Tag Archives: christian

Book Review: A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards & Joseph R. Dodson

A Little Book for New Bible ScholarsInspired by Helmut Thielicke’s popular publication from 1962, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, IVP Academic (of InterVarsity Press) has been putting out lengthier books—still quick reads—in it’s A Little Book for New [X]: Why and How to Study [Y] series. Thielicke’s work is so well done in that it shouldn’t be surprising to find it being quoted in these new books. So, what’s the point in trying to replace? I’m not sure that’s necessarily the intent, though some schools and classes may decide to go that route with their book requirements and recommendations.

The latest addition to the series, A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson, is certainly not a replacement to Thielicke’s, but it is a welcome and helpful addition. Its helpful and encouraging contributions are often through narratives likely much more palatable and an easier introductory pull into the field for millennials than perhaps Thielicke’s language may be. It is also, as the title suggests, more specific to biblical studies than theology, a distinction students will (should) eventually learn. My only major criticism is on the awkward and uncomfortably forced chapter on equality wherein the authors encourage “female, black, Hispanic, and non-Western scholars to step up and do the hard work of biblical studies” (79). To be fair, it is a sincere and grace-filled attempt at inclusivity. As stated by one of the authors, “Sometimes white male scholars like me can be a jerk. (I may even have stated some things in this chapter in insensitive ways—forgive me.)” (87) That said, I would still recommend the book anyone interested in or considering academic Bible study.

 

Note: I have not yet read Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (2012), thus I am unable to speak to how his approach may or may not be different from Thielicke’s and what may or may not be gained from reading it in conjunction with others in this series.

 

*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy for review from IVP Academic via NetGalley.

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Book Review: Say & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers, by Diane Stortz, illustrated by Sarah Ward

Say & Pray DevotionsSay & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers is a cute little board book written by Diane Stortz and Illustrated by Sarah Ward. Every page turn brings a new scene that includes a statement for teachable moments, a relevant Bible verse (or phrase), and a simple prayer of just a few words. Several objects and/or actions are annotated for further teaching. Of course, this is what many of us do when reading with children—pointing to things and asking what they are or asking the child to point out something—but this may aid in literacy. My only real complaint is the repetition of annotation. With the illustrations provided, there’s no reason to annotate the same thing anywhere in the book. That’s just lazy.

The illustrations aren’t my favorite, but tiny tots don’t really care about style. However, I’m not sure that a yellow blob labeled “eggs” is very helpful (perhaps sunny side up would have been better illustrated than scrambled). I also may be making too much of this, but when the white family is large and happy and even includes a handicapped child in a wheelchair while black families included a single mother and child (even coming out of a church building), I think there’s room for criticism in its underlying social commentary.

It’s a nice idea, but I wouldn’t pay for this book in particular.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, by Shannan Martin

Falling FreeBlogger Shannan Martin wrote a book: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. The following are the first two sentences of the final section of the book (don’t worry, no “spoilers” here):

Since I’m you and you’re me and we’re all basically the same person wrapped in different paper, I’m sure some of the words on theses pages are making your heart beat faster. I know this, because I’ve been where you are and, in many ways, still stand right next to you, anxious to imagine what on earth might wait for me just past my line of sight. (207)

I’m not sure to whom she’s writing because I haven’t been less interested in a book. I can’t even tell you what it’s really about because I found it quite disjointed. Perhaps I’m not the target audience. I didn’t know Martin was a blogger before starting the book, and I likely would not have agreed to review this book if I did. Bloggers tend to write books as if they are larger blog posts, and I’m just not into casual writing like the “here’s me being so vulnerable, but I’m really never going to change” stuff with inside jokes embedded via parenthetical statements. I was actually quite bored getting through this one but do not, however, want to diminish the significance of any shared events of Martin’s life.

There was one moment I really enjoyed: “This is the work of God, part chisel, part cannon. He’ll do what it takes to demolish our ‘this is mine’ walls” (144). That’s a brilliant image.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, by Peter J. Leithart

The End of ProtestantismUnity in the church is a passion of mine. So, when Brazos Press asked for participation in a book launch for The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, how could I resist such a title? I’d not heard of the author, Peter J. Leithart, but I looked forward to reading his thoughts on our common ground.

As is the foundation of many of our efforts toward unity in the church (both local and universal), Leithart’s first sentence references Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his crucifixion where he asks the Father that his disciples be united. Shortly thereafter: “Denominationalism is not union. It is the opposite. It is the institution of division. Our friendliness is part of the problem. It enables us to be complacent about defining ourselves not by union with our brothers but by our divisions” (4). Yes! But he continues: “My agenda will make Protestant churches more catholic … I call this ecclesiology and this agenda ‘Reformational Catholicism’” (6). And this is where I let out a sigh, not of relief, but of disappointment. To be clear, his first statement does not imply that churches ought to be more “Catholic” in the Roman sense; he means, rather, that they should be all-encompassing, the general definition of the term. However, his use and interchangeability of “catholic” and “Catholic” in the text do not aid in this clarification, especially since he has labeled his vision of the universal church as “Reformational Catholicism.”

The way Leithart envisions the universal church is fairly detailed. It will include a highly liturgical (meaning more of a “high church” liturgy) service (30) with “energetic” music “accompanied by strings, horns, and drums” (31) where everyone wears white robes (32) and “will use wine, not grape juice,” with the Lord’s Supper (196, n.8). Local churches will be labeled according to their location or a saint (26, with no reasoning for the “saint” part), include stained glass (32), and be lead by a single ruler (33). There’s enough in these few selected details to give the perception of another “made in my image” denomination and enough fodder for people to argue over for days. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but what we do with those dreams can be helpful or devastating.

Leithart rightly encourages throughout the text that we work through our disagreements in order to be more unified and that denominations encourage the opposite (e.g., 77–78). What I find to be a foundational disagreement I, and likely many others, have with Leithart is what we do with the following: “The true church, it is said, is an invisible reality that can coexist with visible conflict, division, estrangement, and mutual hatred. That certainly was not Paul’s perspective” (18). While concurring with his critique, I do not believe, as he argues, that the universal church must look and act the same in all places at all times. Conformity and unity may be brothers, but they are not equal. We can both agree that denominational justifications based on this distinction still fail to acknowledge the real division perpetuated therewith, but that does not mean there can be absolutely no difference in those who are unified. Leithart’s dream church does not, for example, take into account the likely inability of some churches to have buildings (not that they are even necessary) or the financial means to maintain stained glass, instruments, and white robe trappings. And what about those who face real persecution and the threat of violence and potentially death just for meeting? If one is to dream up what the universal church will look like before Jesus’ return, it must be practical and take into account a still broken world. Therefore, I maintain that unity can exist without universal conformity. There are some things on which we must necessarily conform (e.g., teaching that Jesus is Lord), but much of what we do and how we do it cannot be codified (e.g., how we love our neighbor) and those differences do not necessitate a new denomination. I hope we can agree that the Spirit may lead two people in two different directions in how they glorify God: one will stay and the other go, one will speak and the other stay silent, and one will die and the other run for his life. We see this in the book of Acts.

For a book that claims universal unity in the church and rightly pushes against American denominationalism, it is actually too American in its focus to be universally beneficial. This is one I want to like so much more than I do, and one I want to dislike more than I do. I’m torn. Perhaps the project we have would have been better approached as The End of American Denominationalism. So, this is where I’ve landed with The End of Protestantism: It is a great contribution to the conversation on unity in the church, one that is obviously in need of more dialogue even after reading this book.

 

Who is the book for? In my estimation: Church leaders, Christian educators and students.

 

For promotional material (video clips, images, etc.): www.theendofprotestantism.com.

Book Review: Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules”, by Jacqueline A. Bussie

Outlaw ChristianLutheran professor Jacqueline A. Bussie’s Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules” reads like an infomercial for the purported latest and greatest form of “just be you” faith and new club: Outlaw Christians. She writes:

Outlaw Christianity: (noun)

  1. a new, life-giving faith for those who ache for a more authentic relationship with God and other people by no longer having to hide their doubt, anger, grief, scars, or questions
  2. an honest, outside-the-law faith for those seeking a hope that really speaks to the world’s hurt (p.xi)

Bussie rightly pushes back against the notions many have of not being able to be really in honest in some Christian circles, having to hide anger, doubt, and scars in the midst of real pain and uncertainty; however, the path taken in this book is not one to recommend. In order to travel this path, one must, as Bussie has, redefine a number of terms to create this new faith club. Rather than revere the Almighty, Bussie encourages the reader to bring God down to a human level as she does, stating that God learns and grows with us, comparing her relationship with him to an angry married couple in which both sides are flawed people just trying to figure things out and get along.

I concur that we can learn from people not like us, even other religions; but if it is not ultimately God honoring and glorifying then it is of no use. However, Bussie seems to take this a bit further down an apparent path of universalism when she writes about our “brothers and sisters of other religions” (137) and redefines sin by stating, “To keep things simple as well as practical and concrete, I now define evil and sin as anything we say, do, or believe (or fail to say, do, or believe) that robs us of our humanity or the earth of its dignity” (129). The emphasis of this book is certainly on oneself and being honest about one’s humanity, reveling in doubt and sharing each other’s pain and suffering, for which Bussie claims there is no other meaning than that it is shared. She reminds her reader that something isn’t sin if it’s honest; so be honest because that’s authentic and authenticity attracts.

So, while being honest and attempting to attract others to this new club of “outlaws” that is said to include Job, Jesus, and God, Bussie demonstrates where she’s really at with God when she states that he “carries a dead child, and that child is Jesus, and all of us too” (157). No, Jesus is risen! Yes, there is suffering, but there’s so much more that can be helpful for potential readers than to bring God completely down to an utterly flawed human level and say something like “he’s just like us, so he understands.” He understands, and has conquered!

To be fair, there are also small sections in the book that praise God and his love, but I think Bussie’s experience with her mother’s suffering and passing is still eating away at her and is the lens through which she sees her life, her students, and the rest of the world. Yes, we are called to participate in changing the world (examples of which are included in the final chapter and may or may not be helpful for a Christ follower), but it is in Christ that we should have our identity, and it is through and for him that we are able.

Given the poor exegesis and evaluation of the book of Job in the second chapter, I would not have gone any further had I not agreed to review this book. However, having finished it in its entirety, I can say that my concerns about its direction were validated. In its sincere desire to help and encourage struggling Christians or those who have been pushed away by hypocrisy, it can be even more damaging than the things it attempts to correct.

 

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”