Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review of Essential Eschatology by John E. Phelan Jr.

Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope
by John E. Phelan Jr.
ISBN 978-0-8308-4025-0
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This book came just in time. I am doing some in depth study on end things and eschatology while I have some time away from the office. Right when I decided that this was my focus of study, IVP sent me this book to review.

Essential Eschatology is a great resource to begin my study with. It is written by a professor at North Park Theological Seminary named John Phelan, who used to be the institution's president. Although it is grouped with IVP Academic, I think it is definitely a college level text on the matter, or perhaps a seminary text with a number of other books to come along and support it. The book is a quick and easy read, and well organized. It makes matters of end times accessible to every day readers.

This book is more descriptive of eschatological issues than prescriptive. This is in part because so much of what we study is eschatology is shrouded in mystery. It is also because I believe Phelan wants to challenge his readers to do a little thinking for themselves. Borrowing heavily from the theologies of N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann, Phelan uses the metaphor of hope to guide all of his book. He comes to the conclusion of being in some way postmillennial by the end of the book.

There were several sections of Essential Eschatology I found helpful. For instance, by centering God's judgment is "setting things right" and bringing about "justice" in the world, he made God's judgment not only easier to explain but also easier to understand and feel good about. Phelan also does a wonderful job of explaining how one's eschatology effects one's faith and how one lives one's life. And I thought the final chapter did a better job of explaining what Phelan's millennial theology was and why.

All in all, an excellent read and a primer on the topic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review of Compassionate Eschatology ed. by Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin

Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend
by Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin
ISBN 978-1-60899-488-5
Cascade Books (Wipf and Stock)
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Most readings of Christ's second coming for his church are similar how Mark Driscoll describes his return when he says when Jesus returns he will be like "a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and a commitment to make someone bleed."

What if, however, you are a pacifist? What if you expect Christ's return to reflect the Fruit of the Spirit instead of the vengeful, angry caricature of the God of the Old Testament? How do you view the return of Jesus then?

These are the questions that a number of scholars tried to answer this in a conference sponsored by Preaching Peace entitled Compassionate Eschatology, which is also the title of this book. The scholarly work of that conference is included in this fine monograph full of different ways to approach this difficult concern for Christian pacifists. Most of the articles in one way or another reflect on the themes of philosopher Rene Girard's writing, who was a brilliant Christian philosopher of the 20th century.

For people who want to broaden their understanding of this difficult issue, I would recommend reading this book. As pacifism becomes a growing movement within post-Christendom Christian thought, more of us will need to struggle with the questions brought about by this issue.

Some of the articles I read in this book I agreed with more than others. This is to be expected. The monograph does not express a monolithic point of view. And, a violent return of Jesus is not a problem for some pacifists, who believe that vengeance is not theirs to take, but also that "vengeance belongs to the Lord." Whatever one's belief about end things, this book will help you grow and expand your understanding. A good read.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Power of Looking Forward

Last August, we were shocked by the news that came our way: Jennifer had breast cancer. The last four months have been spent running back and forth to doctor's appointments, helping Jennifer recover from surgery, and then helping her deal with chemotherapy. Previous to that, we had two surgeries to deal with. Although the surgeries have provided blessings, they also added stress and chaos to our lives.

One of the things that happens when one faces a crisis in one's life and one's family is that you place your whole effort toward dealing with and conquering the issue that is at hand. When one lives in a crisis, one deals with the moment as it comes, and attempts to either ride the wave of that crisis, or simply to survive it. Thinking about the future seems less important than facing down the moment right in front of you. 

The last week has been no different. Jennifer has struggled with this treatment, and has succumbed to a cold or some sort of viral illness, leaving her congested, wheezing at times, struggling to sleep and to get a deep breathe. Due to an error at the chamber of commerce, I am left to complete a mailing for the ministerial association that I thought we had contracted someone else out to get done. I have to confront a ministry that has lost a little bit of its focus, at least in who it has put in its leadership. The dog had an infected leg, which put us back about 200-300 dollars. 

I see this all of the time in dealing with people in need. They end up overwhelmed, always dealing with the issue that is in front of them, trying to hustle to get out of one crisis, only to find themselves in the next. I don't want my life to be like that. I don't want to live like that.

So I took an unconventional step. I started moving toward my goals in the future. I had to put continuing education on hold over the last year. This next year I am taking a big step, and putting in some applications for a D.Min. program. Can I afford it? Who the heck knows. But I won't find out unless I take the gamble of checking out some programs and applying to them. 

This also means I need to take some steps to push forward in my weight loss. Most of these programs are going to require I fly somewhere. And in order to do so affordably, I am going to have to lose some more weight. Can I lose as much as I want to lose in that time frame? I don't know, but I am not going to sit around and wait for life to happen to me, for another crisis to spin into my life, and then be stuck living my whole life reactively. Instead, I am going to be proactive toward some of my hopes and dreams. I am going to risk doing a half-assed job, I am going to risk failure and public humiliation, and I am going to look forward and walk forward.

Just some things I am thinking about today....

Book Review of Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year A by Bostrom, Caldwell, and Riess

Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year A

Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year A
by Kathleen Bostrom, Elizabeth Caldwell, and Jana Riess
ISBN 978-0-664-23796-7
WJK Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

As many of the readers of this blog know, I review several items that come out of the Feasting on the Word line of resources for Bible teachers, bible students and pastors. At the forefront of this series are the lectionary based commentaries on Scripture that provide a four-fold interpretation of Scripture, guiding the pastor or teacher through understanding what the text meant then, how we can interpret it for today, as well as how we can teach and preach the texts included in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).

The Daily Feast devotional takes excerpts from the commentaries on the RCL for a daily devotion. Again designed especially for those who want to go deeper in their understanding of the Scriptural texts in the lectionary, each week begins with an excerpt of the Scriptures for the week. Then, throughout the week, different quotes are drawn from the commentaries regarding each text, with a brief guide to responding to the text and the teaching, as well as a brief prayer. At the end of the week, the Daily Feast adds in quotes from each of the texts, again preparing the reader for worship on Sunday, where the passages will be read, and possibly preached upon.

I have used this resource off and on as a daily devotional since I moved to Hot Springs, and began to pastor a church that was more attuned to the lectionary. It has been helpful in keeping me grounded to the texts for the week, and in establishing a strong rhythm between my Sunday mornings, and my spiritual formation the rest of the week.

I would also recommend reading the introduction to this devotional, which gives several helpful hints on how to fruitfully engage the text. Approaches include...

  • Use as an opening devotion for committee or church staff meetings
  • Use when appropriate for community endeavors when a devotion and/or prayer is called for 
  • Use to prepare the preachers heart to preach the word
  • Journal in partnership with these readings
  • Personal meditation on Scripture
Whatever your approach, I recommend picking up this devotional. You won't always agree with everyone's perspective. I doubt all the contributors agree with one another! However, reading through this devotional willl help you engage the RCL texts more personally as a pastor or lay person, and ad depth to your preaching, your teaching, and your spiritual journey.


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