Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review of the Journey of Modern Theology by Roger Olson

The Journey of Modern Theology
by Roger Olson
ISBN 978-0-8308-4021-2
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Roger Olson is a prolific writer and a passionate theologian. I have followed his work from his days at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and have followed it with even more interest since he moved to Waco to teach at Truett Seminary at Baylor University.

I also long ago read 20th Century Theology. I had read it not in a seminary classroom, but as a pastor trying to make sense of where I was theologically, especially in relationship to some of the issues raised through postmodern philosophy and the emergent church movement (before it was called that). I loved the book, and its thesis of the development of modern theologies as a dialogue and dialectic between emphases on theology's understanding of the transcendence of God and the immanence of God made sense to me. It helped me become more grounded and able to articulate where I was in the context of modern theology and postmodern philosophy. 20th Century Theology was a game changer for me.

Now, in an update on the book's 20th anniversary, Olson has, in attempting to revise the old text, written a new text with the old text as the foundation. Instead of using a theological construct to tell what has happened in 19th, 20th and 21st century theologies, he has used a historical one in The Journey of Modern Theology . Since what is happening in both books is a historical theology of sorts, both organizational systems are appropriate. Olson's new construct makes the development of theology come across as a more relational and personal story of people and ideas in a historical context. Which is all well and good. But I think it misses the sense of wrestling with God that the text it has meant to revise had. However, I freely admit that I miss Grenz' voice in theological writing, and part of my struggle with the book at this point may be that I hear more of Olson and less of Grenz in the new text, and I grieve the loss of Grenz and his contribution.

Having said that, it only takes holding the books next to one another to show that Olson has expanded on his previous work in The Journey of Modern Theology. More is discussed regarding theological contributions of the 19th century, as it is also in conversation with the rise of modernity. And more of what is happening in theology today is shared as well. Those contributions are well-written, well thought out, and welcome.

The Journey of Modern Theology deserves a place on the pastor's and the theologian's bookshelf. It is a great book. On mine it will sit right next to 20th Century Theology. My hope is that IVP continues to publish both.

Book Review of One Year to Better Preaching by Daniel Overdorf

One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills
By Daniel Overdorf
ISBN 978-0-8254-3910-0
Kregel (Ministry Imprint)
Reviewed by Clint Walker

What a neat little idea. This book has 52 2-5 page articles describing how to become a better preacher. Most of the advice focuses on the practice of preaching, so it is accessible across the theological spectrum. The idea is that the preacher can put one of these practices into action each week, and then add another skill the next week, and by the end of a year, step by step, can be a much more competent preacher. A great concept, and a thoughtful addition to any preacher or bible teacher's bookshelf.

I have begun to use this book in last month or two. I am working though it more slowly than others might, but the book has still given me something to think about. For instance, one chapter challenged me to ask myself: In my preaching planning, am I offering a balance of Scriptural content? If not, why not?

Even more than the content piece, which I think I am doing alright with, the author gives some clear instruction for forming relationships in the congregation that will improve sermons. With chapters that tell you to encourage texting in the sermon, or that challenge you to teach preaching to teenagers, Overdorf is always keeping the preacher growing and on her or his toes.

Even for the most skilled of my pastor friends, I would recommend the purchase of this book. It is full of helpful reminders of how to become the kind of preacher we had hoped to be, but at times had lost focus of.

Book Review of A Guidebook to Prayer by MaryKate Morse

A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-Four Ways to walk with God
by MaryKate Morse
ISBN 978-0-8308-3578-2
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

There are several books around about prayer and spiritual formation. There are very few books that have been put out on prayer from a broader, spiritual-formation model that are both as well-written and grounded, as well as easy to use in a group or mentoring study as A Guidebook to Prayer.

MaryKate Morse has thoughtfully grounded her discussion of practices of prayer in the Trinity. Balancing discussion of prayer in community and prayer that is more commonly practiced individually, the breadth of this rather simple guide and/or curriculum is wonderful. It will have a great impact on teaching people to pray, and to think about prayer so they can pray more intentionally. And much like my reading of books by Richard Foster on prayer and spiritual formation, it will teach its readers many of the ways that they may be praying already without knowing that they are doing it.

Each chapter has a short article describing the prayer practice that will be implemented. Then there is a rather lengthy section on how to practice this kind of prayer within a community gathering. Then, there are guidelines for partners or individuals to practice this form of prayer as well.

Nearly every page of the book has quotes integrated as side notes within the book. These notes are comments of real people who have made the effort to practice the kind of prayer that Morse describes. Their comments and insights make the material more down to earth and attainable. Further testimonies end each chapter, as well as suggestions for further reading.

My goal is to get either my Sunday School class or a small group in my church to embrace this study. It would be exciting to see what God would do.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review of Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Volume 1: Chapters 1-13 edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson

Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Volume 1: Chapters 1-13
edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson
ISBN 978-0-664-2540-6
WJK Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have reviewed several resources from Westminster John Knox press, and their Feasting on the Word Series. I have found both the devotionals and worship guides very helpful for me in keeping my personal and corporate worship grounded in good thinking, solid scholarship, and spiritual depth.

The latest release in the Feasting on the Word series is this commentary on Matthew. For those of you familiar with the "Feasting" series, you will know that the commentary series began as guides for teachers and preachers exploring lectionary texts. Returning to the core of their material here with the commentary on Matthew, the people at Feasting on the Word and WJK Press are organizing some old and some new material in a manner that is organized more like a traditional commentary, in that this commentary is based on a book of the Bible.

Each text unit within the commentary is analyzed with four different interpretive lenses. First, it is looked at theologically. This asks how this passage fits into the bigger message of God in Scripture, and how this passage might inform right thought and believe. Then, there is a pastoral perspective, with an emphasis in how this passage might work its way into either ministry of pastors or everyday spiritual lives of congregants. Next, there is the exegetical perspective, which focuses in on the text and draws out the details of what this small individual text is saying to its individual readers. Finally, there is a homiletical perspective, which attempts to guide the reader in how the specific passage might preach to one's congregation. Each entry is written by a different person, so there are people writing from different perspectives and backgrounds as they attempt to accomplish interpreting the text with different goals in mind. The result is a multi-layered in depth commentary that allows you to see the passage from a number of different angles.

I look forward to this next step by the Feasting on the Word folks. I will use this commentary alongside others in my sermon preparation in the next year. I think it would be helpful for initiating both good thinking and good preaching that is based upon wise interaction and submission to God's Word.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blessings in the Storm

Blessings in the storm



The other day Jen and I were making our way to the airport to pick up my mother for a Thanksgiving visit. We were talking about the journey behind us and the journey ahead with Jennifer’s cancer treatment. I shared with her something that has been on my heart lately. I said, “If I had my choice, I would never wish cancer on anyone. I would definitely not wish cancer on you. But, I can definitely see how God has blessed us through all of this. I really can. It has brought us closer as a family. We have learned who are friends are. We have been shown a lot of love by the church. We have different priorities now. God has really blessed us.”

Jennifer didn’t say anything. She just nodded her head up and down as tears streamed down her face.

St. Benedict said it this way, “Keep death always before your eyes”. When you face serious life-threatening illness, when you preside over the funeral of one who has passed away, when what you value most comes under threat, it changes you. If you are open to the Spirit’s loving and gentle work, you find that your life is being recreated in unique ways by God’s gentle and firm hand.

For me, that means that I savor everyday moments a little bit more. When my youngest, Mattea, sees me walk in the door and yells “Daddy!” and runs up to me for a hug, I hold her a little closer. When our oldest Karis wants to dance in the middle of the sanctuary, I don’t stop her. I just delight in her love for music and her love for the Lord, and know that the Spirit is at work in her heart. When gets my attention to tell me about what happened, and she has to tell me about every detail of everything that happened, I try to listen better. And I try to never let a day go by where I don’t tell Jennifer I love her and how beautiful I think she is. I find myself laughing more. Playing more. Living in each moment. Trying not to run ahead of myself and miss everything.

Another blessing in the middle of this trying time in our life has been seeing how God has blessed us and provided for us. God provides for our financial needs daily. Jennifer received a small inheritance that has helped with medical bills. Anonymous letters come from halfway across the country and across town with money in them. We are not wealthy, but our fridge is full, our bills are getting paid, and we have a wonderful parsonage to rest our heads in.

You, our church, have been a part of God’s provision as well. You have sent cards, made casseroles, helped with housework, and watched our kids. You have allowed us flexibility with our schedule, and you have stood with us through this difficult time every step of the way. You did not expect to get into all of this mess with us when we started here, but you have not complained at all. For that, we give thanks.

Over and over again, people ask how we are doing, both in this community, United Churches, and people around the country that we have shared our lives with. And we say we are doing fine. That is an understatement. Even though we have our good days and our bad days, we are truly blessed. We may have a few more tears streaming down our faces, but as many of them are tears of joy and gratitude than they are tears of heartache and frustration.

Many days, “Team Walker”, before heading our separate ways, will hear Daddy yell at some point a cheer that he learned from a football coach whose kids both ended up being NFL coaches as well. I say, “Who has it better than us!” And the response is “nobody”. I truly believe this. We have a Lord who lavishes love on us that we do not deserve, and his presence seems more evident every day. We have each other as a family. We have some good friends. And we have a church family that loves and supports each other. Who could ask for more?


Saturday, November 09, 2013

Book Review of Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible
by Debbie Blue
ISBN 978-1-4267-4950-6
Abingdon Press
214 pages

This is a thoughtful, interesting little book by someone who loves the power of symbolism, the word of God, and has a good understanding of birds both in nature and in how people have perceived different kinds of birds throughout human history.

Blue's reflection, as the subtitle suggests, is neither traditional or polite. Instead, it is forthright, at times irreverent, and always thought provoking. Blue specializes in earthy writing that is never vulgar, and yet always conversational and down to earth.

A person approaching this book as a bird lover might be disappointed. This book is much more about human spirituality and human experience than it is about winged creatures' part of God's redemptive plan. My favorite chapter is about the cock. In this chapter is a discussion about masculinity, confidence, and combat, and how that relates to the call of Christ and the kind of people Jesus asks his followers to be. Each page seems to have an eye-raising thought that either brings out laughter or a raised eyebrow.

I love this book! Would be great to study in a small group some time!

Book Review of Finding God in a Bag of Groceries by Laura Lapins Willis

Finding God in A Bag of Groceries
by Laura Lapins Willis
ISBN 978-1-4267-5324-4
Abingdon Press
227 pages

Nothing warms the heart more than the story of an average person who makes a big impact on their world. That is unless the story also tells of a person who is transformed throughout their journey to significance. Such is the story we read in the autobiography of Laura Lapins Willis in Finding God in a Bag of Groceries.

This book is a spiritual autobiography of a woman who considered pastoral ministry through the institution of the local church, and found that she could have a more powerful impact through ministering to her community through her local food pantry.

The story alternates between the compelling stories of the people who are being ministered to, and the change that is happening in Willis' heart. Her story goes to show that ministries of generosity can change people's hearts and lives in profound ways, and that the power of the Holy Spirit can be encountered and experienced in simple, humble acts of kindness.

A great book.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Book Review of Feasting on the Word Worship Companion Year A Vol. 1 ed. by Kimberly Bracken Long

Feasting on the Word Worship Companion:
Liturgies for Year A, Volume 1
ed. by Kimberly Bracken Long
ISBN 978-0-664-23803-2
Westminster John Knox Press
204 pages

The Feasting on the Word Worship Companion has recently released their newest edition of worship readings for the liturgical, lectionary driven church. As usual, it is a great resource for mainline churches seeking classy, well-written, theologically sound litanies and responsive readings.

This volume in this fine series covers Advent to Pentecost in Year A. It includes the following resources for each week:
  • Listing of lectionary texts
  • Call to Worship
  • Prayers and readings for the confession/assurance cycle
  • Prayer of Day
  • Prayer for Illumination
  • Prayers of Intercession
  • Prayers and readings for the offering
  • Charge
  • Blessing
  • Questions for reflections on the texts
  • Household prayers for the morning and the evening
Each Sunday is thoroughly resourced. The readings are smart and thoughtful without being flowery or overly wordy. The wording has theological depth without being over people's head. My only complaint is that this resource does not include an invocation for each Sunday.

In addition to the weekly resources there are several other resources. They are:
  • Two baptismal liturgies
  • A thorough index of Scriptures used
  • Great Thanksgiving services with the following themes
    • General use
    • Advent
    • Christmas
    • Epiphany
    • Lent
    • Holy Thursday
    • Easter
    • Pentecost
The book is also on a CD-ROM that is attached with the book. This makes it helpful when cutting and pasting these resources into a PowerPoint or a church bulletin.

I love this series of resources. I have the devotionals for all three years. I also have all of the worship companion resources as well. In addition to this, I have some of the commentaries they offer for preaching. Although some of the writing comes from a more liberal background than my own, it is all solid stuff worth considering for use in worship and personal study of the Word of God.

Book Review of Dem Dry Bones by Luke Powery

Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death and Hope
by Luke Powery
ISBN 978-0-8006-9822-5
Fortress Press
157 pages
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Wow! This is a wonderful book on preaching that needs to find its way to the bookshelves of preachers and teachers in the church all over. Dem Dry Bones is wise, well-researched, and well-written book that takes on prosperity gospel as the heresy that it is, and rightly roots Christian preaching in a theology of the cross.

Luke Powery grounds Christian preaching in the experience of death, pain, and suffering. He uses the imagery of Ezekiel 37 as its grounding text. Then, Powery draws from the African-American church tradition of singing spirituals as "musical sermons" and lived theology. In doing so, he clearly demonstrates that the redemption and hope spoken of through the spirituals is central to the gospel message, or as he says, "suffering is a part of the gospel truth" (p.10).

What I find fascinating about this book is how it commends the wisdom and spiritual resources of the African-American church experience to the Christian church in its entirety through the tradition of African-American singing and preaching. Dem Dry Bones shows that suffering transformed, and both acknowledgment of the dark powers of suffering and death, as well the hope that comes from confronting them through the resurrection power of Christ, is standard of Christian preaching and the Christian experience as a whole. And no group of Christians does a better job at communicating the redemptive power of suffering than the traditional Black Church.

Christian preachers, buy this book! You will not regret it!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Book Review of Unstuck by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Unstuck: Your Life. God’s Design. Real Change.

By Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

ISBN 978-0-7842-0954-3

Bethany House

Reviewed by Clint Walker


Ever feel like you are stuck in your spiritual life? Ever feel like you have faith in Christ, but have somehow missed out on the kind of abundant life that God has promised through Jesus? According to Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, studies show that you are not alone.


As researchers, Christian leaders, and teachers of God’s Word not only discovered this truth in their studies, they also have done extensive study and had personal experience on how to break through this sense of being stuck on one’s spiritual journey. The end of each chapter has spiritual stepping stones to help folks move forward in their Christian faith.


The first section of the book focuses on the problems that people encounter in growing. Then, there is helpful teaching about how to get unstuck. Finally, there is a section on accelerating one’s spiritual growth.


I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a new direction in doing discipleship with folks, or people who are looking for a different perspective on how to grow themselves.

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