Thinking Out Loud

May 28, 2016

Theology in Story

Clear Winter NightsRather unexpectedly yesterday, I found myself devouring all 160 pages of a 2013 novel by Trevin Wax Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After (Multnomah). What attracted me to the book, besides some familiarity with the author’s many years of blogging, was the concept of using a story to teach.

As a huge fan of three novels by David Gregory which use this format — Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Day with a Perfect Stranger and Night With a Perfect Stranger — I see the value in a genre for people who would never pick up a more commonplace ‘Christian Living’ title, let alone a book on basic theology. This is a book which has a storyline, but at the same time is using the plot at the front door to allow a lot of truth to enter through the back door.

Two words come to mind here, the first is didactic. The storyteller is truly the teacher. But the second, better word is the very similar dialectic, using a conversational style to impart knowledge, as did writers like Plato. This can also be called Socratic dialog or the Socratic method.

The banter is between two central characters, Chris Walker a disillusioned church planter whose job promise and engagement have both been broken; and Gil his grandfather, a retired pastor. You could call this Weekend with a Perfect… oh, never mind; that doesn’t work here; it’s a different dynamic.

Without giving away too much, I couldn’t get over how many of the topics Chris and Gil cover resonated with me. The book isn’t afraid to tackle some tough issues facing the church collectively and individual Christians, yet does so with tact, humor and grace. The key characters being male also makes this an ideal gift for men, something that is rarity in the world of Christian fiction, though I still prefer the dialectic label to override the fictional nature of the story.

While Trevin Wax and I are from vastly different tribes — he writes for The Gospel Coalition and works for LifeWay — I didn’t allow that to influence my reading and it doesn’t stop me from giving this book my full recommendation. In fact, a couple of times my eyes watered as the conversation unfolded. Clear Winter Nights works on many different levels.


Another author who writes in this genre is Andy Andrews. We reviewed The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.

Another fiction title that used the dialectic method was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

My review of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory was more of an explanation of the DVD series which came from the first two books. He did the first two books with Waterbrook, part of the same publishing group as the title by Trevin Wax we’re reviewing today; but the third was published by EMI Worthy, who wouldn’t send a review copy, so I did the write up of Night With a Perfect Stranger in bullet points.

Apologies to UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers for spelling dialogue the American way. I know. What are we going to do?

April 30, 2016

The books that didn’t make it into The Book

Occasionally, I get asked about non-canonical literature; the books which for one reason or another are not included among the core canon — either Protestant or Orthodox or Roman Catholic — available in modern Bibles.

My first piece of advice on this is really basic: Don’t get interested in any of these unless you know for sure that you’ve read each and every book in the Bible you already own. There is a tendency among some Christians to want to grab the remote control and see what else is on. As an Evangelical, my Bible contains 39 books in the first testament and 27 in the second. I believe that’s a minimum prerequisite for going off-road to look at things like The Gospel of Thomas or others of that genre.

Once we’ve got that out of the way, I confess that I’ve often struggled with reading the non-canonical books. Either the form is unusual, or the content is bizarre, the available text is fragmented, or there’s just something about the tenor of the book that suggests it’s out of place. But I say that knowing that believers in past centuries felt the same way about Esther or Revelation or James or the R-rated Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs, aka Canticles).

The Bible's Cutting Room FloorEnter Jewish researcher Joel M. Hoffman, writer of The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor (2014, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).  What I appreciated here was instead of reprinting and analyzing the texts, the author tells me about the various narratives in his own words. While purists may question the attraction of this second-party account, to me, it fits the bill perfectly.

Not that the texts themselves are not problematic to one raised in Evangelical Christianity:

  • Abraham’s dad was an idol-maker
  • The snake in the Garden of Eden had a crush on Eve and wanted to marry her
  • Cain was the world’s first materialist
  • The Tower of Babel was built for height, not fame; it’s a post-Flood account, after all.

There are other stories as well, some more fanciful than what I’ve listed here.

There’s also background on confirming documents.

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls may be been discovered, but it’s more of an ongoing story to this very day
  • The Septuagint is fraught with unusual word choices sometimes hinging on a single vowel or letter fragment, or a combination of word meanings that create a completely different reading of a particular phrase
  • Josephus was great when he painted in broad strokes, but sometimes a bit off on details; and to call him an opportunist is a bit of an understatement.

A week later, recalling the book from memory, these are just a few things that come to mind.

I found the writing a bit uneven, though a friend who bought the book praised the author’s writing style. Another person who borrowed my copy for several chapters objected to the author presenting something very academic on one page, and then being too casual and informal on the next. In fairness, there was much disparate material covered here.

The book did whet my appetite for reconsidering collections such as The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden (a title I’ve held in my hands on a few occasions, but didn’t get more than a dozen pages in) but I’d be more likely to return to this one than to attempt to navigate through the original writings (the opposite choice of many, I realize).

Hoffman has other books, such as And God Said, but this title is the one most easy to access or afford to purchase.

…Just because it’s on the cutting room floor doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; but what we can be confident in as that God has given us in the core canon the books He wanted us to have.

 

April 22, 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know about Evangelicals

A few weeks ago we reviewed a book by Brian Stiller, Praying for the World, in which the author provides a wealth of information about world conditions based on his extensive travel and interaction as a former Director of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale College and Seminary, and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals Around the World - Thomas Nelson - Brian Stiller editorBrian is actually at the center of another recently-released project, this one also global in its perspective and one which also deserves to be in every church library and on several coffee tables as well. He serves as general editor for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), a collection of over 50 essays and reports from almost as many different writers, each with a particular expertise on their given topic.

I’m not sure who it was, but about five years ago, I read a blogger making the point that we need to make a stylistic change from small-e evangelical to capital-E Evangelical. Of course, Evangelicals came of age long before that. Most people reference Jimmy Carter, the born again President, and of course the birth of Billy Graham’s ministry.

But in the book, the roots of Evangelicalism are traced back to 1521, followed by an exhaustive history of the contributing streams to the movement from the 1700s to the present. There is a chapter defining the core beliefs of Evangelicals, their commitment to world missions, their interactions with other denominations and religions, their role in urban ministry, their involvement in politics, their approach to environmental issues, their sensitivities on gender-related issues, their relationship to the similar-sounding word evangelism, and a chapter I personally found interesting, their appreciation of and contribution to the arts.

The authors of each section also include a well-chosen bibliography for those who wish to pursue any given topic.

Halfway through, the book’s focus becomes regional with a look at Evangelicals in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. While the articles about these regions continue the detail of the earlier articles, there is the addition of demographic charts which help paint a clear picture of where Evangelicals rank in different countries, both among Christians in general, but also the general populace.

Particularly challenging is an article on the future of the Evangelical movement, how it will be identified and the type of people who will define its ranks; though that essay needs to be qualified in light of the regional analyses.

Evangelicals Around the World is a hardcover reference book; 422 pages, $34.99 US; but its topical scope exceeds the bounds of academic textbooks. Rather, if you are part of the movement and want to know your roots; or if you are an outsider who wants to learn more about this particular expression of Christianity; this is certainly the definitive work on this subject worth owning.


Postscript: In this review I speak about their role and their perspective, but this is the tribe with which I identify. After a many years of working in interdenominational settings and  trying to be all things to all people; today, when the declaration that “I am a Christ-follower” fails to suffice, I am pleased to say that “I am an Evangelical” and have identified this way decisively for more than 20 years. I did not receive a review copy of this, but sought the book out because I wanted to study it personally and look at it more closely.

April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

March 8, 2016

Steven Furtick: Unabashedly Unqualified

Un(Qualified) - Steven Furtick - Waterbrook PressThe title of Steven Furtick’s 4th major book release (Un)Qualified is taken from a YouTube clip he watched where the person being interviewed was tersely dismissive of Steven’s ministry. One word. Unqualified. I would have been hurt. Insulted. Devastated. But instead, he decided to own it. Apart from Christ’s help, none of us is qualified. The book is an invitation to embrace our weaknesses instead of denying them.

In 2010 I reviewed his first bookSun Stand Still and in 2012 I reviewed his second book, Greater. Those two form a set, dealing with Elijah and Elisha respectively. In the intervening years, I had forgotten how engaging Furtick can be when he confronts such narratives. I was only planning on reading a couple of chapters — I hadn’t specifically requested the book — but his unique take and quirky sense of humor soon won me over. Consider:

The Bible takes time to point out that, despite being twins Esau and Jacob were polar opposites. When Esau was born, he was red and hairy. I’ll withhold my comments about how his parents must have felt when one of their long-awaited sons came out looking like a baby Chewbacca.  Esau grew up to be an outdoorsman and a hunter. He was tough. He was rough.  He could skin a buck and run a trotline. The star of the original Duck Dynasty.

But Jacob?  The Bible says he was a smooth-skinned, quiet man who liked to stay among the tents. Translated, he may have been a mama’s boy. He may have been more into HGTV than ESPN.  (p. 140)

The book — full title (Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People To Do Big Things — is so much more than Steven Furtick’s quirky sense of humor. This is a voyage into self discovery. How God uses broken people.

Often our greatest influence is birthed in our deepest suffering and brokenness. Our education, our eloquence and our intelligence are helpful, but they aren’t nearly as relatable as our weaknesses. We touch people around us because of the pain and humanity we share.

I realize that not everyone can or should be trusted with the details of our weaknesses. The goal isn’t to parade our problems, wearing our weakness for the world to see. But as we learn to be vulnerable with God and the right, trusted people we discover that every weakness, properly processed, contains secret strength.

Think about the last time you broke down and cried in front of a friend. It might have felt uncomfortable. It might have embarrassed you. But I bet that moment of vulnerability did more to win the person’s heart and cement your friendship than any other experience you’ve shared.

There is something about weakness that opens hearts. It disarms the defensive.  It softens the suspicious. It endears the indifferent. (p. 112)

Another complication of brokenness is that we often create an alternative edition of ourselves; a false persona that we carry with us into the world that is totally fake. Among other cautions, Furtick offers: “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.”

In this his 4th book, Jacob, Moses, Gideon and others (and more of Jacob) come under the microscope. Bible narratives are brought to life as never before, and there is practical advice on every page. My recommendation is that Furtick’s readership probably skews young. This would be a great gift to someone in his under-40 demographic. But I enjoyed it, also.

February 29, 2016

Andy Crouch on the Strength/Authority Continuum

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Just when I was really comfortable thinking about strength vs. weakness as a linear continuum, Andy Crouch comes along with another dimension — a second dimension — that challenges my basic assumptions, and in his words, challenges a false choice or false dichotomy many of us held to.

Andy Crouch - Strong and WeakThe result is a vertical axis labeled “authority” and a horizontal axis labeled “vulnerability.” This in turn creates four different quadrants, and the one you want to strive for is “up and to the right” which he calls “flourishing.”

All that brings us to the title (and probably more importantly, the subtitle) Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing (IVP, hardcover, March 2016).

There’s no spoiler here, the two-dimension model is presented at the outset. Much of the first half of the book defines each of the four quadrants. Vulnerability without authority is suffering. High authority with low vulnerability he calls exploiting. Low authority and low vulnerability he terms withdrawing.

But the big payoff is the second half of the book. Once you get inside the mindset of the paradigm — and an appreciation for it grows more enhanced the further you read — the rest of the narrative is powerful within the model’s context.

…I get to choose the books I want to review, and unless there’s a major disappointment, it’s already a given that I’m going to give a favorable review. So the answer here is a big ‘yes’ to those who ask, ‘Did the reviewer like the book?’ I found this very engaging reading.

But another question I seek to answer here is, ‘Who is this book for?’ In other words, I want readers to know who, in their sphere of influence, would be a likely candidate to be a recipient of a particular book. It’s hard for me to answer that succinctly, because I’ve been told I often think about things that nobody else considers.

In many respects, that is the nature of the titles which bear the InterVarsity Press (IVP) imprint. They publish books for thinking people. (Andy Crouch’s last two books, Culture Making and Playing God are also with IVP.)

Strong and Weak - Andy CrouchAs the following excerpt — from the unnumbered chapter between chapters five and six — shows, one certain target reader would be someone involved in leading others:

Leadership does not begin with a title or a position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are your own. It begins when you start to ask how you might help create and sustain the conditions for others to increase their authority and vulnerability together. In a world where many people simply withdraw into safety, where others are imprisoned in the most extreme vulnerability, where others pursue their own unaccountable authority, anyone who seeks true flourishing is already, in many senses, a leader.

If you’re looking for something that will challenge your assumptions and get you thinking about life differently, this is the title for you.

February 26, 2016

Book Makes Praying for the World More Intimate, More Personal

Today I want to recommend a book to you that was not given to me for review nor do I have a copy in front of me as I write this; but it’s one in a book genre that I feel is essential reading for any individual or family who wants to expand their prayer focus farther than their own immediate family and friends; beyond their own city or town.

Brian StillerBrian Stiller is what I would call a Christian statesman, a phrase which I take to mean a person who is both well-versed and widely-traveled and thereby is unusually forthright when it comes to the political,  economic and spiritual conditions and issues in various parts of the world. As Global Ambassador with the World Evangelical Alliance he is also the former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NAE) and former President of Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Brian at each of these stages and he was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for a magazine when he was at EFC, and there were things he said that day which I can still quote verbatim.

His book, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Bethany House, 2016, paper) would fall into the same category as the popular Operation World which is an exhaustive index of the countries of the world and the particular challenges each presents in terms of the spread of the gospel.

However, where Operation World is exhaustive, Praying for the World is personal. Brian Stiller shares from his own experiences, having visited the various countries covered in the book. The book is thereby somewhat autobiographical, but I would argue that Stiller’s write-ups for each are both subjective and objective at the same time.

Of the 52 chapters, not every one is about a unique nation:

  • 3 deal with prison ministries
  • 1 is a general perspective
  • 1 is about global prayer initiatives
  • 1 looks at The Pope
  • 1 looks at a religion rather than a nation, in this case Islam
  • 2 repeat a country; Vietnam and Rwanda each have two chapters

By my calculations, that means 43 countries remain; countries that most of us will never visit at all, but in this one book we’re afforded the opportunity to see these nations and their needs through Brian Stiller’s eyes. The 52 chapters may be read in any order, or consulted for reference. 

Each section contains:

  • an overview of that country
  • Brian’s ‘dispatch’ from that nation; the main essay
  • a key Bible verse
  • specific items for prayer
  • a suggested guided prayer

The potential uses for Praying for the World are many, but would include everything from your family prayer time, to giving to your missions committee, to having a copy in your church library.

Brian C Stiller - An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World

 

 

February 11, 2016

Book Mentions

Two titles you can share with people who wouldn’t normally read a Christian book.

Because of the popularity of the blog, I receive many books for which I’m not able to do a full review. Today I want to mention two of them, both of which would be suitable for giving away to someone outside your faith circle, as they’re both not preachy and just the right ticket to get conversations started. Both have brightly colored covers! Both have nine chapters.  Both are peripheral to the Christian Living section of the bookstore.

They are however both aimed at vastly different audiences.

Life's Too Short - David DarkLife’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark (IVP)

Some chapters grabbed me right away, so I again committed the sin of reading things out of order. David Dark would maintain that everybody — no exceptions — has a religion of some type. The book is a series of essays relating to entertainment, literature, and popular culture in general and how these intersect with belief and faith. (I passed the Doctor Who-inspired chapter on to my wife to read, and we discussed the two episodes cited, which she has seen, but I have not.)

Dark is a professor — one of his courses is “Religion and Science Fiction” — at Belmont University. He meets his topic with wit and humor and yet enough substance to satisfy any student of philosophy or religion, or the skeptic who questions the place of faith in the modern world. Hardcover, 199 pages, releasing now.

Hands Free Life - Rachel Macy StaffordHands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford (Zondervan)

Rachel Stafford is a mom to two girls and the author of the highly successful 2014 book Hands Free Mama and the blog of the same name popular with women. (Hands free means not holding on to the wrong things.) In this second book, she continues her style which is a mix of parenting stories told with transparency and self-help principles taught with conviction.

The sub-themes (3 chapters each) are Creating Lasting Connections, Living for Today, and Protecting What Matters. Each of the nine chapters also has three principles, and then ends with a “Habit Builder” to help moms live a life of significance. Paperback, 224 pages, released September 2015.

Click the book images to learn more about each title.

 

February 8, 2016

The Face of the Deep: A Refreshing Consideration of The Holy Spirit

Though I’m not usually at a loss for words, I have so many thoughts running through my head that I truly don’t know where to begin reviewing The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of The Holy Spirit by Paul J. Pastor (David C. Cook, paperback, 2016). So we’ll do this one a little differently.

The Face of the Deep - Paul J PastorOverview: The Face of the Deep is a consideration of different passages in scripture which evidence the presence of the working of what we sometimes term ‘the third person of the trinity’ or simply ‘the Spirit.’ Arranged in two sets of seven chapters each, the first set is more focused in the Old Testament, the second in the New (though there is some overlap) with each chapter beginning in the narrative but with the aim of highlighting some aspects of what we usually term the work of the Holy Spirit. These sections are categorized as Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands, though it is made clear that the terms are not being applied in the traditional manner.

The writing style: The book is just over 300 pages long. Normally, I would consider that piece of information superficial, but I raise it here only to say that many sections of the book could easily have been typeset as poetry, bringing it to around 500 pages; such is the care that has gone into the writing. One endorsement said it better: “…the elegance of the prose befits its strange and beautiful subject.” 

A sample:

“If you want to build a ship,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Many theological understandings of Pentecost see it as some pragmatic extension of wood gathering. The “power from on high” that Jesus promised is perceived primarily as a means to an end–the evangelization of the world. The thinking is that in the face of a humanly impossible mission (making disciples and baptizing unto the ends of the earth), a divine resource is needed to carry out orders.

Of course Pentecost is power-giving. But its means of power is not just the transfer of ability or capacity, but the lighting of desire. It was an act of God that taught us to yearn for the vast and endless deep. More than the Spirit as some impersonal fuel for our “gas tanks” or a yes-man helper for missionary workers, God the Spirit, as an intimate in the souls of Christ’s people, as breath in the lungs, teaches us to yearn, to desire, to burn alive with holy passion. (p. 219)

Subjectivity: The book is far from a theological treatise on God’s spirit, rather, I was taken by the degree to which Pastor wrote himself and his life experiences into the story. Minus the more journalistic style, it reminded me so much of Philip Yancey, one of my favorite writers, whose works are equal parts theology and autobiography. Which brings us to…

Take a deep breath: I’m sure that somewhere mid-University I stopped inhaling books for good, but with this one I flipped the pages, held it close, and took a deep breath. Why on earth did I do this? Paul Pastor is from the Pacific Northwest and you are reminded of this every chapter. I could picture the forest, the rocks, the waterfalls, and I wanted to smell the trees. The book did not disappoint, though the publisher could might have anticipated this and helped me out a little more. The use of the word refreshing in today’s header was intentional. Considering the associations of wind and breath with God’s Spirit, I guess I was in the right zone.

The author’s name: What is usually trivial must be addressed here. Paul was my Wednesday Link List editor at Leadership Journal for over a year, but in days prior, I had dismissed it as a pen name. After all, this was the same publication that gave us the unlikely Url Scaramanga, “adjunct professor of interdisciplinary pseudonymology,” so I felt I was on safe ground. Not so. As the back cover blurb states, “His last name is either providence or coincidence.” (You can hear him do some real pastoring at this link; fast forward to 9 min. mark.)

What I learned: It wasn’t so much that this book introduced new information as much as it brought a number of a-ha moments as I was reminded of things I had heard before but never deeply considered or tied together. Finishing the final chapter, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started all over, having now better appreciated the full rhythm and cadence of the book.

Bonus cuts: Each chapter features full page iconography by artist Martin French. (View them online.) At the end of the book, Pastor and French annotate each of those. Normally, I skip over illustrations — that’s not true, I usually don’t even see them — but this forced me to go back over each and read the descriptions, which was part of my decision to start the book a second time. (I’m now in chapter five!) There are also some questions for group or individual discussion. 

Conclusion: Five stars. Borrowing yet again from another endorsement, “Thank you Paul J. Pastor for writing the book I didn’t know I needed…”

 


Thanks to Martin at David C. Cook Canada for allowing me to review this great book.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud:

Link: Paul J. Pastor on Twitter.

January 25, 2016

Appreciating the Wisdom and Knowledge of N. T. Wright

I realized this weekend that I need to honor a promise to do this review, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t come close to finishing.

However, I am also well aware that by requesting an academic book for review, I am officially in over my depth, which partially if not fully explains why I am still only about a quarter of the way through its 378 pages. My reason for wanting a closer look at this book was singular: A fascination with the author’s intellect and wisdom.

N. T. Wright - Paul and His Recent InterpretersN. T. Wright‘s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press, 2015) is actually a sequel to another volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and one of several concerning the Early Church apostle which forms his Magisterial series.

It’s specific purpose is to flesh out the teachings of a handful of Bible scholars from other generations while at the same time paying specific attention to where these stand in relationship to some of the more recent views about Paul which have occurred in our own time.

So the book falls into a category somewhat parallel to literary criticism that we might call theological critique. (Maybe they do call it that… remember, I’m in over my head.) There are however sections which would be more accessible to the lay-reader, provided they had overcome the $39 price point for this academic paperback.

For example, he begins with the conjecture as to what we might think if Paul’s writings had just been located in a type of Dead Sea Scroll discovery. We would see that he writes much about ho theos — the god — and this requires of us to wonder (a) What this divinity has done, and (b) What it is intending to do.

He then notes that Paul’s writings have been shelved in the area of Biblical studies whereas his writings have truly impact a vast array of categories such as Ancient History, Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Philosophy to name a few. But with his writing simply shelving Paul under “Religion” limits the scope of his full impact and runs the risk of doing what the BBC in his own country does, placing religious writings in the same realm as fiction.

These moments were among the more accessible to me, and there are similar moments as I press through the book, but as I continue further, I realize that the primary prerequisite for reading this work ought to be some familiarity with the writers under the microscope; names familiar to academics and theologians but not to the average browser in the Christian book shop, or most readers here.

Still, I am struck by the mind of N.T. Wright and his authority in this particular area of study and New Testament studies in general. (His initials are so appropriate.) We need his voice to be heard, especially at a time when modern scholarship is deconstructing so many of the New Testament’s epistles and leaving people confused as to what Paul actually said or meant.

 

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