Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Reformation Day Book Reviews of The Roots of the Reformation and Reformation Commentary on Scripture--Vol. 1: Genesis 1-11
The Roots of the Reformation
by G.R. Evans
Reformation Commentary on Scripture--Old Testament Vol. 1: Genesis 1-11
ed. by John L. Thompson
Today is Halloween. Now, there are many pastors out there that make a big deal about the evils of dressing up for Halloween. I am not one of them. And, to be honest, I think most of these folks that have nothing better to do than look behind every bush for Satan and tell little kids dressed up as a dinosaur from a PBS cartoon that they are worshiping the devil really need to get a life, stop being so friggin' cheap and just buy the candy to give away to kids. Most of these folks also need to get their kids out of their little home school ghetto as well, but that is all for another blog post.
The thing is, for theologically nerdy folks like me, October 31 is also a day to celebrate for another reason. That is that today is Reformation day. Four hundred and ninety five years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Wittenburg Door. So, in celebration of this fine event, I thought I would put together a couple of book reviews for all of you skim over, and see if you enjoy the idea of having and/or purchasing either of these books.
I only have the first edition of the Roots of the Reformation, but the second edition was just released last month. It will be important, if you are wanting the best resource to get the second edition of this book. The first edition was riddled with controversy, pulled from the shelves, and then reissued after corrections were made to several errors in the first edition. Errors in dates and place are not good for history books. I am thankful that IVP stuck with this book and reissued it. It has some great thinking in it, and the crux of the book is less about dates and times than it is about historical process.
G.R. Evans is a historian who is an expert on medieval history. And she uses the knowledge from this expertise to connect the Reformation to other currents of thought and historical movements that paved the way for the Reformation to take place. This is refreshing. Much of what we look at in the Reformation centers on doctrinal manners, not socio-historical influences that created the perfect environment for the Reformation to happen.
Evans understands the Reformation has having multiple forms and influences, that in many ways kind of converged at the same time to form a river of ecclesiastical and theological transformation that has flowed forward into the next 5 centuries. She also acknowledges how different parts of the Reformation influenced one another.
The one thing I struggled with in Roots of the Reformation was the discussion of residual issues coming out of the Reformation. For me, the issues she chose seemed to be tangential and not germane to mainline believers like myself. Others, however, may enjoy discussing the merits of the King James Version in relation to other translations.
The Genesis commentary in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series is even more helpful to me, and a great edition to my personal library. Like each of the commentaries in this series, Reformation authors and theologians are resourced and quoted in a commentary that covers Scripture verse by verse and section by section. Some of the theologians resourced are more well-known. Others are not as well known, but still influential. Also, like each of the commentaries, the introduction is a great read, and gives insight to what you will read in the pages that follow.
What I find refreshing about this commentary on Genesis is that it avoids pitfalls in the study of Genesis that come to readers from both the theological left and the fundamentalist right. You will find little debate on "young earth" creationism vs. Darwinism. For the most part, the story is assumed to be literal, and thus it is the point of little debate. Also, you will find very little arguing against the historicity of Adam and Eve, or about source theory. The Reformers were much more interested in how we understand the first 11 chapters in Genesis in light of Christian living than they were interested in getting bogged down in issues like this. The Reformers were interested in what the text was saying, and how to teach it.
As the introduction deftly points out, however, the Reformers did have issues that they were focused on due to their location in history. In Genesis 2-3, they ponder the nature of marriage for instance. They also look for Christian typology quite a bit. In addition, they focus on how an individual relates to God without a magisterium to dictate interpretation and behavior. Several themes of the evangelical faith are drawn out from Genesis, such as the nature of the fall, the nature of salvation, and the power of sin.
So, if you feel led, on this fine Reformation Day, drop by Amazon or Intervarsity Press' website, and pick up for yourself a book on the Reformation movement. IVP has several good reads on this pivotal point in history, and their library of books on the issue is only getting better.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Book Review of The Swedish Atheist, The Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails by Randal Rauser
Reviewed by Clint Walker
From the time of the church fathers, church leaders and theologians have been engaged in the practice of teaching and preaching apologetics, which more simply explained, is defending and explaining the faith to spiritual seekers and cultured despisers.
Much of what I read in regard to defending the faith was tedious and cumbersome. Although many people have been challenged and touched by books like Mere Christianity, these books are not always easily accessible to less sophisticated readers. And the rather dense, content rich volumes of Evidence that Demands a Verdict are well-researched, reading through these books are not user friendly.
The Swedish Atheist takes a different tack than most apologetics books. Instead of crafting arguments through outlines, Rauser embeds his discussion of the intellectual coherence of the Christian faith in a fictional narrative. This cute little story begins in a coffee shop near a college somewhere in the English speaking world. Slowly the author is able to bait someone hostile to the Christian faith named Sheridan to sit with him and discuss faith matters. In the process they discuss several questions that are quite typical of people who object to the existence of God, and those who stand against the truth of the Christian faith specifically.
Some of the matters covered in this book are more esoteric (how do we know what truth is?) and others are very specific (why would a perfect being command genocide?). Because these matters are structured in the form of a conversation, the content is much easier to read.
To Rauser's credit, he takes on his philosophical opponents best arguments. Several apologetics books will set up "straw men" and knock them down. Not so with this text. Instead, he often brings up arguments from Sheridan (the non-believer) that I have never considered, and then defends the faith in confrontation of that high quality thinking. I like Rauser's personal and philosophical integrity when it comes to such matters.
All in all, this is a good book. I would recommend it to college students attempting to understand their faith in light of new challenges from professors and friends, and I would also recommend it to pastors and lay persons that want to know their bible and their basic doctrine better. In The Swedish Atheist, we have been given a cutting-edge book on how apologetics might be done in the future. As such, the book Rauser wrote is a breathe of fresh air.
Turning the Tables
The Woodstock music festival was legendary for good music, rainy weather, an attitude of cooperation, and a hope for peace. Jennifer and I have both heard stories from our parents which describe a partial trip toward Woodstock, and then a decision to turn around and not attend due to heavy traffic and rumors of huge crowd. Woodstock, having taken place in the summer of 1969, was an iconic image of the countercultural movement of the 60s and 70s. It is an event that current and former hippies even get a little wistful about today.
In 1999, a number of promoters tried to piggy-back on the nostalgic feelings America had about Woodstock, which had a strong tug on people in my parent’s generation (my mom graduated from high school in 1967), as well as my own (my sister, who graduated from college in 1997, had about every Jimmy Hendrix album known to man, and posters of him pasted all over her wall in high school).
Instead of hosting the event in the town of Woodstock, the event was hosted on a closed Air Force base in Rome, NY. Instead of celebrating the values of peace, cooperation and freedom, it was known for its commercialization, greed, and violent behavior. The facility was guarded by large fences. The weather began to spike to over 100 degrees. Unlike the pastoral environment of the original Woodstock, there were no trees anywhere. No shade. In addition to this, there was no water to be found anywhere. No faucets. No tap water. There was simply bottled water sold by a vendor for $4.
Soon riots broke out. Fires started. Fences were torn down. Most people blame the failure of Woodstock 99’s failure on its effort to maximize profit at any cost. People were charged too much, and then received little in the way of facilities and such. Vendors were selling slices of pizza for $12, running up prices beyond what most people expected or could afford. A place that was supposed to celebrate peace love and cooperation became known for violence, greed, and rage. As a result, amusement parks everywhere were putting out coolers with cold water and little paper cones or cups. Many still do.
The Bible also tells a story where the original intent of one of its most important places and events had been distorted. People came all over to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem year around. People especially made a pilgrimage to the Holy City during Passover. And it is during the week of Passover that the events that we read about take place.
Last week we talked about Jesus heading toward Jerusalem. After the teaching on service, Jesus heals a blind man, and then makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We are now looking at the day after Palm Sunday in the middle of holy week in the book of Mark.
It was a Monday morning. Jesus goes to the temple. And what he sees at the Temple is not what God intended. What he sees is people selling animals to sacrifice for excessively high prices. What he sees is a holy place of worship turned into a spiritual amusement park. And as a result, people were being denied the opportunity to worship. Let me explain.
Put yourself in the place of a peasant in the Ancient World. You are a Jew. You are planning on making a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Let’s say you live in somewhere like Syria. You are most likely going to walk for at least a week.
Now, when you get to Jerusalem, and you go to the Temple, you are going to need to have something to sacrifice. You may have a cow. You most likely do not. Rich people own cattle. Most poor folks do not. Nor will you have a lamb. They most likely can afford to buy a dove or two. But doves are difficult to bring along on a trip over rugged terrain. So, what most people would do is what you and I might do in a similar situation even today. Instead of packing the doves for the trip, they plan on buying the doves once they get to Jerusalem.
And there is the rub. Because as soon as they get to Jerusalem, and they get to the temple, and they inquire about purchasing doves for sacrifice, what they find is that the price of doves for sacrifice has inflated. Thus, the poorer Hebrews, who have come for a special time of worship and praise of the Lord, are being ripped off by the gatekeepers of the worship complex. Furthermore, many, not anticipating the exorbinent cost, and not only being ripped off, they are being excluded from worship by the folks running the temple because their worship needs don’t fit the cost/benefit ratio of the Temple.
And this is what makes Jesus angry. This kind of thing is what stirs Jesus to action. He sees that what God intended as a place for his children to worship, his rich children and poor children alike, has now become a political and religious marketing scheme that has nothing to do with the kind of grace, love and calling that God is trying to communicate to his people.
So Jesus begins to overturn tables. He begins to let the doves free. He keeps the people from running through the temple to get people more saleable items. He makes a scene. He does not really hurt anyone. But he does make a statement. And people notice. They notice that Jesus’ action is a direct attack on the powers that be, and their inability to faithfully lead the people spiritually. They centralize their power in the Temple. Jesus goes about destroying what they have worked so hard to build up.
Jesus said that he had come to proclaim the good news to the poor, as was promised in Isaiah 61, and commanded in Leviticus 25. These people were standing against this cause. Against the good news of the gospel. Against inclusion of those who were poor into the family of God.
The people are amazed at his teaching. The leaders start plotting to kill Jesus.
Now people misuse this passage all the time. They use it to justify violence, saying that Jesus was violent in the temple.
There is no evidence of violence here against another person. What we are looking at is more civil disobedience.
Others use this passage to keep people from selling anything in churches. When I was at my last church there were some people who had objections to having a garage sale in the front yard of the parsonage to raise money to send kids to camp. This is also a misuse of this passage, I believe.
There are a lot of ways I could talk about what is going on here in the Temple in Jerusalem. The way I think I will speak about what is going on here is this. Jesus wants to tear down the barriers that are going to keep you from God, and keep you from getting close to him, giving your life to him, and worshipping him. And, Jesus is going to take very seriously any attempt, especially by those who call themselves believers, that people make to keep people from worship and Jesus.
There are some barriers that we erect ourselves that keep us from Jesus. For instance, some of us simply believe that we are unforgivable. Somehow, somewhere we have declared ourselves ineligible for worship because of something that we have done somewhere in the past. We have heard the part of the gospel that correctly describes us as sinful, and unable to earn God’s grace. But we miss the part of the message where God freely offers his grace in and forgiveness in spite of the things that we have done, and that this forgiveness and grace in spite of our failings is what the gospel is all about.
Others of us make all sorts of excuses as to why the church is not the place for us. Again, the door is open to all of us.
There are also barriers that others have placed in our path. They have told us that we have to dress a certain way, look a certain way, and do something to make ourselves worthy to approach God in worship. Or perhaps people have communicated that church is like a club where we have to pay our dues in order to attend and belong in the club called the church.
If that has happened to you, I am sorry. Let me assure you, this church is open to you, and it belongs to you as much as it does anyone else.
Furthermore, church, if we are not careful, we can begin to believe that we own God’s church instead of God owning God’s church. We can start believing that the ministry is ours, the building is ours, the stuff is ours. And when we have this kind of attitude, we are missing the point.
The church is the one institution in all the world that exists for its nonmembers. Our purpose is to open doors to strangers, to give away our church to newcomers, to provide a place of worship for those who are seeking God and and are hungry for grace, and to not make those who come in the doors like us, but rather to give ourselves to them.
As we come to the Lord’s Table today, I want you to think of the life of the church like a large meal in a home. Most of the family is seated and has begun their meal. Someone comes and knocks on the door. They peek in. The table is full. Your guest is about to leave. He says, there is not a place for him, and he worries there is not enough food. And it might be easy to turn him away. He reeks of cigarettes and body odor. But you won’t do it. No, you say to him. There is always room at the table. There is always enough for one more. And so the man joins you, and you make a place for him.
This is what the kingdom of God is like. That Is what this table is like. The door Is always open. And for those who would chose to put their trust in the Lord Jesus, there is always room for one more.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
This message was preached in front of the meeting of the Presbyterians of South Dakota earlier this week. Not necessarily my best work, but I thought I would share:
THAT THEY MAY ALL BE ONE
Who would have ever thought it? A Baptist pastor preaching in a Presbyterian meeting hosted by a congregation that is PCUSA, Methodist, and Baptist. Many of us may think little of such a thing these days, but it was not always so. There was a day when people were a little more zealous in defense of their denominational identity. Thank God we have heeded the prayer that Jesus prayed more closely when he prayed, “that they all may be one”. It wasn’t long ago that a story like this would have reflected real life concerns, instead of just being a good joke poking fun at our differences. Here it is:
A Baptist preacher and his wife decided to get a new dog. Ever mindful of the congregation, they knew the dog must also be a Baptist. They visited kennel after kennel and explained their needs. Finally, they found a kennel whose owner assured them he had just the dog they wanted.
The owner brought the dog to meet the pastor and his wife. 'Fetch the Bible,' he commanded. The dog bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner.
'Now find Psalm 23,' he commanded. The dog dropped the Bible to the floor, and showing marvelous dexterity with his paws, leafed through, and finding the correct passage, pointed to it with his paw.
The pastor and his wife were very impressed and purchased the dog.That evening, a group of church members came to visit. The pastor and his wife began to show off the dog, having him locate several Bible verses. The visitors were very impressed. One man asked, 'Can he do regular dog tricks, too?'
'I haven't tried yet,' the pastor replied.He pointed his finger at the dog..'HEEL!' the pastor commanded. The dog immediately jumped on a chair, placed one paw on the pastor's forehead and began to howl.
The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, 'Good Heaven's, he's Pentecostal!
Back about 1918 it was a pretty radical idea in this small little town, this interdenominational cooperation among churches. There may have been a few United Churches, but even fewer that cooperated between three denominations. It still is a pretty radical idea for a lot of churches in a lot of places, even today.
Occasionally, as I was moving here, and even after I arrived, I have been asked about our set up here at United Churches. People who are not a part of this community are a little taken aback. What spurred that on (a clergy shortage during and after WWI). How does it work? They ask. “It works”, I respond.
Then I generally use the same metaphor to describe our ministry here, and the importance of our being able to partner in ministry, “You know, when we get to heaven, we won’t be wearing t-shirts that say BAPTIST on one, METHODIST on the other, and PRESBYTERIAN on the next. We won’t even be wearing shirts that say LUTHERAN, ANGLICAN, PENTECOSTAL, ORTHODOX, or CATHOLIC. We will simply be known as believers in Jesus, children of God, born of the Spirit. So, why not start practicing a little more of the kind of community we are going to have in heaven here on earth, even if it is in our own strange and flawed little way.
And so, that is what we do. We live as a body of believers, blending denominational labels and traditions, in order to spread the gospel more effectively, and also in order to give witness to the one faith, one baptism, and one Lord that we share through our shared faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
“That they may all be one”. This is the prayer that Jesus prayed. It is not a prayer that only manifests itself in federated churches. It is a prayer that as Christians, whether we cling to denominational labels (Lutheran or Assemblies of God) or political labels (progressive or conservative), theological labels (liberal or evangelical) or geographical labels (west river or east river, city or country) should pray. We should be able to be able to fellowship, partner with, encourage and pray for congregations that come from different parts of the Christian family tree, or as a presenter put it in our last meeting, have different middle names. We can treasure and love our own denominational family like close relatives, and embrace our brothers and sisters in other denominations like they were our extended family.
When I was a pastor in Colorado, I saw a very simple and clear demonstration of this, that gave a very clear witness to Christian unity beyond denominational boundaries. You see, the school in town, the historic school that was once the high school, then the elementary school, and then sat empty, was coming to the point where the school district wanted to sell it. There was no doubt, a lot of work to be done in the facility, but it was still a nice space. There was a church in town that needed a building, because it met in a place that was really a residence with a sanctuary built on top of it. So, an agreement was made to sell the school to the church for $1000. The school board met, and someone came in at the last minute, offering $5000 for the building, when the deal was done. The people of this little church was devastated. Then the superintendant of the schools, a Lutheran, stood up. He offered $7000 for the church, and it was sold to him. He then signed over the deed to the Assemblies of God church for $1. People in town, believers of all stripes, were rather proud of that moment. It showed what many churches practiced day to day. That was that the church was bigger than denominational boundaries and what buildings you met at in that small town. The body of Christ was the believers of whatever stripe. And they stood together. Jesus’ prayer was answered through their cooperation. The prayer “That they may all be one”.
“That they may all be one”. This is a prayer that Jesus prayed and he meant it.
“That they may all be one,” Jesus prayed. When Jesus prayed this he prayed that the barriers that divide us might come down. That what formerly might have divided us, when we were in Christ, would divide us no longer. Christ prayed for those that believe that our ethnic backgrounds would no longer divide us. That we would know that when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer here, we also prayed it with Africans who prayed the prayer in Swahili, and Iraqis who prayed the prayer in Arabic, and Burmese who prayed the prayer in Karen.
“That they may all be one,” Jesus prayed. And when he prayed this he prayed for a church that had rich and poor in it. Where people with flannel shirts would be able to hold hands with people with starched shirts as worship closes, and that they would be able to join together as one body and sing, “I am so glad I’m a part of the family of God. And mean it. And when Jesus prayed this prayer he meant that we could look across a meeting of our church governing board and see someone who spoke a little different, had a little different education, and call them brother and sister.
“That they may all be one,” Jesus prayed. And when he prayed this prayer he prayed for a church where men and women partnered in leadership, teaching and serving, loving and governing his church. And he prayed this prayer having said to the leaders of the church a few chapters back that leadership was not supposed to be an office where you lorded authority over another because of your position like the world does. But leadership was an office of serving and offering grace and love on behalf of a Lord who is bigger than you could ever imagine, and as close as the breathe you see coming out of your mouth on a crisp winter morning.
This is the prayer that Paul echoed when he said, “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
So, then, the question comes, how are we unified? What unifies us? What knits our hearts together where we become family, and empowers us to love one another when our differences go from being interesting to being annoying?
It turns out Jesus’ prayer speaks to this too.
Jesus prays for all of those who will believe in him. He prays for that we will be in Christ and thus in the Father, and united with what the Godhead is doing in the world, so that the world will know that we are God’s. Jesus prays that the world will see God’s love shining through our lives.
You see, friends, it is our unity in Christ that makes the difference. As we submit to the authority of the Father through covenanting to be obedient to God’s word, we find unity. As we focus on our shared values of Christian practice, we are brought together in unity. As we stand together in shared faith in the basics of the Christian faith, as articulated in documents such as the Apostle’s Creed, we find unity. As we are led by the Spirit to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and support the widows and the orphans in their distress, we find Christ knitting us together as one body.
Oh, sisters and brothers, we can get sidetracked. We can argue about which camp the kids go to, or which songs we sing. We can get bent out of shape about who gets to use what part of the building when, or whether 1 ply or 2 ply toilet paper is more appropriate for a church bathroom. We can get wound up about how to dress at church, and where we sit in the middle of a worship service. We can get caught up in so many things that are about living under the power of the flesh wanting what I want when I want it, and those things matter so little in light of the mission that God is trying to accomplish through Christ in the world.
We forget what Christ lived for and died for. We forget what God is doing through the Father, Son and Spirit, the three in one. We forget Jesus’ prayer for his followers everywhere, “That they may be one”
We forget why he came to this earth. Why he lived a sinless life. Why he died on the cross and rose again for our sins. We forget that Jesus rose in victory so that those that would believe would have the opportunity to spend eternity with Christ. We forget about the Spirit that was sent to comfort and empower us, to guide us and lead us. And we get distracted by all sorts of things that we have no business being distracted by.
So, I encourage you, brothers and sisters, today, to remember the words of Jesus, “that they may be one”. I encourage you to strive for unity among your brothers and sisters in Christ. To major in major things, and to not get stuck in the minor differences that the evil one would use to steal and destroy our unity as believers. I urge you, to unite under the banner of the gospel, to stand in allegiance with your fellow believers, to do the work of the gospel, and to keep the faith of the church, as the Spirit gives us power.
Jesus prayed “that they may be one”, because he knew our witness, our shared faith, our mission depended on it. What our Lord prayed, may he also give us the grace to live. Amen.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I have now been a senior/solo pastor for nearly five years. I was a youth/associate pastor for 12 years. People make all sorts of assumptions about what the differences may or may not be in regard to the associate and senior pastor role. Some of those assumptions are true, but not universally true. Other assumptions are quite simply false. And there are some differences that most people just do not think about.
One of the differences that I have noticed as a pastor is that there is a huge difference between how a youth pastor (or any associate in program ministries) approaches drama, and how the presence of "drama" shapes one's ministry.
As a youth pastor, I did not seek drama, but drama is part of the job. As a matter of fact, the immediacy and the passion that is required of effective ministry in program ministry often a sign of health and energy in the program. A young adult ministry with no drama is most likely a ministry without young adults present.
Many teens and young adults are facing situations for the first time. The freshness of their experience to them, and the propensity for each experience to be personally and spiritually forming heightens the sense of drama in working with that person. Young people are wired for passion, and that passion pours out in what they do. Parents are anxious about their children and young adult children as well, and this anxiety also creates drama and intensity in program ministries with children, youth and young adult. There is often a sense in which people believe that young people are experiencing teachable moments in their lives that must be seized or forgotten forever.
This week I am a senior pastor doing evaluations. I find that one of the unspoken questions that internally informs my evaluative process is this: How much drama does this person bring me? If I hear about relatively few problems and deal with relatively little drama with this person, they are almost guaranteed a strong performance review. If there is a sense of drama that surrounds this person, there is a little more nuance required when doing their performance review. It is unfair, but it is often the way things function for a senior pastor. We know troubleshooting is part of the job, but we tire of dealing with petty issues that take us away from the work we really want to be doing.
The problem with this is, of course, that some positions by the nature of their ministry, or the volume of their interactions with people, and high drama people, necessarily have more drama built-in as a part of the job. If one does not understand this, that one can interpret all the drama as negative, when it really may be a sign that something is happening in the context of that staff person's ministry, and that "something" could be negative, but it could also be very positive or at least proactive.
Thus, even though senior pastors tend to lean toward seeking "no drama', sometimes drama is a consequence of the Spirit being at work in that person. Again, something else I am considering and thinking about.
What do you think?
Monday, October 22, 2012
Each day I read political posts on Facebook. Many state strong opinions. I have read several blog posts and Facebook status updates that say things that are factually errant, and I have read them from all over the political spectrum. It has often been my temptation to respond to strongly stated opinions with my own (which of course I believe completely without error). So far I have chosen, for the most part, to keep my mouth shut.
I have generally kept my mouth shut online and in person because I believe that as a pastor, I do not what to be beholden to any political party. Nor do I want to alienate or divide people in my congregation by making my political positions or voting habits an issue.
All in all, this silence has been a challenge. I have a tendency to want to challenge lazy thinking. I have a desire to want to correct people that are wrong. And, I have a tendency to think that if I state my thoughts and opinions well that I can actually change someone's opinion and perspective--even though it is probably not the case.
This silence has taught me several things. First, it has taught me that my corrections of other people's thinking on Facebook are at best a waste of time, and as worse harmful to my relationships with others. Second, it has taught me how useless contending for one's political and social opinions on Facebook and in other online forums really is. Finally, it has taught me that often times the energy I expend toward disagreement and agreement on some issues is fundamentally misplaced.
Having said all that, there are times when I feel frustrated that I feel constrained in what I can say, and others do not. In other words, there are times I feel a little jealous of others Facebook bullhorn in the face of my Facebook silence. By my decisions to speak or to be silent are my choice. And for now, I chose silence.
Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ
By Rodney Reeves
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Who was Paul really? Many books have been written on this subject of who Paul is, what his viewpoints were, and what he was trying to accomplish with his life and ministry. With Spirituality According to Paul, Rodney Reeves studies Paul from a different perspective. Reeves asks what Paul's spiritual life was like, and how he believed people were spiritually formed in Christlikeness.
All of what Reeves has to say hinges on two concepts, both of which are very biblical. The first concept is that Christian spirituality and Pauline spirituality are grounded in the paschal rhythm of dying, being buried, and being raised with Christ. The second concept is related to it, and is actually stated first in this text, and that is that Paul presents his life and ministry as a model of this rhythm to those that need further instruction, going to the point of calling people to follow him as he follows Christ.
The entire book follows the outline of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as a model for understanding Paul and his leadership and spiritual life. In the process, some very important and common matters are discussed such as human sexuality, work, and worship. Reeves also covers some more esoteric concepts such as mystery, spiritual warfare, and the life. In addition to this, Reeves covers some attitudes of disciples, such as self-denial and obedience to God.
I thought throughout Spirituality According to Paul, Reeves did a great job of understanding Paul's spirituality in light of a series of narratives. He showed how Paul adopted Jesus' narrative as his own and let the Jesus story inform Paul's story. He also showed how Paul's influence in turn encouraged other people to adopt the Jesus narrative, and define their lives by being "in" Christ. Reeves appropriately shares his own story at times, and describes how the concepts communicated in the book find touchpoints in his narrative.
I read a lot of books relating to spiritual formation. This book is a keeper. It is grace-filled, brilliant, and utterly biblical. It will allow those who follow the trends of spiritual formation to return to the basics of Christian spirituality, and it will encourage people to understand that the message of Paul is not separate from the gospels but instead united with it.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
ed. By Andrew David Naselli, Collin Hansen and Stanley Gundry
Published by Zondervan
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Many people use the term evangelical these days. Outside of the church, the word evangelical is used to refer to anyone who is a politically active conservative Christian. Inside the church it can be equally as confusing. For instance, the largest Lutheran church group in the United States is called the “Evangelical” Lutheran Church in America, and yet mainstream Lutheran doctrines of salvation and Biblical authority run counter to the contemporary understanding of what the “evangelical movement” defines as essential doctrine and faith experience for evangelical Christians. Historically, churches who believed in the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith were considered “evangelical” churches. Today, as many folks attempt to work across denominational boundaries with like-minded persons with evangelical experience and theology, there is an attempt to come to an understanding of who fits into the fold of the interdenominational evangelical movement.
As the title suggests, the reader is confronted with four viewpoints. The perspectives they espouse are as follows: Fundamentalism (Kevin Bauder), Confessional evangelicalism (R. Albert Mohler Jr.), Generic evangelicalism (John G. Stackhouse Jr.), and Postconservative evangelicalism (Roger E. Olson). As is true with all of the counterpoint books, each author gets to write their own chapter, and then respond to their debate partners essays as well.
The choices the editors made in who would be the primary contributors to this text is interesting. Perhaps not everyone noticed, but three of the four contributors in this text are affiliated with Baptist institutions. Roger Olson is at a Baptist seminary in Texas affiliated with more moderate Baptist groups. Mohler is the president of the flagship Southern Baptist Seminary (which has tension with the groups Olson is affiliated with). Bauder is affiliated with an independent Baptist institution in Minneapolis. In many ways, the arguments over who is truly evangelical could also be arguments over who the “real” Baptists are. Furthermore, Mohler and Olson have been lightening rods for controversy in the past. Thus, in my opinion the dialogue is not as jovial and open as it sometimes is with other counterpoint books.
The most conservative understanding of evangelicalism comes from the person who also accepts the label fundamentalism—Kevin Bauder. Confessional evangelicalism tries to operate in a similar fashion as fundamentalism, with clear, prescriptive theological boundaries for those who call themselves evangelicals. Stackhouse offers some guidelines on what it means to be evangelical. Olson says that evangelicalism is a group of Christians with shared experiences and beliefs, but he cannot really define what those beliefs are completely.
It is hard to define someone as “evangelical” or not within the evangelical community, because to judge someone as not evangelical is, to many Christian believers, to say that the person you are speaking of is not a believer, and very possibly hell-bound. In my opinion, none of the contributors make convincing arguments that establish themselves as right and others as wrong as to what an evangelical is. Nevertheless, the dialogue between these four scholars will get many readers to think about what beliefs and practices are central to their faith, and what items of faith are perhaps simply preferences.
Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word: Year C
ed. by Kathleen Long Bostrom, Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Jana Reiss
Westminster John Knox
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Feasting on the Word began as a commentary series developed by Westminster John Knox Press in partnership with Columbia Theological Seminary. The commentary was so well received that the publisher and the team that developed these resources has now began to develop other related resources. Recently I reviewed the Worship Companion on this blog. Today, I want to share with you a recently released devotional called Daily Feast (Year C).
The Daily Feast devotional follows the pattern of the Feasting on the Word commentaries closely. It too is based on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The beginning of each week has a snippet of each of the lectionary texts. Then, throughout the week, each reading is given a place in the devotional. The Scripture text is listed and the reader is supposed to read that out of the Bible themselves. Then, a quote from the extensive work of the commentary is included about the Scripture passage. A question or two for thought are included. After that, each days devotion ends with a brief prayer.
I have a copy of Year B of this devotional on my Kindle, and I have a hard copy provided by the publisher for Year C. In my experience this devotional is helpful and insightful. It helps me meditate on the readings I will hear or preach on each Sunday, so I have already been pondering each of the texts before I hear them in worship. Because of this, I feel that my devotional life and my worship life are knit together with this commentary. Also, since it is scheduled by the Christian year instead of the calendar year, it is a devotional that will be timeless, and could be returned to very easily every three years.
The hard copy of the book has a pleasing presentation. It is in an imitation leather binding that feels good when held. A bookmark is built in.
I really recommend this devotional to mainline Christians everywhere. The scholarship is ecumenical, and the organization is first rate.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt
By Andrea Palpant Dilley
Reviewed by Clint Walker
I picked up Faith and Other Flat Tires hoping to muddle my way through a book that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. The problem was, once I picked up the book I had a hard time putting it down. I ended up reading most of this book over an evening that I had away from work. I am still thinking about the story, and wondering about the "rest of the story" in the life of Andrea Dilley.
Andrea's story is compelling, but to be honest, it is not awfully unique. This book chronicles a quarter-life crisis of faith, and the author's resolution of that crisis. The author's story is one of being raised in the faith, of being confronted with some serious doubts and questions, followed by a drifting from faith and then finally a return to a faith that Ms. Dilley has not just inherited, but made her own. The power of this story, however, is not in its novelty, but in the fact that Andrea's story is similar to many other person's faith story. For those people, Andrea's story will help you understand that you are not alone in your journey.
One of the unique things about this memoir is that Dilley frames the narrative of this part of her life in the narrative of Pilgrim's Progress. In the process, Dilley helps other see in another clear way that the journey toward belief, even for those who are raised in the church, is often a roundabout one.
I also enjoyed the setting of the book. I love Spokane. I have been to Whitworth College. I can picture where Andrea is in the city whenever she talks about it.
The setting provides another unexpected benefit. That benefit is hearing a story from someone who lived in areas close to where I lived. I felt I could see the places she visited. I felt like I could relate to her cadence and her voice as a writer.
All in all a good book. And a fun one to read for someone who struggles with their faith.
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
by Scot McKnight
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Scot McKnight is becoming one of the United States' most appreciated biblical scholars. He is currently professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. He is a prolific blogger, a sought after speaker, and an author of books for laity, clergy, and scholars. McKnight is bright and a strong communicator. And he shares his considerable skills with The King Jesus Gospel, which might be his most important book to date.
One has to look no further than the two forwards that the book has to gauge this text's importance. One forward is written by N.T. Wright, the brilliant and prolific Christian writer, academic and author who might be the leading Christian scholar living today. The other forward comes from Dallas Willard, who is one of the founding fathers of the modern Protestant spiritual formation movement.
This book is slow reading, especially if you really want to absorb what McKnight is wanting to say and who he is wanting to say it too, but it is well worth the read.
Specifically, McKnight is trying to teach his readers that when they talk about the gospel and use the term gospel, they are using a term that has been lifted from its biblical and cultural context, and then placed rather awkwardly in our own context. One of the key points of The King Jesus Gospel, for instance, is that the good news of Christ is embedded in the story of Israel, and the Story of Christ, which in turn is also embedded in the story of Israel. When we attempt to lift certain key points or laws from out of the story, we may be communicating a Cliff's notes version of the gospel while completely ignoring the narrative that these notes are supposed to summarize. McKnight calls us back to the full gospel, as it was intended to be communicated. For that we can be grateful.
The Mormonizing of America
By Stephen Mansfield
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Although this review is a little later than I had hoped, I have just read a stellar book about the Mormon Faith. The book is The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield. I would strongly recommend this book for just about anyone who is curious about the LDS movement, and who wants a perspective from a person who is clearly outside the movement, but who also has great admiration for the LDS people and accomplishments.And that is really what this book is primarily about. The book may also cover issues of history and doctrine, but truly, the author is trying to write a book about how LDS has come to a "critical mass" and thus become an influence in American culture as a whole. He is, as a religious writer, trying to understand and share the Mormon story, especially as it pertains to how it risen to the level of influence it has now.
In the town I went to high school in, the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church were the largest two churches in town, and the LDS Church was by far the best attended. I grew up with coaches, friends, fellow students, and teammates that were Latter-Day Saints. I still keep in touch with a few of those acquaintences today. Whenever I have discussed religious matters with those friends, I have found that we tend to talk around each other. Often we use terms that mean different things to us, and there are several things that I would try to talk to LDS persons about, and simply run into brick walls.
Having said all this, my years in Homer, Alaska taught me to have a high level of admiration for LDS people. Often, it was the more committed LDS kids that were high achievers in school and in athletics. And although not all LDS kids were models of moral virtue, many of the other people who abstained from drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex in high school were Mormons. This meant that although I did not share a theology with my LDS peers, we did share a commitment to similar values.
Like I said, there were things about Mormon life and faith that remained elusive to me, especially as I compared them to my own belief system. Most of these questions were "why?" questions. And many of those questions came to much clearer answers as I read. Also, I came to a clearer understanding of what is happening in regard to our current political climate, both in regard to the presidential election and with media leaders such as Glen Beck.
Let me give you an example. As an evangelical Christian, I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. I do not believe that other documents, especially political documents are. In the Mormonizing of America, Mansfield claims that most LDS folks believe that the US Constitution is a divinely inspired document, elevating it to the level of holy writ. When I learn this, I come to a greater understanding of the artwork of Jon McNaughton, who places the Living Word and the words of the founding fathers as equal in divine authority in his painting, One Nation Under God
Also, when I see Mitt Romney working hard to align himself with the ultra-conservative prime minister of Israel, it makes more sense to me when I come to understand that Mormon theology sees God's kingdom on earth in the future ruled from Salt Lake and Jerusalem. It also makes me nervous, in the same way I am nervous about Iran's President, when I think about Romney being in a position to accelerate his view of the end times.
Another helpful thing about this whole book for me was understanding the importance and nature of the "priesthood" for adolescent and adult men. I had heard this whole phenomenon talked about by LDS friends, but never really came to understand what the priesthood was all about. Not that I know a lot more now, but I see where the whole concept is important.
This book also had a helpful timeline of Mormon history. I think some of us think we understand a little of LDS history as mainline and/or evangelical Christians, This book will help non-Mormons understand more. Particularly informative is the description of persecution of LDS persons in the United States.
The chapter on the "Engine of Mormonism" and the "Mormon Machine" is extremely insightful. I was especially intrigued by the language of testing in the LDS faith, and it made sense of a lot of attitudes and behaviors among Mormons that I appreciated but did not fully understand before.
There is also a section on "Mormon beliefs in plain language". I found this helpful and informative. Mansfield does a much better job than "The Godmakers" of presenting these beliefs in a forthright and non-judgmental fashion. I do suspect, however, that some LDS persons would object to his summary.
As the book of The Mormonizing of America concludes, Mansfield echoes the heart of many bible believing Christians in relationship to LDS persons. He says, "'There is a case to be made that the Mormon people have often been better than their leaders and better than the doctrines their leaders have given them.' This is certainly true. The faithful will object because they have been taught that obeying their leaders is essential to salvation. We can let them object. What we can know from Mormon history, though, is that it is the Mormon people who have accomplished the greatness of Mormonism."
In other words, many other evangelicals and myself can cast aspersions on people like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and think a lot of the doctrines about the afterlife and about not drinking coffee and wearing funny underwear are a little kooky. In spite of this, there is something many of us greatly admire about LDS people and what Mansfield calls the "Mormon Machine".