Tag Archives: love

Book Review: The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, by Tom Nelson

The Economics of Neighborly LoveI expected there to be some overlap of between Tom Nelson’s The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity and the arguments and jargon used by the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics. What I did not expect was to read a book full of claims, anecdotes, and quotes with very little support for the thesis. Nelson wrote this book to encourage people to use free-market capitalism to love their neighbors with Jesus; it is written, however, in a manner that requires the reader to already understand what he’s talking about and to already agree with it. Written to encourage “human flourishing,” Nelson does not articulate what “human flourishing” means. Rather than use evidence and hard data to support claims made in the book (he does use some Bible passages in and out of context to support a few things), Nelson uses quotes from others to say the same thing, but does not quote the data and reason for what other authors have written.

I certainly do not mean to imply that there is nothing good in this book—there is; but I would not recommend anyone spend money on this. While one may argue certainly argue that we continue to speak, write, and do things despite there being “nothing new under the sun,” I found no reason to read this book over the better reasoned, supported, more concise, readily available, and accessible material that already exists. Instead of writing the book, a blog post of overarching claims and a short bibliography would have been more helpful so that people may actually discover for themselves what it is Nelson desires them to understand. To that end, I would simply suggest perusing the IFWE website and reading the oft quoted When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, which will certainly serve any reader well.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

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Book Review: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by Nabeel Qureshi

Answering JihadThey obviously didn’t begin then, but since September 11, 2001, conversations on Muslim-Christian relations have been on a sharp rise, even more so with recent worldwide bombings. Tensions are high, misunderstandings are often higher, and hate fills more rooms than the love of Christ. This is what eventually pushed Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity some years ago, to break his silence on the matter and quickly write Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Qureshi does not waste his reader’s time; in the Introduction he explains his background, purpose in writing, and the point on which he will eventually land: “[A]s long as Islam is practiced in a way that calls Muslims to return to its foundations, violence will follow. … I really do feel that the Christian teaching of loving one’s enemies, even in the face of death, might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today. Not only does it allow us to counter jihad, it also enables us to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity: as image bearers of God” (19–20). From there the book is divided into three parts in which Qureshi answers eighteen questions to eventually get to his point:

Part 1: The Origins of Jihad
Question 1: What Is Islam?
Question 2: Is Islam “a Religion of Peace”?
Question 3: What Is Jihad?
Question 4: Is Jihad in the Quran and the Life of Muhammad?
Question 5: What Is Sharia?
Question 6: Was Islam Spread by the Sword?

Part 2: Jihad Today
Question 7: What Is Radical Islam?
Question 8: Does Islam Need a Reformation?
Question 9: Who Are Al-Qaida, ISIS, and Boko Haram?
Question 10: Who Are the True Muslims—Violent or Peaceful Muslims?
Question 11: Why Are Muslims Being Radicalized?
Question 12: Are Muslims Trying to Take Over the West with Sharia?

Part 3: Jihad in Judeo-Christian Context
Question 13: Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
Question 14: Why Do Some Christians Call God “Allah”?
Question 15: How Does Jihad Compare with Old Testament Warfare?
Question 16: What Does Jesus Teach about Violence?
Question 17: How Does Jihad Compare with the Crusades?
Question 18: What Does Jesus Have to Do with Jihad?
Conclusion: Answering Jihad

Also included are several helpful appendices that are worth reading.

 

Given that my wife was living in Manhattan on 9/11 and subsequently obtained her M.A. through the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (studying Middle East relations, terrorism, and Arabic), I knew throughout the reading of this book that we’d be having some intense discussions later. So, until she gets a chance to read it herself and we actually have more of those discussions (I don’t know Arabic and have not studied Islamic scholarship), I’ll try to address this text based on the evidence presented, convincing or otherwise, and keep “but my wife says” comments out of it. (Maybe we’ll add a follow-up inclusion or post later!) If nothing else, this has lead to our determination to read together the Quran (in English—please save “there is no translation of the Quran” comments for forums that wish to engage in those debates) and hadith in their entirety so that we can better address these things.

 

Parts 1 and 2 I found quite helpful in defining terms and ideas using the Quran and traditions chronologically as to maintain timeline of what they meant and came to mean, establishing a convincing argument, in my estimation, of the violent foundation of Islam and that to which “radicals” are bringing people back. Does this mean all “good Muslims” are violent? No, and Qureshi addresses this (91–92); but his argument throughout the book is that of Islam’s foundation (the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings) and what a call to this will bring: violence.

 

Part 3: This is where my “expertise” and scholarship comes into play, and this is where I find many of Qureshi’s arguments wanting.

Question 13: Quershi’s answer is an absolute “no.” That’s fine, but his reason is perhaps based on a semantic misunderstanding of the word same. His principle argument is that Islam denies Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God, and therefore worships a different God. He claims this is not the case with Jews because the Trinity can be developed from the Old Testament; however, he stops short of answering whether or not Jews practicing Judaism (those who deny Jesus as the Messiah) are worshipping the same God. His arguments would say they don’t. So, as he writes in reference to the word Allah in Question 14, perhaps these words may also be applied to same: “The term can be used in multiple ways, and our conversations would be far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways” (119).

Question 15: The conclusion: “The final marching order of Islam is jihad. The final marching orders of Christians are grace and love” (125). Okay, but let’s not sidestep theses Old Testament passages by stating that they “serve little more than an historical footnote in the practice and expectation of the Christian life” (124). That’s not very helpful.

Question 16: Jesus makes no room for violence, even in self-defense. Amen! Qureshi does a great job in briefly and concisely addressing the seemingly problematic verses for pacifists in the New Testament in favor of complete nonviolence. Jesus calls us to peace and to love our enemy. It appears that he really is going to conclude the book with the love of Christ and sacrifice, not retaliation, in the face of jihad. But then he addresses Question 17…

Question 17: “When we condemn the Crusades, we ought to do so in light of what they actually were, a defensive effort after much of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims. Yet I do condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was unconscionable, especially since crusaders had taken on the name of Christ. If their efforts had represented the state and not the church, and had they been much more humane, perhaps I would feel differently. But to take the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and to turn it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies in my mind deserves to be condemned” (136, emphasis mine). Wait, what? If the Crusades had been in the name of the state on not in the name of Christ Qureshi may have felt differently about them? Only because the cross of Christ was taken into battle does he have a problem with it? When do Christians not carry the cross of Christ? Did Jesus ask us to take up our cross in a church building and lay it down when our nations call us to action on their behalf? Never! This is a dangerous door being opened, which will be fully swung open in his ultimate conclusion (Question 18 properly reflects Question 16).

Conclusion: “I am not advocating naïve pacifism in the face of genocide and murder. Many Christians believe it is the duty of the state to fight for and protect its people, as defending the oppressed is an expression of loving one’s neighbor. They often refer to passages such as Romans 13:1–5 and 1 Peter 2:13–14 to suggest that Christians should play active roles in such state-led efforts.
     So, I am not promoting pacifism, but neither am I advocating a violent response. I am, in fact, not advocating any particular course of action, but rather a frame of heart and mind that will, in turn, shape the way we respond” (146–147, emphasis mine).

Here Qureshi unfortunately does not address the noted passages as he did with those in Question 16, perhaps avoiding further conflict with the military background of his family, though I don’t know how a proper addressing of these passages and maintain a nonviolent stance in the name of Christ would be anymore offensive or controversial than writing this book with a still Muslim family. And if not advocating for any particular course of action, then what is the point of the book? Seriously, love is not apathetic; it is active. With heart framed in Christ, we are called to action; not violent action, but action nonetheless. Being passive is not the same thing as pacifism. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives, not to take others’.

By opening this door to violence in the name of a nation, Qureshi has effectively sanctioned jihad for any people group, Christians included, in the name of a nation’s best interest. If an Islamic state exists, then they could rightly use Qureshi’s own words to point out that it is not in the name of religion but in the name of the nation that they “defend” others from the “evils” of “Western culture,” just as Western nations use violence to “defend” others from ill-perceived cultures and to promote its own ideals. Patriotism is idolatry. We are first citizens of the kingdom of God, and we ought never lay down our cross.

 

Love our neighbors, Muslim or otherwise, yes. Leave open the possibility of violence in the name of our nation so that we can justify that which goes against the act of loving? Never! Jesus is Lord, and demonstrating his love is the only way forward.

I’m not sure who to recommend this book to because the Christians I know who already hate Muslims (or really anyone they disagree with) would take away from this book exactly that which I found dangerous in Qureshi’s conclusion: a way to kill them all through via the nation state. Of course, my response: #facepalm Missed. The. Point. But if listening to Qureshi, they’re positioned could be justified. Those who are already trying to love their neighbor do not need this book (at least not for its intended purpose). So, I’m torn. There’s some really compelling material here with a cataclysmic conclusion.

 

*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: Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, by Rubel Shelly

Divorce & RemarriageIt’s not often I have a major shift in my theology, but it does happen. When it comes to the oh-so-controversial-and-convoluted-subject of marriage-divorce-&-remarriage, there are a number of systems that have been constructed through the centuries to explain various interpretations of what Jesus and Paul have to say about it in the New Testament. Up until a few days ago, I had already shifted my thinking a couple different times; however, no matter how seemingly logical the legal constructions fit together in my mind, nothing has set well with what I read elsewhere in Scripture as to how they fit with the heart of God.

For the past ten years, I have not been a part of a church, either in general membership or leadership, where there has not been a messy, or at least very uncomfortable, dealing with people who found themselves in the middle of trying to figure out what to do with their marriage, divorce, and potential for remarriage. I’ve often heard from those older than I that this is a growing concern in the church; however, I believe it’s simply that we become more and more aware of these difficult situations the older we get—things were always better back in the “good ol’ days,” whether that be when we were toddlers, teens, middle-aged, or what have you…or so they say. Though I’ve had discussions with many about my beliefs and interpretations of Scripture, something always kept me from speaking from some position of authority (ha!) to those I thought may be “in sin” when it came to my interpretations of Jesus and Paul on this subject. I either felt God holding me back and keeping me from speaking, or scheduled meetings simply didn’t happen for a number of reasons. I am so thankful they didn’t!

I come from a rather legalistic and “rule book” approach to Scripture, and looking for those legal systems is still a temptation, which isn’t to say that systematic theology is a bad thing! In my late college days I began to pray more, listen to God, and do my best to stay out of the way of the Spirit’s leading in my life. That has been the foundation of how I have since approached Scripture and my life. Those who know me can attest to the changes and far-off places to which that approach led! Once I began graduate work in theology, my academic endeavors were kept in check with my reliance on the Spirit, without which I could very easily jump right back into a purely “do and don’t” mentality on how to use Scripture. The deeper I leaned into God, the more these divorce and remarriage systems disturbed me, but I could not see what Jesus and Paul had to say any differently than how I’d been approaching them for decades prior.

Jumping to the present, my wife (Delana) and I recently moved to the greater Denver area where we believe God led us. We first visited back in January (2015) for an interview Delana had at a local university. We decided to spend a little of our own money to stick around for a couple more days so that we could get to know the area a little bit. One of our biggest desires was finding a church we could immediately plug into and glorify God through serving others. We had several recommendations, and had planned on visiting one in Denver proper—we only had time to visit one church on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make it count! Around 10:00 PM the Saturday before, getting ready to go to bed, I told Delana, “I think we’re supposed to go to [a particular Church of Christ].” Both of us were shocked by what I’d said because I’d not planned on going back to another denominational congregation, and she didn’t have the most pleasant experience with the CoC since learning about it and visiting a few after meeting me. We both felt a bit nervous about it, but I believe it’s where God wanted us to be. So, we followed. It was the best experience at any church we’ve ever had. We were welcomed warmly and joyfully, prayed with, immediately included, and encouraged. One of the ministers and a married couple kept in touch from that point until we moved to CO on June 29, and then we had breakfast at the minister’s house the next morning. Just awesome.

We were immediately plugged into different ministries and Bible studies, and began growing closer to several families in the church—we still haven’t even been here two months! In July I attended an information session about the church and what they expected from those who wanted to be “members.” Delana was out of town that weekend for work. At the beginning of this session one of the ministers, out of a desire to be transparent and wanting others to be the same, told us of his past marriage, his infidelity, and subsequent divorce and a host of other consequences. After fifteen years of celibacy, he remarried just a few months ago. The elders and the rest of the church fully supported him in this. I’d never seen that in a CoC, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew what I wanted to do with it, but not sure what I was supposed to do with it. This is where Delana and I truly believe God wants us. Our move to CO for her job and our coming to this church was purely a decision by faith, not by sight (we’re still trying to work it out financially!). When Delana returned, I gave her the bullet points of the meetings and shared with her the minister’s story. “What are we going to do?”

The minister and I had a few things to discuss anyway, so we set a time for earlier this week. There was much prayer beforehand, and when the time came we had a loving, nonjudgmental, brotherly conversation about how he read Scripture concerning divorce and remarriage and from where we both came. After going through every passage in the New Testament and looking at context from the Old Testament, I felt a peace about his conclusion that I’d never had before. Things clicked and I felt like God had lifted a weight from my shoulders that had been hanging there for over ten years.

It’s important to understand that he held this position before things went sour in his first marriage. This isn’t a case of someone subsequently trying to find justification for selfish desires in Scripture thereafter. In fact, he’d never planned on marrying again, but had a similar “God put us together” story with his current wife that Delana and I share.

So, what does all of this have to do with a book, let alone a book review? Context! When I first asked for the minister’s perspective on divorce and remarriage, he reached over to his bookshelf, pulled out Rubel Shelly’s Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, and said, “This is what I believe.” Of course, we didn’t read the book right then and there (he did read a few pages in conversation), but I did borrow it and read it over the next couple of days. I’d already been convinced by our conversation to change my perspective on the subject, but I wanted see what this book had to say, since it was likely going to be added to my library and recommended to others if it had anything to do with what we discussed! And it’s wonderful: full of love and compassion, and with no lack of scholarship and “sound” reading of Scripture. It includes the meat of the text (setting up context and addresses all necessary Scripture references for the subject, peppering a number of “what would you do?” narratives in mix the to help the reader think through these things), a lengthy question & answer section (he asks himself many of the questions he’s heard in the past and answers them well), and two brief letters, one to those who have been divorced and one to church leaders.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those who find themselves in any sort of church leadership position so that we do not continue to heap more burdens on people with whom we have no right to so do. Read with an open mind and heart toward God, and get ready for a life changing moment. It can happen.

To all those I’ve oppressed in the past regarding their divorce and remarriage, I ask for your forgiveness. We are always called to reconciliation, and that is what we first desire in any relationship, especially a marriage. We do live in a fallen world, and bad things happen. Let us continue from there in love, grace, and mercy. Lord, forgive us and grant us that capacity for one another. Amen.

Book Review: Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

Jesus for PresidentIn 2014, my good friend Zach bought us both a copy of Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. He had heard good things about the book and wanted my opinion as we went through it since we had been studying political theology for about a year in church. Unfortunately, we didn’t get past our first meeting with our combined busy schedules, but I’m glad to have finally come back and finished reading it myself.

I want to first point out that no one should be approaching this text from either a “liberal” or “conservative” political stance. This, unfortunately, has been the stance from which many have reviewed the text. We should first see how Jesus calls us to live, and then work out pragmatic application in our own context, regardless as to whether it may be perceived as “liberal” or “conservative.” In Jesus for President, Claiborne and Haw approach a number of controversial subjects from the initial perspective of being a citizen in the kingdom of God first. Many cannot separate their national and political affiliation from their Christian affiliation—framing it this way may seem harsh, but it’s what Jesus called us out on; we’re all in, or we’re not—and this will be the foundation of much disagreement and debate. So, I would encourage the reader to stick with them and make as much an attempt at thinking from a kingdom perspective first as able. This does not mean he or she will always agree or disagree with the authors—I certainly didn’t agree on all theological or practical points—though I do think one may be better able to appreciate their arguments, and perhaps learn and grow into being a better disciple of Christ.

It’s widely understood by my friends and family that I am a pacifist and am far more in favor of living in community than is my individualistic, privatized, American culture. I believe this is what Jesus asks of us. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I agree with the authors on much of what is presented; however, I do not always come to the same conclusions as to how we go about demonstrating these things. Nevertheless, I do and will recommend this as a beautiful and interesting introduction to how we engage with one another and the world.

Book Review: Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, by Brant Hansen

Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life BetterBefore reading Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, I didn’t know anything about Brant Hansen other than what was written on the back cover of the book. Now, I not only know more about my brother in Christ, but I know more about myself, too. Unoffendable is exactly what I needed to push me into a change I’ve been mulling over for years but had so often reasoned my way out. Brant hit me in the gut right from the start, responding to his title in much the same way I did (“Yeah, right.”), and then convincing me by the sixth page of the absurdity of my being offended and “righteous anger,” as it is so often called. The next two hundred pages were yummy gravy…and mashed potatoes…and more gravy…and more potatoes. The point: it’s good—really good.

Brant shares his experience and that of others in a way that is disarming and inviting. He offends himself so you don’t have to, preemptively attacking his own arguments along the way and then addressing them to further demonstrate how we shouldn’t hold on to anger and offense when they pop up. It felt like I was hanging out with him on his porch while he shared how he has been able to let things go and live much more easily (though still growing) the life of love and forgiveness asked of us by our Lord.

Though he says he’s not a pacifist, what Brant has to say only reinforces and (I imagine) will help me better live out that position (because of Christ). I can only imagine that, if taken seriously and to its logical conclusion (which Brant likes!), he will eventually come to that table, too. (Brant: Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)

If you’ve ever found yourself justifying anger or offense (everyone), I recommend you read this book. Seriously, I think I’m going to start buying and handing out copies!

 

*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.”