer, him leading a small group discussing the Didache, and a few slides with quotes, questions, and subject headings as well.

My favorite sections of this study are in the middle of the video. The discussion of basic living in the Way of Jesus, and some practices of personal and spiritual formation were thought provoking.  The lessons on "how to be church" were instructive as well. I thought the pratice of praying the Lord's Prayer three times a day was an practice worth attempting. I also was interested in how the people at the time of the Didache practiced baptism. Some of the instructions about baptism would be helpful for the church to think about today, and to reinstitute into common church practice.

My least favorite sections of the video are the beginning and the end of the study. I felt like in these sections, not much of interest was said.

This video has low production value. Nowhere is this more evident than in the first and last sections of the video. For many students, the lack of budget will keep them from paying attention and learning as much in this study of the Didache as they could. Which is really too bad. Tony Jones does a great job of drawing lines between the people in that church and people in the church today, and of showing the relevance of the early church to our situation in the 21st century American church.

All in all, I commend Paraclete for puting this study together. The Didache needs to be discussed more, and referred to more, even though it is not holy writ. Maybe these resources with get the coversation beginning.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Monday, April 02, 2012

Changing Time

Over recent years, I have been working hard to slowly change my schedule.

When I was a youth pastor, I was a late to bed and late to rise kind of person. Much of my work was done in the evening. I did not have a social life outside of church. So, I would often go to bed well after midnight, I would get up mid-morning, I would put in another 10 hour day, and then I would start all over again. It worked well for me, and this schedule worked well in my ministerial context.

After I got married and became a solo pastor in a small town, I came to the conclusion that I needed to visibly working by 9am during the week. I would go to bed a little after midnight. This even worked well when our child was an infant. I could stay up and do her midnight feeding, then go to bed, and get up around 8am.

Today, I have a hard time sleeping much past 7am. I still hate mornings, but now I get to work a little after 8 instead of 9. I get a lot of my work done before my family gets home.

Has anyone else out there ever changed their sleeping schedule? What prompted this change?

Book Review of the Christ Connection by Roy Abraham Varghese

The Christ Connection
by Roy Abraham Varghese
ISBN 978-1-55725-699-7
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Roy Abraham Varghese is no stranger to the world of philosophy and apologetics. Most well known as the co-author of Anthony Flew's autobiographical journey toward theism entitled There is a God, Varghese has been commending the Christian faith in the marketplace of religions in this postmodern world for several years. Recently, Varghese has written a book where he seats Christianity as the fulfillment of much of the hopes and narratives of the world religions that predate Christianity from across the globe. In many ways The Christ Connection embodies the truth expressed in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus came "in the fullness of time"

The first part of this fine books discusses the orgin and development of religion in society around the globe. Contrary to many popular theories, Varghese presents ample evidence that most primitive religion today and throughout history was not as polytheistic as many think. In fact, many more "primitive" religions have a profound openness toward and anticipation of someone similar to Christ.

Much of the second part of the book draws lines between the world relgions and Christianity. Varghese effectively shows how Christ is the fullfilment of much of what ancient world religions were building toward.

The final section is a includes a discussion of the resurrection and the early church, and how each of these facts of history leads an objective thinker toward the logical truth of Christianity.

The Christ Connection is a fine book. It is a little heavy in its language and in its paradigmatic structure for many that might try and pick it up and read it off the shelf. However, those who take the time to actually read the book will be rewarded with much to think about and consider.

Book Review of The Future of the Global Church by Patrick Johnstone

The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends, and Possibilities
by Patrick Johnstone
ISBN 978-1-60657-132-3
Biblica Books from Intervarsity Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Future of the Global Church

This year, Biblica (formerly known as the International Bible Society) formally sold the book publishing part of their ministry to Intervarsity Press. Intervarsity has been busy in promoting this partnership, and many of the new books they will be able to offer through the Biblica imprint. One of the first books released in this partnership is a smart, slick book on the state of the church around the world called The Future of the Global Church.

The Future of the Global Church is an excellent resource. It is primarily a statistical book. It begins by informing its readers about population changes and people movements throughout the world. Johnstone then clearly identifies in short bullet points what the challenges are for missions and evangelism in the midst of the changing world we live in. In the process, he clearly shows that the historic Christian West is in decline, and that the Muslim church in Asia and Africa is growing rapidly.

Johnstone also devotes a whole section of his book to the historic development and growth of the church from a global perspective. Want to know where the biggest revivals were in the world in the 20th century? The Future of the Global Church has a couple of pages devoted just to that topic. I am constantly amazed at how much detail and information is in this small book.

The Future of the Global Church also traces historic and global trends in the rise and decline of each of the world's major world religions. It also pays careful attention to how different sects within each of these religious groupings are growing or declining, and what that means for Christian witness in regions where those religious groups are strongest.

Johnstone also does a significant amount of work tracking and discussing the different "megablocs" within Christian circles. I learned, for instance, that that Anglican church is much more populous in Nigeria and Kenya than in the United States. I also learned that by 2050, Johnstone projects there will be more people in the Anglican Fellowship in Uganda and Nigeria than in the United Kingdom. Pretty fascinating information right there!

The Future of the Global Church also pays particular attention to the victories and challenges of the evangelical churches around the world. Did you know that China will have more evangelicals than the United States does by 2050? Johnstone also identifies the unchurched around the world not only by nations and regions within nations, but he also identifies those folks by people groups. For instance, in Africa the Pygmy folks are predominantly Muslim, but the Bantu folks are predominantly Christian.

Do you want to pray for the world? Do you have a passion for evangelistic mission in the church? Do you want to be a global Christian? If so, I would strongly recommend purchasing this fine book, and letting it inform your prayers, your giving, your evangelistic efforts and your worldview. Get to know the world God put you in, and begin to love and care for it with intelligence as a disciple of Jesus.