Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review of Creedal Imperitive by Carl R, Trueman

Creedal Imperative
by Carl R, Trueman
ISBN 978-1-4335-2190-4
Crossway Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Lately, I have been teaching the Heidelberg Catechism in Sunday School. It has been a good experience, even if it is a little slow paced. We are almost done with the first half of the Sundays that the Catechism covers, and we have just finished the section that overviews the Apostles Creed. So, I was intrigued to check out Carl Trueman's Creedal Imperative.

The book I received began with a large number of endorsements from several pastors and scholars. Although nearly all of them come from a Calvinist perspective, the list was impressive. This kind of book is needed within the neo-Calvinist version of the Reformed movement, as well as conservative ecumenical movements as a whole.

Creedal Imperative starts out by addressing the concerns of Christians who believe that having a "creed" or "confession" as an authoritative document for faith and life is unbiblical. I thought this was a well-reasoned and graceful way to approach the issue. To give your opponents the first word.

Trueman then goes on to argue for creeds and confessions by telling the story of such documents from a number of perspectives. He uses historical, devotional, theological, and practical rationale to argue in favor of a confessional Christianity. I have to say, it is hard to argue with his points.

Where I have a problem with creeds and confessions is when we elevate them to the level of Scripture. Creeds and confessions are good guidelines, but they are still fallible. They should be considered guides for churches as theological benchmarks, but we should always be open to the fact that though creeds and confessions contain biblical teaching, they are not in themselves inerrant or inspired.

Having said all of that, it would be wise for many churches to hold up historic creeds and confessions as statements of faith rather than a statement of faith drafted in the last 20 years. The creeds and confessions have theological and historical gravitas that some newer statement often misses. 

Furthermore, it is about time we honestly admit that Calvinist/Reformed doctrine is founded on creeds and confessions. Many Baptists (of which I am one) have attempted to claim the Reformed tradition as our own, and yet remove the theological tradition from its confessional roots. Trueman adds a needed corrective.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review of Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey D. Arthurs

Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word
by Jeffrey D. Arthurs
ISBN 978-0-8254-4219-3
Kregel Publications (Academic and Professional)
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have a lot of ministry books and articles fly across my desk. Recently I was given a copy of Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Rarely have I read a book that has such a great combination of being fun and easy to read, accessible, and useful in my day to day ministry. I would recommend this book to be in every seminary bookstore, and on every pastor's bookshelf.

The focus of this book is clear from the title. The author wants to encourage powerful, well-prepared reading of Scripture. Using the metaphor of preparing a meal, he encourages those who read Scripture and who empower others to do so to honor Scripture by having the public reading done well. Dr. Arthurs shares the Biblical and historical foundations of quality Scripture reading. He helps readers overcome common pitfalls. He shares some principles of basic oral interpretation. Then, he shares some tricks to add a little extra something to make one's reading have even more of an impact. A DVD is included as well to demonstrate the principles taught by the Devote Yourself text.

I also loved the metaphor that the Dr. Arthurs brought forward of 'the Bible, indeed all of ancient literature is 'arrested performance', like a musical score" (p.29). He goes on to say, "Public readers of Scripture are organists who play a Bach fugue. They are interpreters, not composers of the music" (39).

The metaphor of musical performance reminds us that we have a role to play, but that the genius of the text read comes not from us, but from God. It also emphasizes how central the reading of Scripture was to the way God's people approached worship.

If I could get people to turn out, I would use this book in my church to do a morning seminar on how to read Scripture, and on the importance of reading Scripture. Our church is more liturgical, which means that we have Scripture readings. Our church chooses to have the lay leaders (liturgists) read Scripture instead of lead other parts of the liturgy. This is disappointing to me at times, because I would love to at least read the preaching text. So, training others on the reading of Scripture is an important step for us at some time in the future.

Thanks Dr. Arthurs for the inspiration!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review of the Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo

Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant what he said?
by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo
ISBN 978-4002-0418-2
Thomas Nelson Publishers
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Red Letter Revolution is a thoughtful conversation by two friends and Christian leaders about what it would be like if believers focused like a laser on knowing and obeying the words of Christ in Scripture. The book covers a wide range of topics, and reads as a dialogue between Shane Claiborne (of the Simple Way) and Tony Campolo (Professor Emeritus at Eastern University and Shane's college professor).

The authors cover a wide range of topics, and hit several hot button issues. The issues are divided into three categories: Red Letter Theology, Red Letter Living, and a Red Letter world. In the process, most will find themselves agreeing with the authors often, challenged by them often as well, and once in a while passionately disagreeing with them.

This book would be an interesting book to have in a Sunday School class that is issue driven. For many in the class, they would discover a different perspective on many of their pet topics, and almost everyone would be challenged by the radical nature of the gospel.

For most readers, this would be a quick, informative book that would spark conversation. A nice addition to anyone's library.

Book Review for the NIV College Devotional Bible from Zondervan

The College Devotional Bible
Zondervan Publishers

There are so many Bibles, put out for so many different reasons, that it is hard to discover that perfect Bible you are looking for as a gift for loved ones. Into this word of big bible sales comes a book oriented toward those who wish to purchase a bible for the college-bound high school graduate. The College Devotional Bible accomplishes its purpose of being a devotional bible for young adults. Before we go further, you need to know that this is not a STUDY bible, it is a devotional bible. Inserted in the text are 222 devotional articles designed to help college students grow deeper in their faith. In the back of the Bible there is a subject index for the devotions that is rather extensive, and 30 day bible reading plans on a number of topics. Each of these 30 day plans has a checklist. This bible is definitely designed to be a bible that "works" for college students, and if used effectively will probably show much wear by the time their college experience is done. This is not, however, a study bible. There are no study notes, and few cross-references. This can be good or bad, just depending on your point of view. I think this would be a nice gift for a recent high school graduate.

Book Review on Jonathan Edwards and Justification

Jonathan Edwards and Justification
ed. by Josh Moody
Crossway Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I received this book from Amazon Vine. It is more theological than most of the books that come through the Vine program, and being a person who likes theology, I thought it would be a fun book to get a look at.

Jonathan Edwards and Justification is a monograph that has five essays written by 5 different Reformed scholars about Jonathan Edwards and his theology of justification. Most of the essays are written as apologetical texts against those that the New Reformed movement in the United States considers damaging and/or dangerous. By returning to the theology of Jonathan Edwards, the authors believe they are raising a standard of what good, practical, and historic viewpoints on the topic of justification are. At the same time, they are attempting to fight against those who would attempt to use what they believe as revisionist history to bend Jonathan Edwards' teachings to anything that does not line up with the 21st century neo-reformed point of view.

To be honest I did not enjoy reading this book. I thought at times the authors set up straw men as opponents in order to use Edwards to buttress their personal theology via Jonathan Edwards. The writing was dull. And I was disappointed in not having some biographies of each author. I would not recommend this book to anyone really. There are much better books out there that can make similar statements in a more clear headed and well-written fashion.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Book Review of the Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold

The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation
By Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold
ISBN 978-0-8308-3571-3
IVP Press
Formatio Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have long admired the Formatio imprint at IVP. Several excellent books have been put out by this publisher and this line. I have to say though, as I read this book, I was a little disappointed. Even though the text was well-written, it did tend to focus a lot on guilt and shame to motivate people into practicing healthy living.

Part of my distaste for this book may come from my personal place in life right now. I am overweight. I don't always have the healthiest habits. And, I know this. In many ways, as a overweight minister approaching middle age I might even be this book's target audience. I agree with a lot of what was said in this book. It was convicting. The problem is, when a person is overweight, guilt and shame are probably the least effective motivators to induce life change. Yet it seems to be the books primary way of motivating me as I read it.

For example, in the first chapter, the authors ask, "How do you currently preach the gospel without using words?" (p.16) The answer is supposed to be, by having good eating and exercise habits, and looking physically fit. And while I do believe that how we look and care for ourselves has a role in how we are perceived, these ways of making the point are laying things on a little thick. This point is further reinforced later when the authors say, "poor lifestyle choices...impact our very witness to the good news of Jesus Christ." (p. 40).

If the above example were the only example of guilt motivation I could stomach it. But it just goes on and on. If I wanted or needed to be nagged by women old enough to be my mother, I will call my mom.

Having said that, I think the authors do make several good points. In my weight-loss journeys in the past, I have seen where living healthier does effect other areas of my life, including my spiritual life, my mood, and my emotional state. I agree with them that increased discipline in one area of my life has often helped me increase discipline in others. The authors make some strong points about "food justice" issues. And they briefly discuss "eating extremes" in relation to Christian discipleship.

I think more books like this are helpful for spiritual formation, just not one that read to me like hell-fire and brimstone food and exercise Nazis. I have the Biggest Loser on TV for that--thank you.

Book Review of Relentless Pursuit: God's Love for Outsiders including the Outsider in all of us

Relentless Pursuit
by Ken Gire
ISBN 978-0-7642-0883-6
Published by Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Have you ever felt like you were on the outside looking in? Have you ever wondered if you ever really fit? Most of us have, and Ken Gire shares how God loves those who are outsiders, and often chases us down until we surrender to his unfailing love.

Relentless Pursuit is a tour de force on how God loves us and seeks us out in our sin and pain. The book begins by introducing the powerful poem The Hound of Heaven and telling the even more powerful story of the life of its author Francis Thompson , who was a homeless addict whose life personified the poem he wrote. He goes on from there to share from Scripture, from the lives of other believers, and from his own life how God's love pursues us, especially when we are most lost, desperate, and alone.

The book then goes on to invite believers into what God is doing in the world. As we seek to bring those who are on the outside looking in into the presence of a God that loves them through acts of mercy and words of grace, we partner with God in his Relentless Pursuit of his creation.

This book is a must have for me, and it is currently on sale on Amazon. It belongs beside Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel on my bookshelf. It is that good.

Book Review of the Secrets of Intercessory Prayer

The Secrets of Intercessory Prayer
Jack Hayford
ISBN 978-0-8007-9545-0
Chosen Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Recently I had the privilege of doing a quick read through The Secrets of Intercessory Prayer by Jack Hayford. Throughout the book, Jack takes his readers through a description and some instructions on how to pray for others effectively. He also shares several thoughtful examples about how prayer worked in his life and in other people's experience to change lives and hearts.

Hayford begins his book by painting a picture of need for more people who are committed to intercessory prayer for their friends, community and world. He shares several examples of how prayer changes things.

He goes on to share about several specific forms of intercessory prayer, from praying for one's family, to praying against the powers of darkness, to praying for those we are longing to see come to faith, and everything in between. He shares these prayer techniques with enthusiasm and passion for prayer that can only come from someone who believes that prayer works.

Hayford shares very specific stories in every chapter which reinforce his points and make it clear that prayer works. The stories and style of writing make this book very easy to read, and a quick read for most readers.

I think this would be a great book for a person who is just beginning to think about and learn about intercessory prayer.

Thoughtful articles regarding race and current events

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this thoughtful piece for the Los Angeles Times: Don't Understand the Protests? Phil Vischer (of Veggie Ta...