Review: The Cross and Christian Ministry

The Cross and Christian Ministry

Why is the cross foolishness for the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews? What’s so foolish and stumbling about it? For those of us living in the 21st century, we are far too removed from the times of Roman crucifixion to realize the brutality enacted on those criminals who hung on the cross. They are sights we will never experience; sounds we will never realize. 

Yet now we wear the cross as a symbol on necklaces, ear rings, and t-shirts. Because we’ve never seen crucifixion up close and personal, we quickly forget the price that was paid on the reality of the symbol we wear. Even still, people today think that the cross is foolish. We worship some bloody, nice guy who hung on a cross. How much more those who lived in the first century? 

Through his exposition of 1 Corinthians, Carson shows us what it means to preach and minister to God’s people in view of the cross. The message of the cross needs to be learned by every generation of believers. Our choices are the wisdom of the world, or the foolishness of the cross which is great than the wisest of men. We are to to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. “Is there anything more important than learning to think God’s thoughts after him?” (p. 10). 

In Brief Summary

What is wisdom? Seeing Christ, His servitude, the cross, how He glorified the Father, and how we live in light of His example.

  1. My preaching, whether in a church or to one person, should be centered on the message (the cross) rather than the form to show myself as impressive.
  2. I may think I am so wise, but I must remember I don’t know anything about God unless the Spirit reveals it to me.  For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
  3. If such is the case, why should I boast over any other preacher? Nobody has all the answers. It would be immature for me to make a special, secluded group if we are all the temple of God. The leaders are only doing what God gives them.
  4. Why try to attain leadership? The fame? The freedom? What about all that responsibility? The suffering? If Jesus is my example I cannot be arrogant for I am not the main character. God is.
  5. If we are all the temple of God, our allegiance to Him surpasses any culture. It doesn’t matter what country you own up to, you are now a citizen of heaven. You do have rights, and you will have to give up those rights at times for the sake of the gospel in order that you might save some.

The Chocolate Milk

  • The last section (2:1-5) was of great benefit. Rather than paying mind to soon-to-be-eclipsed cultural values that could get in the way of our Cross-focused lives, Carson gives enduring principles from Paul on what should be at the forefront of our minds. One of Paul’s points in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is that the cross is foolishness to the world, and no ‘wise’ person (apart from the Spirit) could ever come up with the idea of the cross on their own. Fads and wisdom of the world changes, but God’s wisdom is consistently consistent. Carson looks at the cross, and reminds us that if we aren’t impressive, it gives more room for the Christ to be impressive for the cross reveals the wisdom of God.
    +
  • When necessary, Carson looks over to the Greek word to find the real meaning behind the translation. 1 Cor. 1:20 says, “Where is the scholar?” The Greek word grammateus denotes a scribe, a Jew who knew the law of God. Paul’s point is that whether you’re a Greek wise man or a schooled Jew, there was no way you would come up with the idea of the cross, God’s greatest display of wisdom and majesty, on your own. We are all rebellious human beings. We can’t know God without the Holy Spirit? And why should we? “How can idolatrous attempts to domesticate God be rewarded with deepened knowledge of the Almighty?” (p. 18).

The Spoiled Milk

  • Chapter 1: Didn’t see how much of what Carson said had to do with “preaching” until the last section (2:1-5). The earlier sections built up to not boasting in a preaching platform and seeing our place before God, but in terms of the chapter title (preaching), I felt the chapter had little to do with it.
    +
  • Chapter 3: In explaining way it’s wrong to boast about human leaders, Carson points out that by focusing and boasting on only one pastor one only looks at one aspect of his God-given gifts. Carson quotes 1 Cor. 3:21b-23, and then elaborates on how the world, life, death, present, and future can all be fearful things, yet wonderful in Christ. However, I didn’t see how it fit with boasting about a particular leader. Then he ends the section with fighting about music in church. I’m sure he was just taking an aspect of things we fight and “factionalize” about, but it was a strange way to end the chapter, bringing more questions and leaving them unanswered.
    +
  • Chapter 5: Carson discusses how Paul became a Jew to the Jews, and a Gentile to the Gentiles, and how he was able to be so culturally relevant between the two groups of people. He wasn’t under the law, but was under the law of Christ. After going through 5 good points on the topic, Carson asks ‘how the old commands relate to the new,’ but then doesn’t answer it stating it would lead him too far from his current discussion.
    +

    • My question is, unless it’s in there because people might be thinking about it, if it doesn’t add to the discussion, why put it in there?
      +
    • Is this a major point? No, of course not. But there were a few times in the book where Carson ended a section, and I couldn’t help but think, “How did we get here?” or “Why did you say it like that?” Usually what Carson said was great, but there were times when he was bewildering, or if not that, dry (unlike his book on Model of Christian Maturity in 2 Corinthians and Basic Exposition of Philippians).

Recommended?

Carson is a clear writer and a great expositor. He does a striking job of keeping the book cross-centered, always keeping our eyes on our Lord and Savior, and not ourselves. There are no tips and tricks on how to be a successful Christian leader in this book, just how to be a humble servant of Christ as He showed us through His perfect example. This book is recommended (also 2 Corinthians and Philippians).

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Books (February 1, 2004)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Pastors/Teachers/Bible College and above
  • PDF 

[A big thanks to Brianna at Baker Publishing for allowing me a free copy to read and review! I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Review: 1 John: A Relecture of the Gospel of John

1 John Relecture

What is so hard about 1 John? Why is there so much discussion on it? It’s only 5 chapters, it’s near the end of the Bible, so it should be a piece of cake, right? Yet “[f]or such a small book in the New Testament, 1 John is an enigma. Much has been written about the relationship (if any) between the First Epistle of John and the Gospel of John.”

What is the genre of 1 John?
Is there a flow of thought?
Who are those left?
Who are those who left?
Are we in the last hour?
If those who abide in Him don’t sin, why do I still sin?
What is a sin leading to death?
Can I commit it?
How can I commit it if I don’t even know it?
Does this have any relation to the Gospel of John?
If so, how much?

In his book, Malcolm Coombes orders the strict of 1 John according to the rhetorical features and repetitions that he has found in his study and that are found in this book. He finds ordered patterns, themes, and allusions to the Gospel of John.

Introduction

Coombes starts us off with some of the puzzles of 1 John (see above), differences in 1 John and the Gospel (terms applied to Christ now applied to God, differences of eschatology, the place of the death of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit). Using two charts of statistics (to determine clusters of terms), Coombes shows a high parallel between 1 John and the Prologue (John 1:1-18), Jesus and Nicodemus (Jn. 3), Jesus and the Samaritans (Jn. 4), Jesus in dialogue with the Jews (Jn. 5), Jesus with the Pharisees (Jn. 8), and Jesus’ teaching before the Passover (Jn. 12).
Stats shows where many of the similarities are found, but they can only show so much.

So what is a “relecture”?
A relecture is when an author (John) “takes motifs and themes from one text [Gospel of John], and interprets them in new ways to serve a new theme…the ideas are taken up, developed, incorporated and even reoriented into the reception text” (p. 13).

What is important to Coombes is “[h]ow the author uses this material in a new situation” (p. 16). He seeks a new approach to studying 1 John, but he admits this isn’t the only way.

Chapter Divisions

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Methodology
Chapter 3: Structural Outline of 1 John
Chapter 4: Structural Unites Drives the Pattern of Allusions in 1 John
Chapter 5: Passage-by-Passage Analysis
Chapter 6: Concluding Word on Structure
Chapter 7: Overall Conclusions

Chapter 2: Coombes shows the Methodology of his work, how the “this” statements shows structure in 1 John, and how 1 Jn. 2:12-14 is a template for the flow of thought.

Chapter 3: Coombes divides and structures 1 John into 14 separate section based on different “this” statements (“we write these things,” “in this we know,” “this is the promise,” “this is the message,” etc). He explains the differences in the kinds of “this” statements, and almost every unit starts with a “this statement.” Coombes takes each verse in 1 Jn. 2:12-14 and shows how they each point backward or forward to the surrounding text. Following 2:12-14, we see a set of themes from 1:5-2:27, and the themes show up again in the same order from 2:28-5:5.

Why does this matter?

If this is true, it shows there is a recurrence of themes in the 2 main sections of 1 John. The themes introduced are to strengthen the remaining “community” (or the church John had been at, as I see it) in the authoritative truth of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.

Chapter 4: There is a chart showing each of the 14 sections of 1 John and which main passages of the Gospel of John they allude to.

Chapter 6: There is a “Proposed Structure for 1 John” here, which looks at 1 John in 4 Main parts: Prologue, Section 1 (1:5/6-2:27), Section 2 (2:28-5:5), and Conclusion. Section 1, 2, and the Conclusion all have sub-units which are also shown. It’s good to see a (possible) ordering of John’s epistle in a way that’s actually understandable. Trust me, I’ve seen quite a few outlines in studying for 1 John, and most if not all of them made little sense. Paralleled with the themes of 2:12-14, and this makes for a very good outline.

The Chocolate Milk

In Chapter 5 (Passage-by-Passage Analysis) we finally see how each subunit (all 14) of 1 John looks at the Gospel of John. We see how John relates “those who went out from us” (2:19) are related to Judas leaving Jesus and the disciples in John 13:30. Judas is seen as the model of many antichrists, the one who “saw” and “knew” Jesus, but who “went out from” Him.

Many parallels like this are shown the the conclusion that 1 John does use the Gospel to make certain points. From what I can gather, Coombes says the meaning of the Gospel isn’t being changed, and the “community” isn’t meant to look at it through Epistle-colored glasses. But the author (who I take to be the apostle John on both accounts) wants the church to see what he’s teaching in light of the Gospel of John’s message. Who are those who went out from us? Antichrists who are related to Judas and the sons-of-the-devil-Pharisees who want nothing to do with the real light and truth, Jesus Christ.

There were charts that were very helpful (“Proposed Structure of 1 John [6.6]”, “‘This’ Statements Referring to the Gospel [4.5]”, “Pattern of Allusions to the Gospel [4.1]”, and the “‘This’ Statement Summary [3.2]”, to name a few). Not every chart in the book was helpful, but some gave 1 John more clarity.

The Spoiled Milk

Sometimes the tables are in awkward places that shift the placement of the remaining paragraphs. It makes me unsure if the following paragraphs belong to the previous page or to the new table. The very helpful outline chart in chapter 6 is a good example of this. Coombes in in the middle of a conversation about another scholar (Coatzee) when all of a sudden I see “Table 6.6: A Proposed Structure for 1 John” followed by the conversation on Coatzee. After the finishing paragraph there’s another chart, but how am I supposed to know if this isn’t another interrupting chart? At least this one actually talks about Coatzee.

My issue is that often times the charts appear, for no reason and without warning, in the middle of a paragraph. Some are short enough for one page, but instead of being switched with a paragraph (Table 6.6), the end of the table is pushed to the next page.

Honestly, aside form chapters 1, 5, and 7, I didn’t understand why all the other chapters were there. I found it ironic that this book is quite probably the best map of 1 John (with the Gospel of John) I’ve ever seen, yet I was often lost in that same map.

Chapter 5 (Passage-by-Passage Analysis) shows how the allusions from the Epistle to the gospel work, but it would seem chapter 7 (Overall Conclusions) should be next chapter. Though Chapter 6  is a “Concluding Structure of 1 John,” it doesn’t seem to be any different than earlier chapters (Chapter 3 – “Structural Outline of 1 John”). It seems more could have been condensed, or the flow could have been explained better.

The Cottage Cheese (In Between)

There is a LOT of Greek in this book. This book is readable without any knowledge of Greek (I did it), but it is surely intended for those who know Greek. There are large chunks of charts/tables in the books, often times filled with Greek to show what words correspond to each other. If you don’t know Greek, you can hardly use them. What I had to do was skip over those charts and read what I could. I still got a lot out of it, but it didn’t make the book shorter because there was less that I could use.

So depending on your Greek education, you will either get a good bit out of this book, or you will get a lot out of this book. All the Greek isn’t bad, I just can’t use it.

Recommended?

If you know Greek, then I would say this is a good book to get on 1 John. There are plenty of references back and forth you can make between the Epistle and the Gospel. If you want to teach 1 John as a class, then I would think this would be a good book to get as it will fill up some more space on what John meant on confusing terms (“sin leading to death” being one) with how the passages relate to the Gospel.

If you’re an average Joe Schmoe who wants to read a book/commentary on 1 John, this will not be the book for you. I was surprised when I opened the book myself. It did not look like how I thought it would look. I was expecting more of a commentary, and this is not it. Not disappointing, just a lot different.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub (August 1, 2013)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Seminary/Teacher/Scholar/Greek

[P.S. Thanks to Margaret at Alban Books for allowing me a free copy to read and review! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

Book Review: Paul and the Law (NSBT), Brian Rosner

Paul and the Law

The Puzzle

The author, Brian Rosner, starts us off with this verse in 1 Corinthians:

“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19 ESV)

Hold on, wasn’t it God’s command to be circumcised? If neither one counts for anything, then what are God’s commandments that are to be kept?

If that wasn’t enough, Rosner present us with another puzzle:

Paul tells us Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances (Eph. 2:15), but then later quotes one of the commandments that was done away with (Eph. 6:1-2). But then, does our faith in Christ overthrow (abolish) the law? No! It upholds it! (Rom. 3:31).

Is Paul inconsistent? Is he making it up as he moves along? Did he go overboard on the matzah balls?

The Case For…

Studies on Paul’s understanding and use of the Law of Moses have been notoriously wrought with difficulties. How does the Mosaic Law affect the relationship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles? What of Paul’s views on salvation, salvation history, Israel, the church, ethics, and anthropology (to name a few). To merely take away the Law is to interfere with all of those ideas.

Brian Rosner is focused on the BIG picture: The question is not which bits of the law Paul is referring to (i.e. moral, ceremonial, civil – often times they intermingle!), but the law as what (in what capacity does the law function?).

In three swift moves Paul shows his (consistent) thoughts on the law:

1. Repudiation, explicit (ch. 2) and implicit (ch. 3).
2. Replacement of the law with Christ.
3. Re-appropriation as prophecy (ch. 5) and as wisdom (ch. 6).

What does this mean? Paul shows that Christians are not under the law. They do not walk according to the law, but they fulfill the law. The law of Moses is replaced by the law of Christ in our lives, but this doesn’t mean the law is worthless. It still has ongoing value because it is ‘for us’, it points us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but it teaches us wisdom.

Chapter Divisions

Chapter 2: Rosner shows what it means for Christians and Gentiles to not be under the law. He shows that the Law is a failed path to life, for breaking it means death, and nobody can keep the entire Law. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 says that the Law is used as law for the lawless. The righteous do not need it for they know how to live.

Chapter 3: we see three ways Paul indirectly puts the law away:

1. Omission: Absence of speaking of the law
2. Reversal: Saying the very opposite
3. Substitution: putting something else in it’s place

Paul does not say that believers in Christ walk according to the law, boast in the law, know God’s will according to the law, or transgress the law (to name a few). Rosner shows us where we see these phrases in the OT speaking of Jews, and where we don’t see them for believers in the NT.

Chapter 4: Paul replaces the law with the law of faith, the law of Christ (because Christ has fulfilled the law), shows what the ‘law of Christ’ means in Galatians 6:1-2, and shows how we walk in the newness of the Spirit.

Chapter 5: Rosner writes how the law was/is prophetic, showing how Paul (correctly) revealed (not stretched) how many OT references point to the Gospel. He shows how Abraham believed by faith and was accepted before the law, how the law was written ‘for us’ who believe.

Chapter 6: How did Paul view the Law (and OT Scripture) as wisdom as seen through the Psalms, how the psalter internalized and lived out the law, and as seen in the order of creation and to God’s goodness. Rosner then shows examples of how Paul used the wisdom of the Law for Christian ethics in his letters.

Chapter 7: Rosner gives about 8 (very helpful) charts for us to visualize what he has been talking about, shows how this view of Paul’s view of the Law solves the puzzle between God’s free grace and His demand for holy living.

The Chocolate Milk

Rosner assembles many of Paul’s contradictory sayings and shows that they do connect together revealing (to those who think otherwise) Paul did know how to express himself consistently in his letters. Rosner’s reasonings makes sense as a whole, and this book will change how you read reading Paul’s letters. Simply seeing the word “wise” in his letters will remind you of a host of Old Testament and inter-testamental meanings. Which leads to the next cup o’ chocolate…

Rosner floods us with Old Testament meanings that Paul would know. Why? To remind us that as a Pharisaic Jew Paul really knew the law, and he uses much of the same language/phrases/idioms in the NT.  And not just from the Old Testament, but including the time between the Old and the New Testaments. There are plenty of writings from that period, and they had an influence on Paul’s life and the lives of other Jews. Jews would read Paul’s letters and see a familiar idiom replaced. Instead of “walking according to the Law,” we now “walk according to the Spirit.” We are now “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Rosner’s view of showing the Law to be prophecy and wisdom was a wonderful treatment. If Christians are no longer under the law, then what do we do with it? Read it and thank God we don’t have to live like that anymore? How is that ‘profitable’? Rosner does away with the idea of only following the moral laws as opposed to the civil/ceremonial laws. In this light, the whole Law (read: Gen. 1:1-Deut. 34:12) has application to our lives. (Yes, even Leviticus). The Law exemplifies wisdom because it came from God, it is rooted in His good character, and it mirrors the boundaries He has placed over the world and how to live in them.

The Spoiled Milk

Rosner was wordy at times, with his syntax being difficult to understand (though to be expected with the NSBT series. It ain’t kindergarten – nor should it be). I may be in the minority here, for I’ve seen other reviewers say Rosner was clear and easy to read. Yes, he usually was clear, and often times easy, but on the same hand, not.

If there was a weakness in a main point of this study, it would be Rosner’s explanation of “the law of the Spirit of life.” He shows how it contrasts with “the law of sin and death” in Rom. 8:2, but doesn’t go much farther than that. He well explained the “law of Christ,” but not so much the same with the “law of faith” and the “law of the Spirit.”

Recommended?

If you are interested in Paul’s thoughts on the Mosaic Law, then this book is for you. Rosner’s thoughts are clear and well-thought out. There is plenty here to read, to study, to figure out your (and Paul’s) position on the law. It makes sense. I would love to see some examples of the difficult laws as wisdom, but with this hermeneutic in place I expect to see more books on how the law is to be used as wisdom in our lives, in addition to my own study. This isn’t the easiest of reads, but it’s definitely not the most difficult.  As D. A. Carson said, “This is a book to read slowly…a book to ponder” (12). Enjoy.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Review: The Art of Storytelling

Art of Storytelling

Honestly, this book was not what I thought it would be. Not exactly. I thought it was a book on how to tell stories. I’m not a good off-the-cuff story teller. I need time to think about a story before I can tell it well. I need to write it down, see the flow of thought, the syntax, how it will roll off the tongue. So I thought this book would be helpful in forming a story-telling mind. 

John Walsh grew up a stutterer. Yes as a stutter he speaks in front of large groups entertaining them with deep, imaginative stories, tear-jerkers, and Biblical stories in churches. He wrote this book to help others be able to roll out stories specifically in group settings. And by “group setting” I mean the Story Teller is on stage telling the story to an audience. 

So it’s not so much every-day story telling as it is preparing a story to tell in front of people. So the book wasn’t what I expected, but having said that, let me review it based on what it is intended to do and how well it does it. 

Introduction

To move from stutterer to storyteller to preacher, John Walsh had to figure out a way to tell a single story in under 30 minutes while still holding his congregation’s interests. He outlines different strategies to present a compelling story, such as your presentation, what to do with your hands while speaking, and how to create a killer conclusion. 

This is a book for anyone, especially those who have to teach (whether it be nursery, Sunday school, youth, or even adults). Much of our life is spent telling stories about our day at work, our experiences in college, the kids we used to get in trouble with in our old neighborhood. The bible isn’t much different. Much of the Bible is written in narrative (i.e. a story). 

Parts of the Whole

The book itself is divided into three sections. 

Part 1: “How can you create a captivating story?This section gives sprouting story-tellers fourteen steps in preparing the story. Ten steps are essential to telling a good story. The remaining four are optional, and, if followed, can take a good story and make it a great one. 

Part 2: Covers seven “how to tell” tools when in front of an audience. These tools are about how to tell the story with gestures, voice, facial expressions, and even nervousness (Nerves actually do help!). Speak with confidence. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know you’re nervous (even when you are) because you speak with confidence. If you’re shaking, if your thoughts are racing, and if your heart is beating through your chest, chances are they won’t be able to tell. At least not until the sweating starts. And don’t tell them you’re nervous. That’s just a dead giveaway. 

Part 3: “Why is storytelling needed?” This section focuses on retelling Bible stories, along with how and why you should tell a story effectively. John discusses why churches should be telling more stories instead of lecture-sermons. We are taught Bible stories as kids and we remember them throughout, but does it have to stop? Two of his own resources are available on the web (www.bibletelling.org, www.btstories.com). I’ve downloaded them, but have not had the chance to look much at them myself.

The Chocolate Milk

Walsh has activities at the end of sections to practice what you have just read. I’m glad to see this part in here, for it’s one thing to read how to tell a story, it another to actually have to do it. However, I am not of the “creative” mind, nor the kind that wants to practice this creativity by trying to think up and work through stories. I can’t tell you how effective this part is because I didn’t take part in it. But, reading through Walsh’s writings and looking at the exercises, it’s easy to see just how this would help those who have the want to tell a good story. No doubt the practice would have been good for me, but I foresee success to those who do practice these exercises.

This book is very easy to read. This is one reason I know the activities would be good practice, because this guy knows how to write well! Reading was no hassle, and, if I remember correctly, I believe I read this in two sittings. Sure, I read a lot, but this book was interesting and easy. The chapters weren’t too long, and they all kept my interest, all showing Walsh’s strength in communication.

Walsh gives tips on how to “get to the mountain” in the story without burdening the audience with too many details. Often people want to tell every detail when they tell a story (“So I went over on a Tuesday, no…Wednesday….no, it was a Tuesday. Afternoon…um….well, anyway, I…”). And really, we don’t need every detail. Get to the mountain quick before you lose everyone’s attention is a good rule to live by. Myself included.

The Spoiled Milk

It’s been said that if a person doesn’t accept Christ by the time he or she is twelve years old (plus or minus a few years), the chance that they will come to faith later is very small. Walsh shows this to be untrue by looking through Acts and showing how all of the (main) conversions were adults. He tells about how he realized that age twelve is the approximate age that stories stop being told in church.

There may be some truth to this, but I wish Walsh would have elaborated more on what he meant by sermons as stories instead of lectures. Much of the Bible is narrative, but what about the epistles? The psalms? The proverbs? Parts of the prophets? I’m not saying this is impossible to do, but a few examples would have greatly helped. Also, how does a pastor teach sanctification and justification in the form of a story? Would I really want to or be able to tell an hour long story as a sermon? Walsh does a good job explaining how to tell a story, but what about the Bible stories?

I can’t be too negative. His links (mentioned above) do help give a summary idea of narratives and letters in OT and NT. While, as a pastor, you may not have much help from this if you preach through the Bible a chapter a week (a la Calvary Chapel), but if you need a story-form summary of the epistles and topics, these links are good to go. 

Recommended?

Many of us would love to hold the attention of a crowd, a classroom, or just a group of our friends by telling them a great story. We’ve all been there, having to stand in front of a crowd and give our thoughts on a topic, or an experience we had (i.e. from our missions trip), or have just tried to tell a funny story to people, and we hate every minute of it. 

Written by a person who started out as a stutterer, John Walsh is a Christian who has the Christian audience in mind, but his book can be valuable to anyone who stands in front of audiences of 5 people or 1,000 people.  

Learn it well, then teach it well.  If you’ve been looking for a book like this, and you’d love to work with the exercises at the end of the sections, then you should look into getting this book. 

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition (December 13, 2013)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Teens on up

[A big thanks to Rachel at Moody Bible Institute and NetGalley for this free copy. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy].

Review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God Anti-Gay?

Homosexuality is a hot topic in the church and in some of our countries today. What does the Bible say on homosexuality? And do the Christians in the church accurately reflect what it teaches? How should Christians treat homosexuals? Is it the Christian’s job to change them before they can be invited to church? What does the Bible say about marriage? How should I respond amongst all the controversy? We need to remember that we are dealing with real people. These are real people who have real struggles and issues just like the rest of us.

Sam Allberry is the associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK. He writes this book because it is well needed in a time like this. He clearly explains what the Bible says about marriage, sexuality, same-sex attraction (SSA), and how Christians should respond. Allberry writes this book from his own experience as one who had and still has same-sex attractions.

Summary

Allberry starts with the center. He keeps the main thing the main thing. What is the Gospel, and what does it say I should do? The Gospel declares that Jesus has come to save us from bondage, and that we are to ‘turn’ in repentance toward Him, which means we were not heading in the right direction in the first place. We believe the Gospel that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be reconciled with God. The Gospel was “[H]is message for all people. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message. One for introverts….extroverts….left-brain types….right brain folk…God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe” (p. 9-10). Everyone has been given the same offer. To turn away from yourself and to live for God.

Allberry then moves to chapter one with a Bible view of marriage and sex. God said it was “not good” for man to be alone, so He created for him a woman. Humanity is gendered, and “sex is designed to irreversibly knit two people together” (p. 18). God designed marriage to reflect Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32). A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, can never represent Christ and His bride, the church.

Chapter two continues with the Bible’s view of homosexuality [Gen. 19; Lev. 18 and 20; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-10] all the while explaining what each text means in context and some different issues within them.

Chapter three is on homosexuality and the Christian. What happens if a Christian is struggling with same-sex issues, or if a homosexual becomes a Christian but is still struggling? Does that mean they are no longer saved? Of course not. Temptation isn’t sin until you give in. Allberry lists some of the main struggles Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction face, and how it can be used as a part of God’s purpose. He talks about the difference between the unrepentant heart and one who struggles but seeks to walk in line with God’s Word and His will for their lives. “What marks us out as Christians is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do” (p. 41).

Chapter four is on homosexuality and the church. What should you do if a homosexual couple starts coming to your church? Allberry gives some much-needed advice on how to treat homosexuals in the church. Their spiritual needs come first: they need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. You start at the center, and you move from there. It is then that you show them what the rest of the Bible says about sexuality and marriage ordained by God.

Chapter 5 is on homosexuality and the world. How do you respond when your friend comes out and tells you they’re gay? How do you then share Christ with them? How could you be the most loving and effective witness to the world on this issue? “The church is the ‘pillar of truth’ because it is the outlet of God’s truth into the world” (p. 78; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Allberry ends with a conclusion stating that “Jesus is the bread of life. He – and he alone – is the one who satisfies” (p. 82). Despite the complexities of our issues, despite the amount of time we succeed and fail, it is Jesus who satisfies our needs. Our sexuality (whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.) is not our identity. Jesus is.

The Chocolate Milk

+Almost every chapter ends with a gray box with a significant question that many have asked before: “Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?”, “Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?”, “Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?”, along with others. Each section is answered in a few paragraphs, but the depth of the answer given is perfectly adequate for the posed question. They are not easy question, but the answers are spot on and complete.

+This is a simple book to read. It’s only 83 pages, and it’s very Christ-focused. There are some hard truths, but they are not written out of hatred. Allberry understands what life is like living with SSA, denying himself, and saying “Yes” to Jesus. These are hard truths to accept, but these are also hard truths that he himself is accepting and living life accordingly.

Recommended?

Yes.

Allberry covers a lot of ground in such a small book, and in doing so he shows God’s heart toward homosexuals, gays, lesbians, those who have same-sex attraction, and it’s the same heart he has toward all who sin. God loves us, and He is not “anti-gay.” Allberry writes for the benefit of those who experience SSA that God does love them, and for the benefit of those who don’t share in experiencing SSA to know how to love and minister to those who do.

This short book could be read in a single night. However, I would recommend that you don’t do that, but that instead you take the time to go through it. Think about the Scriptures Allberry proposes, read through them, and think about the points he is making. How does this differ from what you’ve thought about homosexuality? How can you show Christ better to a world around you, whether the people around you are of a different sexual orientation or not? The media has put a target on churches who have rejected homosexual members. Can you show your employees that the real Jesus is different? Can you show them that Christianity is different? Can you show them that you are different?

This book comes from a pastor who understands and cares about those who struggle with SSA, whether they are believers in Christ or not, and one who cares about the churches who are to show the love of Christ and how they can do that. Homosexual lifestyles are becoming more common place, and Christians need to know how to say more than, “That’s sin.” But then what? How is that person supposed to live in light of that? We need to be more helpful in lovingly showing others how to live in light of the Gospel of Jesus. It is good news. Right?

 Lagniappe


[A big “thank you” to Dean Faulkner at The Good Book UK for sending me a free copy to review. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Review: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

From Heaven He Came

“The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.”

-Samuel J. Stone (1839-1900)
+
Tulip. What does it mean to you? To some, it’s their favorite bulbous flower. To others, its their favorite city in Indiana. To you, it might be your favorite Bloc Party song. To others, it’s a much avoided class discussion. Whatever it means to you, TULIP has a certain ‘ring’ to it. Maybe it’s not your cup of tea, or maybe it’s the only way of life you’ve known.

Whatever it means to you, TULIP has a certain ‘ring’ to it. Maybe it’s not your cup of tea. Maybe it’s the only way of life you’ve known.

What this book has been set forth to do is provide an updated resource for the legitimacy of definite (limited) atonement. In case you’re unsure of what that means, it views the atonement through the lens of election, “teaching that Christ died only for the elect, to secure infallibly the salvation of the elect” (p37).

Why call it ‘definite’ instead of ‘limited’ atonement?
To quote J. I. Packer, “Limited is an inappropriate emphasis that actually sounds menacing. It is as if Reformed Christians have a primary concern to announce that there are people whom Christ did not die to save, whom therefore it is pointless to invite to turn from sin and trust him as Savior….But perhaps I may say that in my view it is time to lay TULIP to rest, since its middle item does so much more harm than good” (Packer, J. I., Foreword, p. 15-16). And it includes, as the above statement says, to teach that Christ definitely died to secure the infallibility of the salvation of the elect.

Why did I ask for this book?
I requested this book pretty much because I know very little about definite atonement [D.A.] so I thought I’d look into what it means to those who have studied it themselves.

The book is divided into 4 main sections:
I. Definite Atonement in Church History: Which goes over definite atonement’s controversies and nuances in church history
II. Definite Atonement in the Bible: Which shows to prove definite atonement’s presence or absence in the Bible
III. Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective: What are definite atonement’s theological implications?
IV. Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice: What is a pastor to do with the consequences of definite atonement?

Clearly, I cannot give this book an “adequate” review (consider it’s size. It’s massive! It’s 704 pages (front-to-back) full of 23 different essays of different exegetical, theological, pastoral, and historical issues, many of which are intertwined together. What I will try to do, is speak on each section as a whole, give some scribbles on parts that stood out, and end with a final note. Considering the size of this book, the time I’ve had to read this thing, and other responsibilities I have, I haven’t not been able to read this whole book. That being said, I read every essay except for the section on Church History and one essay in the Theological Perspective.

So again, you may already know I don’t know how to be concise, but I will try to be as brief as I can on each section so as to make this entry readable (as a whole).

Definite Atonement in the Bible

This was easily my favorite part of the book. There were 6 essays, dealing with how D.A. is seen in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), in Isaiah’s suffering Servant, in the Synoptic Gospels and Johannine literature, in the Pauline epistles, in Paul’s theology of salvation, and in the Pastoral and General epistles.

D.A. in the Pentateuch was intriguing. I had come to the understanding that D.A. could easily be refuted because even though Israel underwent the Day of Atonement, not all of Israel was saved. However, I realized it was more tricky than that because Israel was called “out of the world” by God. Ah, there’s that election status. Alright Williamson (author), you got me there.

In the Suffering Servant, J. Alec Motyer does a fantastic job explaining how D.A. is seen in Isaiah 53 [and the surrounding chapters]. I say “fantastic” not because I necessarily agree with him, but because he is so clear (which, unfortunately, not every author is. Just wait until I get to the Theological section). Motyer goes through the dimensions of salvation seen in the Suffering Servant passage, along with the “many” intended recipients of salvation and what “many” means in context.

Harmon does a good job showing D.A. in the Synoptics, but his real focus is seen in the Johannine literature where he points to and elaborates on many of Jesus’ discourses (Bread of Life [Jn 6:22-58], High Priestly Prayer [Jn. 17:1-26], and the Throne Room Vision [Rev. 4:1-5:14]). He shows how Christ died for His people, how Jesus died for the “world”, and what those “universal” texts (may) mean. He does a good job (though I was hoping for more) of explaining 1 John 2:2 and shows a parallel between it and John 11:52 giving more backdrop to the situation.

Gibson’s first chapter on the meanings of Christ dying for “me,” for “us,” for “the church,” for “His people,” for “all,” for the “world,” was particularly interesting, including the section on the “Perishing” texts [Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; and Acts 20:28-30] which was particularly illuminating.

However his next essay was a bit more obtrusive. Maybe that’s harsh, because it was good. However, I felt like there were so many side-roads or new discussions popping up that I felt lost at times. “Karl Barth? Who invited you?” His thoughts on the Trinity and D.A. were helpful, though the format still led to some confusion.

Finally, Thomas Schreiner. He covers topics such as how God desires to save all [1 Tim. 2:1-7]; God is the Savior of all, especially of those who believe [1 Tim. 4:10]; the false teachers who fell away from Christ who “bought them” [2 Pet. 2:1], and more. After reading Gibson, Schreiner was a breath of fresh air. He is a very clear and coherent writer. Though, I will say that there are times when he gives ideas that sound right, and in the next paragraph scraps the whole idea. But aside from that, I appreciated his input into this topic (D.A. in the Pastoral/General epistles).

The Chocolate Milk

What I liked about this section is that the authors go to the source itself (the Bible), and show you what they believe it says. You can take it or leave it from there. You can look for yourself in your own Bible and see if you agree or not, why or why not, and what you think about their conclusions. But a least you can see who they arrived there. This is also what had a hand in making the next section so much harder to read.

Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective

There are six essays n this section, yet this section won’t be as long because I had some problems reading this section. Sometimes I would just think it’s because I don’t know enough (which is accurate), but then I read Wellum and “The New Covenant Work of Christ” and think, “Well, how come this is so easy?”

Quite frankly, this section was hit or miss for me. You have different topics on D.A. and the Divine Decree (Williams), the Triune God and the Incarnation (Letham), Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Williams), the Double Payment Argument (Williams), The New Covenant Work of Christ: Priesthood, Atonement, and Intercession (Wellum), and Jesus Christ the Man: Toward a Systematic Theology of Definite Atonement (Blocher).

The Spoiled Milk

Passing through Macleod’s essay (I didn’t read it due to time), I felt Letham was difficult to read because much of his discussion was theory and I was left thinking, “What’s the point?” It quickly runs together into one heap of technical wording.

Much of William’s first chapter was difficult to understand. His section on the Specificity of the Atonement in Scripture was helpful, but the ideas were then entangled when he arrived at Leviticus. At that point it was a matter of looking at some chapter constructs/outlines.

Dealing with the double payment argument, Williams goes through six different metaphors on punishment, but I wasn’t quite sure of how it really related to D.A. Parts of his chapters were fine, but it seemed William’s took the long way around to explain his points. I understand the concept of why God can’t demand a double payment, or inflict punishment twice, but from William’s reasoning I couldn’t give a good reasoning for or against it.

I suppose Blocher fulfills his journey in showing the systematic theology of D.A., but I saw little of how it had anything to do with Jesus Christ the Man except for a few pages (unfortunate considering it’s a 43 page essay).

The Chocolate Milk

It wasn’t all bad. There were a few good points:
Letham showed the loving provision of the atonement.

Overall, Williams cases a good point on the double payment augment: can God inflict punishment for the sin of the lost a second time when Christ has already atoned for the world? It is something to think about.

Wellum’s essay on Christ’s New Covenant work was a a sigh of relief! Finally, an essay I understood and could take something away from. I felt like I didn’t have to work to understand this chapter. Wellum shows the connections between Christ’s atonement for His people and His High Priestly ministry for His people (Priesthood, typology, the old and new covenants) and how Christ fulfills the office of the OT High Priest. I found this to be a very good mixture between the Theological Perspective and the Biblical Exegesis.

 

Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice

How does the doctrine of D.A. work out in the pastoral ministry to the church? Here, three pastors spell out the significant of D.A. to many a congregation. Daniel Strange writes on if Jesus was really slain for the world, Sinclair Ferguson on the assurance of salvation that D.A. brings, and John Piper writes on how D.A. ultimately brings glory to God.

Strange’s chapter was fairly good. If we believe in the universal atonement of Christ to every person, what happens to those who never hear the gospel? In the end I felt like I was left on a cliffhanger. I’m not really sure if all the ends were tied at the conclusion or not.

Ferguson’s essay dealt with Jesus’s teaching on D.A. in John 10, which was an interesting read. However, I felt he spent more time talking about the other sides deficiencies rather than the assurance that DA provides. Campbell? Federal theologians? Older Calvinism? How does help me to assure my flock if I’m a pastor? His conclusion made sense, but it felt like I took the long road there and was then left wanting.

John Piper: Of course Piper’s essay will be good. And it was. It was long (34 pages), but not too long. He broke it down into mini-sections, but handled well what many of the other authors couldn’t seem to: in dealing with other points of view, I knew who’s view I was reading and who’s I wasn’t reading. To be clear, when I was reading Piper’s view, I knew it was his view of D.A. When he spoke on Driscoll’s view or Ware’s view, I knew he was talking about Driscoll or Ware. There was no confusion. I never stopped to think, “Wait, what is he talking about? How did I get here?” And for that I am thankful.

Two points I was glad to see Piper touch one were as such:

  1. Piper goes to explain how one, believing in D.A., could preach a sincere and valid Gospel to the entire, unevangelized world.
  2. Piper explains how one who was atoned for my Christ’s blood could be under the wrath of God before being saved. If they are really atoned for, how are they still under the wrath of God at all (even before salvation)? Piper gives a pretty good explanation. Not perfect or amazing, but it makes sense to a degree.

 

Summary

All in all, this is a huge book. You will see a lot of names. You will see a lot of Greek (though not an overwhelming amount). This book is written for Bible college, seminary, scholars, and not the layman (unless you really know your stuff). In that case, have at it. You’ll understand more than I did. Though I wish some scholars could have been more clear or concise in their writing, I understand this is a tough subject to write on, and I am but one reader trying to understand the aspects of this doctrine so that I can better speak with and understand those around me. I won’t understand everything. This book is an incredible resource that will hold for years to come on the doctrine of Definite Atonement. Now, I’m waiting for the other side (Unlimited Atonement) to come out with a book so I can see their position. We’ll see.

——————————————————————————————-
One last note though, no matter which side you do take, Arminian, Calvinist, unlimited atonement, definite atonement, any mix in-between, if you even ascribe on a certain field, or your just trying to figure out what the Bible says, please don’t use this book to beat other people over the head with your ideas and beliefs. Whether the world or only the elect, Christ still died for His bride, and the last thing He would want is for His bride to be divided over who He died for. We are one body in Him. Hopefully this book will help encourage conversation rather than build up walls. Please, be mature. Use this as a resource for your beliefs, but be open and willing to talk to those who differ from you in love. That’s the only way people will ever see our great Deliverer.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (November 30, 2013)
  • Audience: Those who want to better understand the position of Definite (Limited) Atonement; yet the reading level is at least Bible college.
  • Amazon: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her
  • SamplePDF

[A big “thank you” to NetGalley and Crossway for allowing me to read and review this book before it came out. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Review: Loving God With Your Mind

Loving God With Your Mind

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:18a, ESV)
Maybe you’ve heard of J.P. Moreland. Maybe you haven’t. If you’ve read Lee Strobel’s The Case For a Creator then you have. Or maybe you’ve looked into apologetics in metaphysics or postmodernism. Maybe you’ve read Scaling the Secular City, Love Your God With All Your Mind, or Kingdom Triangle. Or maybe, this is all new to you.

Over the past twenty-five years, J. P. Moreland has done much work to equip Christians to love God with their minds. In his work as a Christian philosopher, scholar, and apologist, he has influenced many a students, written fresh and advanced books, and taught multitudes of Christians to defend their faith.

So in honor of Moreland’s ministry, general editors Paul Gould and Richard Davis have assembled a team of Moreland’s friends and colleagues to celebrate his work in three major parts: philosophy, apologetics, and spiritual formation. These scholars interact with Moreland’s thought and make their own contributions to these important subjects. Moreland concludes the volume with his own closing essay, “Reflections on the Journey Ahead.”

Part 1: The Building Blocks of the World

I want to read more by Moreland because of this book. I’ll admit, Part 1 was really difficult to wrap my brain around because I know so little about metaphysics. While there were parts I understood, much of it was over my head like a bridge without stairs. It’s above me, and I don’t know how to get up there. The scholars do “dumb down” some of the language and try to explain their philosophies, but this is still a ‘thinking’ book. You will have to pay attention, and close attention, to many of the topics (and sentences) to understand fully what is being said.

Depending on your background, Part 1 could either be right up your alley, or it will make you put the book down. I’ve read some apologetical and philosophical (Francis Schaeffer) writings to have heard of some of these terms and to make it through this section, but it was still no walk in the park. Phrases like “non-arbitrary classification”, “tertiary ontological category”, and “x is a natural subclass of y if x is a subclass of y and x is a natural class” make me question if I mistakenly picked up a book on advanced mathematics. And we can’t forget about objects having universal (abstract) and particular (concrete) properties dealing with bare particulars and their ordered aggregates!

I like the idea of learning philosophy, logic, and making sense of the world, but this was no introduction to Moreland’s philosophically *Platonistic ideas (nor was it supposed to be, I’ll admit). I can’t exactly fault the book for that because I know someone will understand this book. But since I didn’t understand, I couldn’t even really begin to tell you the benefits of this section and how they arrived at the application.

There were good points: Chapter 1 had a short ending paragraph on Jesus being human and being able to share in our humanness. But The Fray said it better, it’s all over my head. (Of course, they’re talking about a girl while I’m talking about a book on a philosophical Platonistic Christian scholar).

[all phrases taken from p. 21]

[*Platonism = the philosophy of Plato. It refers to the philosophy that affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to “exist” in a “third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness… Oh boy. Fun!]

Part 2: Thinking for Christ in the World

In Part Two, the reading started to get a little easier and a bit more applicational.

Chapter 6 was informative because it talked about the importance of objective knowledge [knowledge which cannot be contested or refuted]. However, it felt like it didn’t really go anywhere.

Chapter 7 (Since What May Be Known About God is Plain to Them: JP Moreland’s Natural Theology) was nice.

CS Lewis said it would be strange for us to hunger or thirst if no food or water existed to satisfy those longings. To follow suit, it would seem legitimate to consider our deepest inner needs as well – the longing for significance, security, deliverance from fear of death. Could there be an ultimate source of satisfaction? What has this Being actually done to help humans out of their miserable, broken condition? Natural theology can serve as a doorway to Christ – arguments for God’s existence create a plausible structure where embracing Christ becomes a credible option (p. 122). If humans have such a deep longing for the transcendent, for meaning, for significance, that should actually serve as a pointer to God’s existence.

There was an interesting statement about leading atheists such as Nietzche, Freud, Sartre, and Russell who all had negative to nonexistent relationships with their fathers which could help explain their insistence of a life without God.

A few of these chapters had good points, but within the grand scheme of things (i.e., this book) I was unsure of how they related, or what the point expressed was meant to be.
However, I did enjoy Part 2 (chapters 6-10), especially Chapter 10,
“Not Willing That Any Should Perish: An Apologetic for Pro-Life Activism.” Some of the topics expressed were Abortion, Infanticide, Prenatal Genetic Testing, Embryo/Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and Physician Assisted Suicide. This was informative because most of it are things I’ve never researched into so it helped me to see where my beliefs line up with the world around me.

Part 3: Living for Christ in the World

Part 3 was much more applicational and relational.

“….[A]pologetics is a dialogue between two people, and the speaker should always be aware of how his listener’s mind has changed if he is to make contact. The target moves but the bullets remain the same” (p. 172).

JP’s Cultural Apologetic:

“Culture is the constant and curious conversation that goes on between every one of us and the environment in which we reside” (p. 176).

Being authentic is to be vulnerable, and it is in the beginning of this chapter that Moreland is vulnerable. The chapter starts off with a quote from him waking up stressed do to work, sickness, and finances. Christianity doesn’t fix us of all of our sicknesses and woes, but we are better able to get through our circumstances because we know the One who created everything and died for us in love. That doesn’t mean fear and worry can’t come in, but it doesn’t have to overtake us (Phil. 4:6).

Chapter 12 is on watching, praying, being alert for spiritual warfare, and intentionally relying on the the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to resist Satan to be able to stand firm in our faith.

Chapter 13 is about what it means to be happy. What’s wrong with the way the world perceives happiness today? Is it really having pleasure 24/7? Being comfortable in every opportunity, situation, and circumstances? Or living a virtuous life according to the standards of God in Christ?

“….[A]pologetics, theology, and philosophy…we often tend to focus on these topics as subjects to be studied, and neglect to appreciate that a personal being is at the heart of Christianity, rather than an argument, concept, or system” (p 207).

Chapter 14 is on the witness of the Church, “Christians no longer constitute a cultural, social, or intellectual majority; this is good news, as the church of Jesus has always done its best work from the margins of culture, as opposed to its center” (p 221-222).

The book ends with an afterword from Moreland.

We need to actively promote an active God in the creation of man, rather than one who said back idly while evolution plodded on. Why should we start to believe in an active God now? Should we change what we believe just because the world puts pressure on us? We should consider what we believe and make sure we do believe it so we don’t crack when the pressure is laid on. Stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). 

Recommended?

Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. You might be just interested enough in this book to read it. I wouldn’t recommend this book to just anyone. Only if you have a good grasp of metaphysics and philosophy (or you want to have a better grasp of it) should you read this book, at least Part 1. Part 2 was easier to understand, and Part 3 the easiest and most applicational. But Part 1 will fly over many heads. I liked this book, and I did gain insights from in. But I haven’t read many of Moreland’s own books, and that might be my biggest problem!

But as for me, I wouldn’t buy this book for myself or for another person (unless I knew they wanted it and would like it).

I would prefer to read books written by J.P. Moreland himself [Amazon; Wikipedia]

Lagniappe

Review: Resisting Gossip

“Without wood a fire goes out;
without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Prov. 26:20).

“Only you can prevent forest fires” (Smokey the Bear).

Resisting Gossip Cover

+
With gossip being so prevalent in our culture (Facebook, TV, newspapers, chat forums, etc), it can be hard to resist listening to and sharing stories about other people’s business. But how far does gossip actually go? And what does God say about gossip? Can we follow it? Are we just drowning too deep in the culture of gossip? There are some things that are clearly identified as sinful in the Bible that we conveniently avoid. We don’t consider them as significant as immorality, yet they sins still entangle us and hinder our relationship with God and others.
+
In Resisting Gossip author Matthew Mitchell says that he wished to find a one-size-fits-all solution to gossip. But gossip is messier than that. However, God’s wisdom is greater than the challenge. Gossip is a broad, tricky, and a pernicious problem that needs to be dealt with quickly when it crops up. Christian Living books should not provide a single fix-all for every problem. There is no one way to handle gossip. But most importantly in this book Mitchell goes for the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
+
The author gives practical, positive, spiritual advice on not only avoiding gossiping, but what to do if you become a victim of gossip. Mitchell carefully defines gossip and it’s many prevalent forms (no one is exempt here, not even you).

The Chocolate Milk

The author presents his material in a clear and accessible way. He is honest about his own failures and successes, and humbly opens himself to the reader. And this vulnerability helps the readers do the same, especially as Matt consistently applies the Gospel to all of us throughout the book. He uses Scripture to back up his points and avoids easy/moralistic/legalistic solutions.

He uses a lot of references from Proverbs. It’s one thing to read through Proverbs and read all the verses on gossip; it’s another to see them all throughout this book as the main book to be referenced. Let me tell you, there are any verses on gossip in Proverbs.

There are five to six discussion questions at the end of each chapter for either group discussion or personal reflection. While I didn’t go through every question and answer them myself, they seem to be good at making you think on how gossip is wrong, what you would do if you were on either side of the equation, how the gospel and the love of Christ are better than gossip, etc. They make you think, and that forces you to think about your actions and their consequences the next time you want to open your mouth and speak.

The book supports not just the negative prohibition of the tongue, but the positive use of it too. It would have been easy to stay just on the negative, but the true solutions are all related to the development of the positive use of the tongue (and the heart). It’s like Jesus’ command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Other leaders (religious or otherwise) in the world have given the same pronouncement in the negative “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others” (Isocrates). Knowing the negative is great, but having to follow the positive takes great effort.

The book is well-organized making it easy to follow along and read. It’s encouraging to know where the book is heading, and to be able to follow along, especially with an important subject like this.

The Spoiled Milk

This book was good for the topic it’s on. Really good. It was revealing, convicting, and all around encouraging to have some wisdom on this topic, to see more of the ins and outs of gossip, and to know what not to do and how to help instead. To speak good of others over bad (even if it’s true!) because you love them (even if you don’t feel like you do). So for this book, there isn’t much wrong to say. 

Recommended?

I don’t consider myself particularly prone to gossip. Well, I didn’t. By biblically widening the definition of gossip Mitchell showed me that I may be more of a gossip than I care to admit. In the “Gallery of Gossips” Mitchell lays out 5 different kinds of gossipers. Those who speak, those who listen, and all from a filthy heart. I could think of people for each type. But after reading I realized that I don’t have to go looking for people to fit those positions. I myself have been those things!
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Using Romans 1:29 (They are gossips) on page 44 hits hard. Why? Because just 11 verses before that Paul tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18), and then gives a description of what those ungodly people are like.
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Gossip has no easy solution. It took the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive it, and it takes continually returning to the death and resurrection of Jesus to overcome it.

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Hopefully this book will change the way you talk to, with, and about people.

Lagniappe

 [A big thanks to CLC Publications for allowing me to review this book [PDF] for free. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Review: What Is Biblical Theology?

What Is Biblical Theology?
James Hamilton, Jr. does a wonderful job on simplifying the Bible’s grand, overarching story in his new book
What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. I often hear about how the Bible is a continuous story, but I often forget just how much of it really is a unified story. I forget to picture it with story qualities: episodes, themes, conflicts, victories, mystery, symbols, a protagonist, an antagonist, and many other mini-characters in other mini-settings.

What Is Biblical Theology?

Hamilton defines Biblical Theology as the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors.
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What does that mean?
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It is the way in which the authors reflected how they understood earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing in the form of narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. They do this within the framework of knowledge and truths they live in to describe the way they understand the world and the events that take place in it.

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For example, Moses didn’t write a story about Balaam in Numbers 22-25 because he was desperately searching for a good story to tell. He singled that event out of all the events of the 40 years in the wilderness, carefully arranged it amongst the rest of the narrative, and presented the true story. Doing it this way enabled his audience to clearly see how what Balaam said and did fits into the true story of the world we live in which Moses shows in the Pentateuch.
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Moses didn’t write down facts for the sake of being a historian. He followed and wrote down the themes he saw so that we can see the connections between stories:

  1. Noah survived through the Flood while God’s enemies (rebellious humanity) were destroyed.
  2. Moses and the Israelites made it across the Red Sea while God’s enemies (Pharaoh and the Egyptians) were destroyed.
  3. The faithful remnant made it through the “flood” of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies while God’s enemies (unfaithful Israel) were destroyed.
  4. Jesus was baptized and fully submerged into the Jordan river, and as Christians our old man is put to death in Christ and raised in the likeness of Him, putting off the body of the flesh and putting on the new man [Col. 2:11-12]. Who is God’s enemy that is destroyed? The old man, and sin’s reign over us [Rom. 6:6]. Sin is still here, but it is no longer our master; Jesus is.

Literary Forms

The images in the Bible are meant to give real-world illustrations of abstract concepts. In Psalm 80:8, Asaph helps us to understand Israel’s importance by comparing her to a vine planted by the Lord, recalling Genesis 2:8-9 when God planted the garden of Eden and Isaiah 5:1-7 where God relates Israel to a rotten vineyard. (Or perhaps Isaiah 5 recalls Psalm 80. Who knows?)
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Typology

Hamilton explains the extra step of Typology over Symbolism. Typology doesn’t have to be difficult or weird to understand. It’s just what God typically does (p. 44). We have the initial occurrence of an event (the archetype), then we have the uphill climb (the installations) until the type finds fulfillment in its ultimate expression.
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These themes culminate in Jesus Christ, but some of these themes continue in the church too. The seed of the woman was always antagonized by the seed of the serpent (Gen 4:8; 6:5; 9:22; 21:9; 27;41; 31:24; 34:2; 37:5; 37:18; Ex. 1:15-16), but through the suffering and persecution God would save His people and put down the enemy (Gen. 3:15; Mk. 15:33-41). Through the cross, Christ died for His people in agony, weakness, and humiliation, but rose in great strength according to the power of the glory of God (Rom. 1:4).
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This flows into how we should perceive the church, why the church seems so unimpressive, yet is considered so important in the New Testament. We are the mystery revealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:5). The Bible’s story and symbolism teach the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord.

The Chocolate Milk

Most of what I’ve said previous to this section could also be included in this section, but I thought I would put in a few specific points here.
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This book clears up a number of the issues people have with biblical prophecy. How can Jesus say in John 13:18 that the one who eats His food will turn against Him according to the Scriptures (in Ps 41:9)? When you read Ps 41:9 it just says that the one who shared the author’s food, who he trusted completely, has turned against him (my paraphrase).
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Why was this scripture prophetic?
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There’s a recurring theme through the Bible to have your closest ally turn against you (Noah with Ham, Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Laban, Moses and Aaron, David and Saul, Jesus and Judas). Jesus is just fulfilling one of the messages of the grand story: someone very close to you is going to turn against you.
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His chapter on Typology was great. His definition of it was super-easy to understand. Typology is what God typically does. As you can tell from the section above, I don’t have much more to say about it here: I did appreciate it. I remember hearing about typology in high school and thinking it was a neat idea. As I got older I wondered what the base of it was. How can you tell what the typology is? Are we just making it up as we go or is there a clearer road to understanding the process? This section lays it out in layman’s terms, which is just what I need.
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The application of Chapter 13 “The Church’s Plot Tension and It’s Resolution” was highly favored. Why does the Church suffer? Because Christ suffered. He was hated for who He was, and we will be hated for the One we know and are united with. Satan is pursuing the same strategy with the church as He did Jesus. He thought he had the upper hand in the death of Jesus, but God accomplished victory with what looked like defeat. And He will do the same for us (Dan 7:23-27).

The Spoiled Milk

As great as I think this book is, there are some shortcomings in my view.
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Patterns: Hamilton reuses the Israel’s Feasts and the Righteous Sufferer examples. These are good examples, but I would like to have seen more (I know they’re in there). Otherwise it makes me wonder why there even had to be a Patterns chapter. Even in the beginning of the chapter he says patterns are almost the same as typology.
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I was disappointed in how short Chapter 12 (The Church’s Setting in the Story) was (three pages long). The temple is a symbol of the cosmos, and the church being the temple of the Spirit means that the church is a preview of what the world is going to become. It was a wonderful section on the place of the church in the Big Setting.
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Thankfully, this was one of four chapters of Part 3 that makes up roughly 21 pages (in my version). Despite Part 3 itself not being very long, it still provided an adequate explanation of the purpose and place of the church in the setting of the Scriptures.
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Of course I wish this section was longer. I wish this whole book was longer! It’s hard to fault Hamilton though for how clear he is throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes me want to read more because of how easy it is to read yet how much you can learn in it. I guess I’ll just have to keep reading Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and start reading Schreiner’s The King In His Beauty.

Recommended?

This was a great book that introduces the overall themes of the Bible to it’s reader. It’s important to go book by book when studying the Bible, finding out what each passage really says as well as the book as a whole. But also important is how the entire Bible flows together. If it’s important to know how we went from verse 1 to verse 10, it’s equally important to know how we went from Genesis to Revelation.
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The only way to get out of the world’s thinking and into the Bible’s is to actually read the Bible itself. A lot.
What kind of character defines our God? What kind of character should we have? What is so important about being a Christian over any other belief? Read the Bible. Hamilton doesn’t give detail to every connection in this book, but he gives you a framework on which to start viewing the Bible.
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Lagniappe

[Thanks to NetGalley and Crossway for allowing me to read and review this book before it came out. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]+
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Review: Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?

FWGAPN

We all have questions. We all want answers. We go to school to learn about our future career? But which career should we pick? When will I find that perfect person to marry? Which car will last the longest? Which house will be best fit? How many kids should we have? Will we have enough money? Should I even get married? Lord, what do you want me to do?
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We’ve all been in situations where we  wanted God to condescend to our level and whisper into our ears the answer to our situation or to life’s biggest questions. But it can be so frustrating trying to find out what His will is. What Father hides the best from His children? If He’s our loving Father then why do we have to ‘find’ out what His will is? Do we pray harder, read more of the Bible, and try to live a better life?
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Waltke starts his introduces his book with 3 points:
1. Theology is Truth: Man does not know everything. To know everything man must either have a continually exhausting understanding of every thing, or else he knows nothing. But we desire certainty, values, and meaning. The Holy spirit tells us the Bible is truth, and we are continually dependent of the Holy Spirit.

2. Theology is Essential to Spiritual Formation: Apart from God’s regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit we cannot understand the text clearly for it to change out lives. We will be stuck not growing and not wanting to follow God.

3. Theology is a Way of Life: What we believe about God will shape how we live for God. As we are led by the Spirit to understand God more fully, then we will experience “the will of God.”

Is Finding God’s Will a Biblical Idea?

Do we find God’s will through a set of coincidental circumstances? Do we empty our minds, pray, and see what pops back in first? Do we flip to a random page in our Bible, or maybe it’s a sign when that ‘special person’ actually answers the phone? If our heavenly Father really does love us, why would He hide His will from us?
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The problem is that we don’t want to make a mistake. We want to know if we should go left or right. Marry her or her or her…. (or for the ladies, marry him or him or him…). Take this job or go to school for that career. What would be the best decision? We want to know that when difficulty comes, it’s at least because we made the right decision. We don’t want problems because we made the wrong decision.

Magic 8 Ball

In Acts, when God led men like Paul, Philip, and Peter into a special circumstance, the special guidance was not being sought. When Abraham was to sacrifice his son, he obeyed the Lord (who did intervene). Abraham and the apostles didn’t look for special signs. They walked close with the Lord and obeyed.

The Gist

Waltke asks if we can we ever know God’s will? He examines many practices that some Christians pass off as divine guidance: following hunches, casting lots, looking for signs, dreams, audible words from the Lord, etc. He doesn’t completely discount these things. God could certainly speak to us in a dream, audibly, or by the flip of a coin if He wanted to, but this is not always the case. In fact, it is not usually the case. Waltke points out that the ‘wisdom’ in James 1:5 isn’t speaking about a ‘special revelation’ on a certain decision, but wisdom is a way of life: purity, peacefulness, and gentleness (James 3:13-17).

Waltke spends chapters 2-3 talking about the ways pagans sought, through divinations, the will of the gods, and how God’s will was (rightfully) sought in the OT. In chapter 4 he says that we don’t need to do those things anymore. I won’t talk about them much so as to not give too much more away, but he elaborates on God’s program of guidance: Reading your Bible, prayer, developing a heart of God, seeking wise counsel, looking for God’s providence (sometimes circumstances do/don’t go in a certain way), if the situation makes sense, and divine intervention.

Recommended?

Totally. Waltke talks about the wrong ways to look for God’s will and the correct, “common sense” ways to do it. The point isn’t just to come to God when you’re in a tough spot, get the answer, and then go on with life. It’s to have an ongoing relationship with God. Life will always be filled with tough decisions, gray areas, and seemingly impossible paths. What do you do? Well, following Waltke’s advice won’t clear all of life’s difficulties, but as you are conformed to Christ the more likely you are to know and make the right choices.
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My only
Spoiled Milk is that Waltke says after Pentecost in Acts 2, no one ever sought the Lord’s will. I would have liked for Waltke to have elaborated more on different times in Acts when Paul (and Barnabas) sought the Lord. But the reason is probably that Paul probably didn’t have to because he and Barnabas didn’t try to “divine” the will of the Lord. They simply walked with the Lord, fasted, prayed, and used some common sense here and there.
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Only by walking with Him will we have the heart of God and know what pleases Him.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 181 pages (Softcover: 194 pgs)
  • Publisher: Eerdmans (January 30, 2002)
  • Amazon

Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity (Michael Reeves)


Why is God love? 
 Because God is a Trinity.
Why can we be saved?  Because God is a Trinity.
How are we able to live the Christian life?  Through the Trinity.

In Reeves’s book he brings us an introduction to Christianity and our daily living that is rooted in the triune God who we worship, Father, Son, and Spirit. Through the Trinity we understand the person and work of Christ, along with prayer, the church, and every aspect of our faith. His book isn’t a point-by-point basis of ‘who/what’ the Trinity is, but why Christians should rejoice in the Trinity. We can have comfort and joy in knowing that our triune God is beyond comparison with any other god made up by man.

“Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any,” Isaiah 44:8b.

Altogether there are 7 chapters:

  1. Introduction: Here Be Dragons? 
  2. What Was God Doing Before Creation?
  3. Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows
  4. Salvation: The Son Shares What Is His
  5. The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies
  6. “Who Among the Gods Is Like You, O Lord?”
  7. Conclusion: No Other Choice

Reeves’s basis is: What is the point of the Trinity? Why does it matter if we have one or not? How does what I know about the Trinity affect my daily living?

When we look at Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel, we see Adam limply holding his hand out, being supported by his knee. But to whom? As we continue to scan the painting, we see that he is barely holding his hand out to God who is reaching out, almost straining, to make contact with Adam.

All of humankind has this kind of meager attitude (less actually) toward God. But the Father, overflowing in love, created us and sent His Son to die and share in what He has so that we could be co-inheritors with Christ and be reunited with God who then gives us even more: His Spirit, who “not only enables us to know and love Christ; he also gives us the mind of Christ, making us like him” (pg. 95). And the best we can do is lift up a finger, as if even pointing to God is going too far.

This book is about the love of the Trinity for mankind and how it is so unexpected, undeserved, unmerited, and how God continues to show His mercy on us even still.

The Chocolate Milk

He says that the Trinity isn’t an oddity (for it is who God is, and God isn’t odd), but many of the images people use to describe God (eggs, water, a shamrock, even bacon) make the Trinity seem anything but ‘normal.’ Reeves then goes on to show how we can begin to view the Trinity as something normal.

At 121 pages it is a short and simple read.

It’s a deep read. But simple doesn’t equal childish. This book can be understood by high schoolers, scholars, pastors, teachers, and moms and dads. It’s not a book on being able to spit out facts on the omniscience of the Holy Spirit and how Christ’s hypostatic union works. It’s about a true relationship, and the more we see how much God loves us (though we’ll never scratch the surface), the more we want to be enveloped in that love and spend time with Him and live in a way that pleases Him.

In Chapter 2 (Creation), Reeves brings up a contrast between Babylon’s Marduk, Allah, and the God of Christianity. What makes creation through our eyes any different from theirs? How could the Father be loving if He were by Himself before creation? How could He be the Father? Was He just loving Himself? That’s a bit selfish.+

“Think of God the Father: he is, by his very nature, life-giving. He is a father. One has to wonder if a barren god, who is not a father, is capable of giving life and so birthing creation. But one can have no such doubts with the Father: for eternity he has been fruitful, potent, vitalizing. For such a God (and only for such a God) it seems very natural and entirely unsurprising that he should bring about more life and so create” (pg. 41-42).

Not all gods are the same. Not all religions are the same. Not all beliefs are the same. And to disagree with Oprah, my God, the Christian God, is a jealous God because He is so loving. 

The Spoiled Milk

  • I have no qualms with this book. I only wish it had more pages (a mere 121 pgs!) or a sequel.

Recommended?

Exceedingly so.

Too often we hear the word “Trinity,” sigh, roll our eyes, and don’t even bother because God is ‘too big and unknowable’ that we might as well not even try.

Granted, this book can’t do everything. The doctrine of the Trinity is a huge concept. You won’t understand everything about the Trinity after you read this book. But you will understand and appreciate the Trinity much more after reading this book. Life changing? This book isn’t salvation, but you’ll look differently at God and all He has done.
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This book has a lot of good points and quotes; you’ll want to have a highlighter (or two), a pen, and a pencil on hand. It’s no replacement for the Bible, but a (great) supplement and help. This book is written with warmth and humor, and you will enjoy every moment of it.

Who would benefit from this book?

Everyone. Anyone. While I would say high school on up, Reeves writes in such a way that makes it easy to teach the principles to children. All would benefit from this book.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (July 18, 2012)

Buy it on Amazon!

Review: Against the Gods

Against the Gods

This book is about the relationship between the writings of the Old Testament and other ANE (ancient Near Eastern) literature. If you’ve never heard of this field of study, you may be surprised to hear that it (as with anything that has to do with the Bible) is a heavily debated topic: how does the Bible relate with ANE literature? Some believe ANE studies are actually a danger to Scripture. Others say the Old Testament is not unique but merely another book of ANE myths simply retold to another audience.
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The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
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“And I care…why?”
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The context of much of the Old Testament is set in the ANE culture, yet the Old Testament (and the Bible as a whole) is grounded in monotheism. So what is the Old Testament’s relationship to ANE literature?
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If you’ve never heard of this, it’s more interesting than you might think.
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Currid’s objective is to show that the idea of polemics (here and here) in literature is not foreign to the Old Testament, it was very common in ANE culture, and the Old Testament writers used it well.
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  • What is Polemical Theology? It is “the use by biblical writers of … stories that were common in ANE culture, while filling them with radically new meaning. The biblical authors take well-known expressions … from the ANE milieu and apply them to the person and work of Yahweh, and not to the other gods of the ancient world.” It “rejects any encroachment [invasion] of false gods into orthodox belief; there is an absolute intolerance of polytheism. Polemical theology is monotheistic to the very core.”

It’s purpose is to emphatically demonstrate the distinctions between the worldviews of the Hebrews and the rest of the ANE.
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The Chocolate Milk

  • Currid looks at the parallels in the ANE/Bible stories before giving the contrasts. It actually builds suspense because, even though I know he’s going to prove his point, it leads me to try to figure out how he’ll dig himself out of the hole he’s in. [Spoiler: he does].
  • Currid sets out to prove the authenticity of the Bible’s polemics. Just because there are parallels between an ANE myth and the Bible doesn’t mean that both are myths. There’s no reason one cannot be myth and the other true history. Just because TV has “Desperate Housewives” doesn’t mean that newspaper stories of adultery are fake. So even the stories of a “spurned seductress” in ANE myths doesn’t mean there can’t be a true account in Genesis [38, with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife].
  • The real highlight of the book was the Polemical Angle at the end of almost every chapter.

For example: At the end of chapter 3 Currid shows what it meant for Genesis 1-2 as a creation story to be a polemic against other ANE myths.
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  1. Genesis 1-2 isn’t written as a myth, but as a real historical narrative.

  2. There is one God in Genesis 1-2 (monotheism), and He is completely unlike humans. In ANE myths the polytheistic gods, much like people, they abuse their power, they’re full of envy and bitterness, and they’re sexual and perverted.

  3. God creates the world by His own will and power, not because He fought of sea creatures, or killed a god and spread her out to make the sky.

  4. In Genesis 1-2, though God is the main character, humans take on a much more personal role. They are given life by the breath of God. He allows them responsibility. He teaches them lessons and gives them a garden to live in and take pleasure in. In ANE myths humans take a backseat to the story. They’re just created to work. The gods care little about the people.

The Spoiled Milk

  • This book is short. Not bad, but I felt like Currid spent more time talking about ANE parallels than polemics. And that was the main reason why I bought the book: the polemics. 
  • I’d rather know the biblical details than the ANE geographical details of where ANE literature was found, how much of it was found, the different kinds of lists found, etc (ex: Atrahasis at Ugarit, p. 53; Hittite Tales, p. 83; information about what the “Walls of the Ruler” is p.91). This is fine, but considering the size of the book, the polemical paragraphs were too short and too few.
  • In almost every chapter (meaning over and over) Currid would state the same 3 differences between the ANE account and the biblical account:
  1. Myth vs historical fact. 
  2. Theology (poly vs mono) (one God to rule them all). 
  3. The importance of humans in the Bible narrative vs ANE myths.
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    At least, these were usually worded differently in each chapter, and there was still the P/A section in the end.
  • One big one for me was in Chapter 10 (The Parting of the Waters of the Red Sea). Instead of spelling out the arguments on how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Currid doesn’t want to repeat himself and instead points us to the “relevant literature” (an article he wrote in Bible Review [1993]).
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    I understand there may be page # restrictions, but I don’t want to have to search out a magazine from 20 years ago when I could read it in the book, especially when I can’t seem to find the copy on the internet (for free, at least).
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    Considering Pharaoh’s hardened heart is a well-known, difficult Bible passage, and seeing how it relates to Egypt literature is very important to understand the meaning, I don’t think anyone would mind if Currid repeated himself here. (And swapped it with a few ANE readings…)
  • Unfortunately, the Polemical Angle/Analysis section isn’t as long as I expected it to be. For something to be so central to the book, the P/A section just didn’t have enough depth. Every time I was left wanting. I read more ANE stories of people who’s names I’ll never remember than I did reasons why Moses wrote the polemic in the first place.
  • This book was promising, but left me disappointed.

Recommended?

No. Not to most people.
If you’re a teacher who wants to know more about ANE parallels with the Bible, or a student who has a Bible-bashing college history teacher, then sure, this book would be of help.
But most people just won’t want to read this book, especially when there’s more ANE information than polemical detail available.
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For most people, just listen to iTunesU: Crass Plagiarism. These three 30-40 min. lectures are very interesting, short, and were the reason I wanted to get this book. You’ll learn a lot from them.
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Lagniappe

Thanks

[P.S. Thanks to Netgalley.com and Crossway for allowing me a free copy to read and review! The words expressed above are my own opinion of the book. Page numbers are from the Adobe Digital Editions version.]

Book Review: To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain (Matt Chandler)

Chandler, To Live is Christ

I like Matt Chandler. He’s the pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, TX. I’ve only heard a few of his teachings (Homosexuality and the Church and God and Sex to name a few) but I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve heard so far. He’s a smart guy with common sense and a good mix of sarcasm (which always bodes well with me).

Chandler wrote this book “to invite readers into authentic Christian maturity.” In his book, Chandler looks at some of Paul’s themes in Philippians, a letter written to help grow one to maturity, to unity, to contentment in Christ, to learn and walk in humility, and to persevere through Christ in all circumstances. “Our lives should be lived to Him, through Him, for Him, with Him, about Him—everything should be about Jesus.”

The Chocolate Milk

The first three chapters were fine, but the book really started to open up for me on chapter 4.

Chapter 4 (What the Humble Seek) speaks right to the heart of being humble. It’s about showing humility to a world that wants to show off. We don’t want to be like Paul and boast in our weaknesses. The world points them out to us enough. But Chandler asks the pointed question: “Why do we follow God?” (42). Do we follow Him because we’re hoping for a nice mansion on earth, or because of who He is and what He’s done despite what the world does to us?

The life of humility is based on the cross of Christ. We have the mind of Christ, given as a gift at salvation. We don’t have to try to think hard like Jesus. We have His Spirit, we have access to God, and we should use His mind to humble ourselves, love God, and love others.

Chapter 5 (The Passionate Pursuit)  was about yearning for a relationship with Christ over trying to be good for Him. Chandler in no way discredits trying to live a righteous life. What he tries to do away with is living to be a better person over knowing God. David’s psalms ranged from being satisfied in God (Ps. 63:5to being a famished deer searching for a river from which he could drink and live (Ps. 42:1).

David never says, “God, I just wish I was a better guy who didn’t do such and such…” It’s not being a better man/woman that leads to abundant life (Jn. 10:10). It’s knowing God through Jesus Christ. “It’s the difference between obeying to be accepted and obeying because we are accepted” (78).

Chandler advocates for being content in Christ and discontent in ourselves. We are discontent with ourselves because we know we are not perfect. So we strive for that perfection, to get stronger in our weaknesses (prayer, studying, evangelism, serving, etc), though God will use us despite our weaknesses.

We are like Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14: conquered slaves who are “led in triumph by the victorious Christ. Just as the triumphator would parade conquered enemies in a triumphal parade, so Christ, who conquered his enemy, Paul….is now leading Paul in triumph” (Jim Hamilton and Scott Hafemann).

In chapter 11 (Christ Is All), Chandler’s focus is Philippians 4:10-14. He goes through the life of Paul seen in the book of Acts, his beatings in 2 Corinthians 11, and his contentment in any situation. Paul has been whipped, beaten, and stoned nine times altogether, plus another three shipwrecks, and a 24-hour surf tour on a board on the sea. Paul’s life is an example of a real party-pooper for me when I want to complain. And it’s good for me. 

Chandler’s book is theologically sound. His points and arguments come from scripture, his examples are interesting and (take note, Judah Smith) to the point, and he’s level-headed and has good common sense. He doesn’t fall toward any extreme, weird views (that I know of). Even if you disagree with him, there’s nothing in this book that I saw as being ‘way out there.’

The Spoiled Milk

In chapter 1 (Odd Beginnings), Chandler talks about how the jailer was told to keep the missionaries safe, but instead he tortures them with the stocks (14). Chandler tells us that the jailer is probably a simple blue-collar worker “who wants to put in his time at work so he can go home, have a beer, and watch the game. He just wants to do his job well, honor his imperial employers, and get back to his well-ordered house” (15).So the first jailer doesn’t listen to his employer, the second wants to honor his employer. It sounds like these are two different people (though they are not). I’ll admit it’s nit-picky, but it’s a segue into my next point.

There are a few times where Chandler takes a passage or a scenario from the ancient Roman world and tries to convert it to our modern day culture. But he couldn’t build the cultural-bridge to make it really hit home. I’ll give two examples: 

In chapter 1, after talking about the ‘blue-collar’ jailer, Chandler says the guy probably just wanted to go home, “have a beer, and watch a game.” Romans didn’t “have a beer, and watch a game.” In fact, is that what the jailer would really want to do? Instead of telling the reader what a normal Roman citizen would do, unlocking the door to relate it to our culture, Chandler jumps the fence and brings it straight over to what we think is ‘normal.’ Even though I know what he’s getting at, I still couldn’t help but think, “But what would a Roman really want to do?”

In Chapter 5 (The Passionate Pursuit), Chandler says the dogs from Philippians 3 are those who say, “I’m not as bad as I was when I was in college. I’m not as bad as I was when I first got married. I’m not as bad as you” (53). They want to think and say those things for their superior spiritual/moral goodness. Again it would have been more helpful if Chandler would have said who the dogs were and then applied it to the reader’s life. Instead, he mentions the dogs and then jumps to applying it to the reader’s life. So the “dogs” are a bunch of pro-foreskin-cutting Judaizers. How does this relate to me? They think circumcision is met with God’s approval. Now I can relate them with the “I’m not as bad as I was when…” mentality.

These are only small examples, and I’m glad there are no major examples. I really didn’t find much of anything in this book that I had problems with. But this jumped out at me, so take it for what it’s worth. Remember, this is free information, so you’re getting what you paid for.

Recommended?

I’m not an avid reader of preacher’s application books like this and Judah Smith’s Jesus is… ? (review here). Yet I don’t know if there’s a Chandler book that could really go wrong. This book would be geared more toward any member of the church, especially youth and college age. While not as engaging as Judah Smith as a writer, Chandler’s book is more mature and has more depth to it.

Lagniappe:

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: David C. Cook (September 1, 2013)

Buy it on Amazon

[Thanks to Netgalley.com and David C. Cook for allowing me a free copy to read and review! The words expressed above are my own opinions of the book. Page numbers are from the Adobe Digital Editions version.]

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Book Review: Radical (David Platt)

radical

Overused words in Christianity:

  • “Guard your heart” 
  • “I don’t feel led”
  • When plans fall through: “It was the Lord’s will” 
  • “Hedge of protection”
  • “Are you in tune with the Spirit?” (No, but I have DVR just in case) 
  • “Everything happens for a reason”
  • “God told me I’m going to marry you.” (I’ll let you know when he tells me too)
  • Starting every sentence with “Brothers and sisters.”
  • Authentic
  • Missional
  • Organic
  • Audacious (faith)

And, last but not least…. 

I don’t say this to pick on anyone specifically (I actually Googled “overused Christian phrases” to find some of these). I’ve said some of these too, and I probably will still say them. Often times we simply say these words out of habit. If I had a feather for every time Platt said “radical”, I’d have a chicken.

Before I went to Germany, I borrowed this book from a friend of mine who’s doing mission work in India. I finally read it a few weeks ago, and what piqued my interest was hearing that David Platt tells people to downsize their houses, live cheaper, give their money to the poor, live with the poor, etc. Because this is a popular book I wanted to see if that was true. Thankfully it wasn’t, but I do have some reservations with this book.

The Chocolate Milk

This book was better than I thought it would be. Whatever it was that I heard about the book was wrong. Platt actually doesn’t tell you the reader to downsize their house, their car, their income, go move to the inner city, etc. He gives examples of some in his church and others who he knows who have done so to remove themselves from the “American dream” and to spread the Gospel to those they wouldn’t normally reach.

Platt does a good job of pointing the reader away from the American dream and directing them toward sending help (financial/physical) to the lost here in America and in other parts of the world. Living in America, even the poor make more money than most of the world. (If you make $9,000 a year, you make more than 85% of the world).

Salvation doesn’t mean we can live however we want. It doesn’t mean we have a new liberty in Christ so we can sin however much we want and know we’ll be forgiven. There should be a life-style change (pp. 38-39). Making money isn’t wrong, but there’s more to life than spending it all on our wants and desires (2 Corinthians 8:9, 12-13). There are others who really need it.There are missionaries who are in Mongolia and live on $1 a day. Starving kids in Zimbabwe. AIDs victims in the Sahara. It’s not the “Social Gospel” of merely meeting everyone’s physical needs, but it’s showing love by sacrifice.

Platt doesn’t tell us to put legalistic pressures on ourselves or on others. We should ask ourselves and pray about how much we should keep and how much we should give. We don’t want to be like the slacker who refused to work and then didn’t have any food saved for the winter (Proverbs 6:6-9), but we don’t want to be like the hoarder who can’t even find their bed when it’s time to sleep.

The Spoiled Milk

So now, comes the main attraction.

My biggest peeve with the book is one theme that was implied throughout the whole book.
It’s only one word.

Dichotomy

Maybe he doesn’t intend to do this, but Platt makes a distinction between Christians who live this “radical” way, and those Christians who don’t. So if you aren’t a radical Christian, then you’re an ordinary Christian? What’s an ordinary Christian to do? The only time I hear the word “radical” is if from watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the News. And when I watch the news, radical is never a good term (radical Islam, radical right-wing, radical left, radical Christians, radical extremist, radical obesity, etc).

Maybe I would rather be an ordinary Christian.

What happens if you’re a father or mother who has to work 2-3 jobs because your spouse is disabled (or you’re a single parent), you have hungry kids, you have bills to pay, and life isn’t cutting you a break? What are you to do if you can’t do any of the radical suggestions in this book? What if you already live in the inner city and still you’re barely scraping ends meet? What do you do? Simple. You live. In Acts 17:28a Paul, talking to the men of Athens, says, “…for in Him [the Lord] we live and move and have our being.” And in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”Just living to please God is radical enough, because the world hates God.

An issue I had with Radical was that it feels like Platt assumes his audience is wholly made up of self-centered, money-hungry, American Christians who live in 3-story houses and have nothing better to do with their lives but think about making their next buck. And if he doesn’t think this about his audience, a simple footnote wouldn’t hurt.

In 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, Paul speaks on the character of leaders in the church. The letters aren’t very exciting. The character traits are pretty generic. There’s no specific, computer-generated questionnaire to see who is fit for the job. We might be prone to expect mighty heroes who can change city with a single sermon, so seeing the list of character traits in Timothy/Titus can be pretty mundane.  But today, with imminent crumbling of morality, leaders who live a solid, faithful, and (probably) unspectacular life will stand out.
+
Today, everyone is always busy doing something to be entertained. Paul says to “lead a quiet life, [and] to mind your own business” (1 Thess 4:11-12) and to avoid laziness (2 Thess. 3:6). This new group of Christians in Thessalonica were being pressured by family, friends, coworkers, and community to turn from their new ‘weird’ faith and come back to worshiping idols. They received mocking, humiliations, and perhaps persecution on all fronts. Paul reassures his love for them, God’s love for them, and to live in a peaceful way that removes all doubt from the mouths of those who hate them.

Please don’t think I’m knocking missionaries. I’m not. It runs in the family. And I’m not saying is that it’s okay for you to sit on your butt waiting for the next big thing in your life to happen. You can’t be lazy (2 Thess. 3:6) and hope that everything will go right for you. What’s really radical?

1. Loving your spouse: In a country where the divorce rate is roughly 50%, actually staying married is an amazing feat worth applauding. Of course, it comes with much prayer, struggling, and sacrifice. Not that I would know…

2. Raising your kids to love God and being the godly example for them: Make rules, stick to them, and be gracious. If you err, err on grace. Show them what the love of Christ, what it means to love a man or woman (your spouse) in the right way, and how to take responsibility for your actions.

3. Keeping a good Christian image to the world: there are a lot of weirdos out there. Some are just odd, while others are way out there. (Understandably, the world is going to hate us anyway. But being weird doesn’t help either).

4. Read your Bible, study your Bible, and pray: We all know we should do this. We’ve all heard about how much we should do this. But do we do it? Do I do it? Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it every day. We’re human. All of the “good guys” in the Bible (except for Jesus) had character flaws. But the more you grow and learn, the more you mature, the more you’ll be apt to reading, studying, and praying. And what makes you more mature? Reading. Studying. Praying. Circumstances in life that show you you’re inadequate, and God is fully adequate. Reading your Bible and praying are essential, but they’re pretty radical too.

5. Love the world: Love the people who are in the world. Show them you care by the way you treat them. But use common sense too.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16)The gospel takes work. Time. Sacrifice. Getting close to people. Opening up to them. Being real. Being held accountable. It’s hands-on.

Finally, this book was just boring. The last chapter or two consisted of a wrestling match on if I should even finish the book or not.
.
Here’s how I would structure the book. 
A Boring (Ch 1-4a)
      X Not Boring (Ch 4b-6)
A` Boring (Ch 7-9)

Recommended?

No. Just read this review and this blog on Ordinary Christians.

I know some people have read this book and have been greatly encouraged, and I’m glad. But it didn’t do much for me.

Alternative:

I really enjoyed *K. P. Yohannan’s book Revolution in World Missions. You can get it free here. I don’t remember much, but he vies for sending money to a missionary who is actually from the country he evangelizes to. (So an Uzbekistan missionary is from Uzbekistan and he lives to spread the gospel there). The missionary’s lived there his whole life so he knows the quirks, customs, religions of his people.

It doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t do missions work. I think everyone should go on at least one missions trip at some point. But I really liked his approach to it too.

Lagniappe:

*I know there have been issues over the past few years related to K. P. Yohannan, but I still think the idea of sending natives back to their own land as missionaries is an excellent idea. It is the only idea, but I don’t think it should be written off. 

Book Review: Jesus is ____? (Judah Smith)

Jesus Is ? Judah Smith

You’re probably not going to like me for saying this, but I didn’t want to like this book. I didn’t think I would and I didn’t want to. Why? I’ve only heard one sermon by Judah Smith (from the last Passion conference), and I didn’t like it. I thought it was shallow and boring. He was clever and had some jokes, but that’s all there was too it.

The idea of the book is discovering out who Jesus is. It’s not an in-depth, scholarly study of the real Jesus. This is not a continuation of the third quest for the historical Jesus. The question asked in this book is Jesus is ______? How would you finish that sentence?”

There are 6 major sections (answers to the main question) in the book:

  • Jesus Is Your Friend
  • Jesus is Grace
  • Jesus is The Point
  • Jesus is Happy
  • Jesus is Here
  • Jesus is Alive

Judah intends to point us to a Jesus who is in love with us and wants to be with us just like He was with men and women in the Scriptures. He attempts to help give us the opportunity to drown out the lies that we’ve heard and get down to the basics of who Jesus really is and what He did for us.

So how well does this come across?
It’s iffy.

The Chocolate Milk

Judah has a pretty engaging style, and I’m sure that’s why most people like him. He’s clever, he’s funny, and he makes some interactions in the text that aren’t the most obvious to see (he puts us in the shoes of the prodigal son quite nicely).

Judah believes the Bible is inspired by God. It is written to all people to show us how God loves all of humanity. The Bible is down-to-earth. It’s for real people facing real issues. I’m just glad to know that he takes the Bible for what it says it is: inspired by the Holy Spirit (that includes 1 Chronicles 1-9).

He makes a good analogy of how we put ourselves under legalism to try to get better. We think about our sin all day and how we aren’t going to do it. However, instead, it’s just like looking at a donut and hoping to lose weight. It ain’t gonna happen. If you think about the sin all day, you’re going to eventually give in. But the more you focus on Jesus, the less you will focus on your sin and the more you will want to please Him.

Some things he says is almost (if not more so) convicting. He tells a story of a pastor friend asking him if he knew any crackheads, prostitutes, or drug dealers. Smith said, “No.” His friend said the same thing, and that might be just the problem. Some of us don’t know the worst people, while Jesus went to the worst. While we don’t need to spend every day in the slums of life, but it should lead us to stop and think about how we treat other people who we see as ‘dirty and dingy.’ They’re still people and God still loves them too. Every one of us are dead in our sins without Jesus Christ (Eph 2). Every one.

The Spoiled Milk

Smith uses Scripture to support his message, but the pop culture references were a bit much. In fact, the way Judah writes is a bit much. I like jokes and I’m all for humor. I probably joke too much myself. But there were more references, jokes, anecdotes, and stories than even Samson could shake a jawbone at. Smith writes a lot of stories about himself, his family, church, and friends (especially in the second half of the book) to help give a visual picture of his biblical points. But at times he just gets wordy.

“[Jesus] came down to their level because they could never rise to his. He wasn’t out to prove how good he was or how bad they were. He just wanted to offer them hope” (22).

When reading the whole book you can see Judah talk about the gospel, but then there are times when he just says things like this, and I think, “Why? Why are you saying this?” Jesus was out to prove how good He was and how bad others were. He is the standard bar none. No one would follow the Messiah if He wasn’t perfect, or if they thought they could get to God themselves. Everyone needed to see how perfect Jesus was, how filthy they were, and how much He loved them.

It’s pivotal for the gospel to show us how horrible we are. Because that’s the good news: We’re filthy, yet God still loves us and took the initiative to make a way for us (Eph 2:10). And Jesus wanted to offer us more than just hope. He wanted to offer us abundant life with and in Him. To have a relationship with Him that would one day be perfect and unbroken by sin. I look forward to all of that in my hope. 

Some of Smith’s stories drag on for pages at a time, some analogies almost don’t work (Worthy World vs. Grace Land), some don’t work (Love languages, Freudian slips, and Martha and Jesus), and his writing reads like he is speaking.

Recommended?

For the most part, aside from the way he wrote, I liked this book. I read a few Amazon reviews, but reading in context, their negative comments didn’t make much sense. Some thought Judah was too high on God’s grace and not enough on works (to show your faith). While I agree to a point, he never tells us to live how we want. He tells us to live in a way that pleases God.

Who is this book for?

  1. This is a book for anyone dealing with legalism or earning their salvation. The main emphasis is on God’s grace. Judah emphasizes God’s grace and ultimately resting in Jesus. While he didn’t fully answer his main question “Who is Jesus?”, it makes sense. How could anyone fully answer that question (especially in a 200 page book)?
  2. New Christians.
  3. Youth group/high school age.

Who is this not for?

  1. Scholars (what is good enough for them?)
  2. Those who want more on what a text says over applicational anecdotes.
  3. Older Christians.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon!

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