Thinking Out Loud

August 19, 2020

When the World Baits Us for Knee-Jerk Reactions

Filed under: books, character, Christianity, culture, current events, Jesus, reviews — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:31 am

Review — A Gentle Answer: Our Secret Weapon in an Age of Us Against Them (Nelson Books, 2020)

While 2020 will best be remembered for its top health story, the year will no doubt also be marked by the increase we saw in both online hostility and public protest. There is no middle ground and no room for nuance as things because increasingly more polarized; more black and white.

What is the appropriate response for someone who is a follower of Christ?

Anecdotally, it is not much different than that of the general population, but Jesus — and the whole compendium of scripture — teaches us that as citizens of another place entirely, we ought to formulate a different type of reaction.

When Brant Hansen wrote Unoffendable, which I reviewed here in 2017, one pastor mentioned that this was a topic he had been drawn toward covering, but felt it was no longer needed, as Brant had done an excellent job.

But three years later, the world (and especially the U.S.) finds itself in a situation where it would seem someone was monitoring all the yelling and reached forward to turn up the volume button. From mask-wearing to racism to political candidates, everyone has both an opinion, and an opinion as to why their opinion is correct.

Maybe it’s time for another book on the subject.

Scott Sauls is a name unfamiliar to me even 60 days ago. Someone had asked me about A Gentle Answer but it was a few weeks after that I discovered a previously-received review copy. Around the same time I learned that Scott Sauls had served for many years alongside Tim Keller in New York City and was better known to people in the Reformed community.

There are many similarities between Sauls’ work and Hansen’s; but also many areas where Hansen is more of a journalist and Sauls writes more as a pastor. If I were asked to recommend either one to someone who needs to hear what scripture can teach us about our character in such heated situations, my choice would depend on who the recipient might be. They are equal but different.

Scott Sauls divides his attention between the gentle spirit of Christ which all his followers have experienced (the first three chapters) and how we ought to allow that to change how we respond (the remaining five chapters).

Although the book doesn’t often address the specific issues of the day (of which I mentioned three, above) it is certainly written with social media outrage and public confrontations in view. A few times he reminds us that this is a lesson which Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well; an arena whereby (to paraphrase Paul) we would do well to imitate King as he imitated Christ.

In the title of chapter two, Scott Sauls reminds us that Jesus, “reforms the Pharisee in us;” making us a people who can do anger righteously, receive criticism graciously, and forgive thoroughly.

I’ve posted some short sections from Sauls at Christianity 201 including an excerpt from the book at this link, and also included a shorter section that grabbed me as I wrapped up reading at this link.

I encourage you to also check out scottsauls.com.


Thanks again to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada for an opportunity to read A Gentle Answer. I’m going to miss those advance review copies!

July 6, 2020

Pages from a Church-Planter’s Diary

Review: Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020)

Kevin Makins has assembled the story of planting Eucharist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada so vividly, that there were times I felt I could actually smell the buildings and hear the floors creaking in a succession of five inner city locations.  Eucharist Church is located in the urban core of a city that is now part of what is called the GTHA — the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area — and the book is packed with insights and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.

As I mentioned here just days ago, the period post-2000 brought a bounty of church growth books and no end of people making the attempt to create alternative church experiences that would make it past the critical five-year mark. It had been a long time since I’d looked at this particular book genre, but after some superficial email exchanges with Kevin about book publishing and distribution, something drew me to ask the publicist if any print copies were still available.

I’m so glad I did.

Why Would Anyone Go to Church? arrived on a Tuesday, but I didn’t pick it up until Friday. Before suppertime on Saturday I had consumed its 192 pages. The chapters are somewhat equal parts story and teaching and the story also resonated because my youngest son now lives in Hamilton, where he’s involved with two very different churches in the urban core so it was somewhat easier to picture the environs where the story takes place.

The story is told with generous amounts of humility. That the church has existed in five different locations in ten years offers one indication how it would be hard to proceed otherwise. But Kevin and his wife Meg also demonstrated great resolve and self-awareness as to what projects to accept and which ones to pass, as various opportunities arose. Their giftedness for such a church as this is evident, even if a ‘professional’ team of church planting experts didn’t agree.

Eucharist Church clearly lacks the homogeneity you see in the sprawling suburban churches conveniently located at the intersection of two freeways with a massive parking lot for Becky and her husband to park their van and take their well-dressed 2.4 children to a very age-specific Christian education program tailored just for them.

Rather it’s a mix.

Kevin writes,

Part of our family is toddling. They help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Part of our family is married. They practice love together for the sake of the community.

Part of our family is single. They strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Part of our family is contemplative. They model how to listen.

Part of our family is faith-filled. They urge us to keep hope alive.

Part of our family is doubting. They remind us that skepticism has its place.

Part of our family has immigrated. They carry in their bodies and culture a different side of the Imago Dei.

Part of our family is queer. They remind us that God is found uniquely among those who don’t fit neatly into our societal boxes.

Part of our family is building its career. They teach us about the importance of work and hustle.

Part of our family is retired. They remind us that there is life after work.

That list just scratches the surface.

It includes people who technically speaking, don’t actually come, at least to weekend services. It includes people who only show up after their latest relationship has crumbled, stop at the church for a reset, and return when the next relationship has collapsed.

The cycle of any given year might include a children’s ministry for which no children show up. Or a Sunday service where everyone stretches out on the pews and shuts their eyes and snoring is absolutely permitted.  Or perhaps a Sunday where, instead of a longer sermon, everybody just shouts out the name of the denomination or type of church they came from, and the list becomes quite lengthy.

It includes potluck dinners which are almost sacramental in nature, a statement I make in this context realizing it could be the subject of a whole other book.

Finally, it includes laughter; it includes tears. Sometimes a lot of tears.

This is church in the margins, the type of church I truly believe Jesus would choose to attend over the mall-like complex in suburbia; and this is a book about a team of people who were willing to risk and willing to get their hands dirty to make it happen.


I used an excerpt from the book last week at Christianity 201. I won’t say this is a typical passage, as I had to choose something devotional for C201, but I wanted to create further awareness of the book. You can read that section at this link.

To recommend a book like this and just continue to go on with Christian life as usual isn’t possible. I have the good fortune of being married to someone who herself demonstrated a great heart for people on the fringes and now serves a church that could hardly be called upscale. Before we got married, I spent several winters doing street ministry in nearby Toronto. Maybe that’s why I get this book.

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go to the mission field. My guess is there’s one not far from where you live.


A copy of Why Would Anyone Go to Church? was generously rushed to me by Graf-Martin Communications – Providing Integrating Marketing in Canada.

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June 22, 2020

The ‘Gospel Truth’ The Enemy Wants You to Believe

Review: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared Wilson (Nelson Books)

Although this title released in January, I’m just getting to it now. I wasn’t sure if I would do a review — I normally don’t unless I’ve read every page, which I’ve done here — but after completing two of its eight chapters I decided I was all in.

First, I need to address the giraffe in the room. Regular readers here will know that this review is highly uncharacteristic of me, because you’ll also know that Jared Wilson is associated with The Gospel Coalition, which represents a doctrinal position on some issues which is light years the opposite of my own. I decided there was enough about the book to interest me, and certainly enough to commend for giving as a gift to someone you know whose idea of Christianity consists of motivational platitudes which are often not contained in Scripture.

So I won’t belabor that point, except in a mention of the penultimate chapter. (See below). So let’s dive in!

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity or still tracking at a very elementary level. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today. Let’s list them:

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

These are general enough and timeless enough that the book doesn’t address current social issues, although some thing are alluded to. I think that timelessness is one of its enduring qualities.

The chapter on living your truth echoes the whole postmodern question of subjective truth; an apologetic issue that is still very much with us.

The section on feelings/reality is actually a good lesson in hope; that having Christ we “defy what is visible.” I included a short excerpt from that chapter on the weekend at C201; click here to read.

The discussion based on “God helps those who helps themselves” notes that since the fall, we’ve been “wired for works.”

I want to share with you all the various instances where I underlined sentences and circled key words, but space does not permit. (It’s never a good idea to write a review longer than the book.) In most cases, the discussion was advanced to the point where someone would need to be a little further down the road to understand everything, and yet naive enough in terms of their having perhaps adopted some of these non-Biblical maxims.

There are three more ‘lies’ I think could well have been included here:

  • “everything happens for a reason” – often based in a misreading of Romans 8:28
  • anything that riffs on a misreading of Jeremiah 29:11
  • “all roads lead to God” – as Universalism continues to creep into Evangelical thought

and perhaps you can think of others. Maybe there will be a book two! (The author suggested “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”)

So…about that second to last chapter.

This chapter is all about penal substitutionary atonement. It’s a major linchpin in the core doctrines of people in the Reformed/Calvinist world. The chapter’s premise is based on a look at the book Lies We Believe About God written by The Shack author Wm. Paul Young. I’ve seen some of the positive fruit of The Shack and for the right person, I would still recommend it. But there were things in the Lies… book that concerned me and I intend to have a second look at it.

Jared Wilson directly addressed one of my concerns with his view on substitutionary atonement, namely his own objection to the idea that God poured out his wrath on sin, which is where I land the plane. He said that throughout scripture, God’s wrath is always poured out on people and brought many references. In and of itself, that wasn’t enough to change my mind, since my view — in fact my perspective on much of what the modern Reformed movement propagates — is based on a different picture of God, though I admit, not necessarily Paul Young’s view.

No, my objection to the inclusion of this chapter is that it was out of place with the other seven. It addressed a statement one doesn’t hear in the marketplace as they might hear the others. It went in a heavy theological direction where the other chapters didn’t. I almost felt that Wilson wrote this out of an obligation to his tribe, the same way the reigning Popes have to be sure to include a statement about Mother Mary in each major address they give and each book they write.

That said, I stand by my assertion that this would be a suitable book to give to someone who is doing Christianity-lite and might be harboring the beliefs in the other seven statements. Especially if you’re walking with them to continue the discussion. It’s a good title for giveaway, or even as the basis for an entry-level Bible study for seekers or post-seekers, though I’d lead it as a seven-week study.


For a very short excerpt from the book check out this one at Christianity 201. A longer excerpt from the chapter on the wrath of God appears at The Gospel Coalition. For the publisher overview of the book, click this link.

Today’s review title was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

May 7, 2020

An Evangelical Look at Christian Relics and the History They Teach

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:18 am

Blogger Tim Challies has produced a book which truly does go where no man has gone before. Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History (Zondervan) is equal parts travelog and overview of church history. Although the approach of this book is radically different than his two previous works for Zondervan (A Visual Guide to the Bible and Visual Theology) the size and shape of the book, as well as the dependence on visual imagery does, for now at least, complete the hat trick of books for visual learners.  (As a Canadian, Challies should appreciate the hockey reference.)

The goal was to look at objects rather than birthplaces, or memorial statues or plaques. As the intended reader is probably more Evangelical than not, this includes artifacts which are as much important to modern Evangelicals as relics are to Roman Catholics. It’s an approach not usually considered. When an ossuary dating back to the early Church was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was not in line. It’s not something we do. Especially those of us who had a rather cursory high school education in history.

Instead, plotting an awkward course geographically, but a rather logical course chronologically, Tim Challies brought these bones to life.

Okay, there were no bones. But there was a jug, a hexagonal reading desk, a pulpit or two, several books and Bibles, and a small hydro-electric dam high in the Andes mountain range. Often the items featured were found in a collection of other related items, and the ones becoming the focus of the author’s close examination were not the most popular or most viewed by tourists, but ones which he allowed to speak to him. Considering his Reformed background, I was rather impressed by this revelation of his process.

The book was made possible by a group of patrons Tim Challies had never met, nor was he seeking sponsorship of this project, an idea he says only crystallized one day prior. Over a span of three years, he traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to 24 countries on six continents, and estimates the overall journey to be 180,000 miles. As with many tourists, he encountered sites that were closed — usually finding a way in — and curators that were late for appointments. With a knowledge of keyboard, he might have been able to play Charles Wesley’s organ. (For me that would have been the grand prize!) However any setbacks were made up for by serendipitous discoveries which weren’t part of the original script. This was indeed, an epic project.

Accompanying him on the journey was film director Stephen McCaskell who has created a companion documentary available on DVD. The book definitely whetted my appetite to experience the backstory to finding and visiting the various sites featured. Unlike the book, the film is divided geographically and contains ten episodes running 21-26 minutes each.

Tim Challies’ Calvinist leanings are present, even though he has tried to produce something of interest to all Evangelicals. I could have lived without Spurgeon’s cheap shot at an Arminian Bible commentary or the rather protracted explanation of how Pentecostalism is a latecomer to the Church history party. And there was the obligatory quote from John Piper. Sigh! 

The book is definitely personal and by incorporating details of the steps involved in reaching each destination, I was reminded of my all-time favorite author, Philip Yancey, whose writing is always partly subjective. I expect the DVD would yield more of this aspect of the journey.

There were also three areas where the book overlapped on one we very recently reviewed here, Eric Mataxas’ Seven More Men; those being George Whitefield, Martin Luther and Billy Graham. I didn’t mind the duplication, except that it served to alert me to the omission of anything related to The Salvation Army. Surely a mourner’s bench or a tambourine could have been dusted off for the occasion.

One feature I really appreciated was the flow between chapters. The concluding paragraph of each section — and none are more than five pages — is really a teaser for the chapter to follow. The book is about 170 pages including notes, and because of the presence of visual images, I did speed through it quickly and regretted reaching the end so soon.

This isn’t an exhaustive coverage of Christian history, but for those relatively new to the Church, it would be a great place to start. If you’re a reader of Christian literature, Epic is like nothing else in your library.


Again, thanks to Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for this unique reading opportunity. Read more about the book and the DVD at Zondervan’s website.

 

May 4, 2020

Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray Team Up to Look at Jesus

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Person by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray (Zondervan, 2020)

One of the challenges when multiple authors combine to cover a particular topic — especially when the individual chapters were not written collaboratively — is that that there is often nothing which unifies the book as a whole. When I started reading Seeing Jesus From the East, I resigned myself to reading it as a collection of nine essays.

Two things have convinced me that this project was so much more.

First, the unifying factor is the man not named on the cover, Nabeel Qureshi. It was his dream to write this book with Ravi Zacharias, but after his untimely death, that was not realized. With Nabeel’s wife’s blessing on Abdu Murray’s involvement, that original intention, in many respects, holds the book together in terms of having two men, each born into very different religious traditions — one being Muslim — examine the life of Christ.

The second unifying factor is that these men are indeed colleagues. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and has spoken at many RZIM events. The book is not disjointed in any respect; rather, they refer to each others’ chapters, something you don’t see in an essay collection. (For the record, Ravi wrote five chapters and Abdu wrote four.)

The Jesus story — not to mention the story arc of the Bible as a whole — is deeply rooted in the East. As Murray points out, it’s a story flavored more with “curry and cumin” than the “ketchup and mayo” version propagated by the Christian church in the West. Elsewhere he refers to the “olive skinned” Jesus.

And although we sometimes present the gospel as a story of guilt and innocence it unfolds in a place where the key markers are honor and shame.

The style of the two authors is notably compatible. I’ve never heard Ravi Zacharias speak that he doesn’t quote the writing of a piece of classic poetry or a famous hymn. But Abdu Murray also provides these similar points of connection for the reader. Both draw on personal anecdotes and interactions with the widest variety of people at in-person events. The flow between chapters washes away all my concerns that the book might appear as though various puzzle pieces were simply forced together.

Seeing Jesus from the East doesn’t cover every moment in the 3+ years Christ’s life. It’s possible your favorite parable or miracle isn’t included. What you do explore is pivotal scenes from the wedding at Cana to the wilderness temptations to the transfiguration. Although I have a lifelong familiarity with these narratives, I found it provoked fresh discussions with my wife after I had finished reading.

So who is the target reader for this book?

Statistically speaking, this will probably sell more copies to Christians, especially those with exposure to RZIM. But it really works both ways. Regardless of faith family of origin (be it Muslim, atheist, or anything else) if someone is already at the point of considering Christianity, this would be an excellent window into that process from two authors who can fully empathize.

This is not apologetics in the traditional forms (evidential, moral, logical, philosophical) but a more winsome apologetic based on the authors’ personal stories and the stories of the many whom they have encountered. If your sphere of influence includes those coming from an Eastern worldview, this one is a must.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a much-appreciated opportunity to read an advance copy which is now well-marked and underlined. The book released April 28th in North America and will release on June 14th in the UK.

 

 

April 24, 2020

Eric Metaxas Continues the “7” Series

Filed under: books, Christianity, Religion, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:29 pm

I have to give him credit. Eric Metaxas knows how to take biographical data and make it interesting and relevant to the greatest number of people. In a 2007 interview he said that his books, “don’t touch upon anything at all where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians differ. They express just the basics of the faith, from a basic, ecumenical Christian viewpoint. They only talk about the Christian faith that they have agreement on.” 1

Back in 2013 I reviewed 7 Men and the Secrets of their Greatness, and in 2015 I also covered 7 Women and the Secrets of their Greatness. (You may read those here and here.) Those two titles are also now available in a single volume. This time he’s back with the hardcover release of 7 More Men and the Secrets of their Greatness (Zondervan; this time co-authored with Anne Morse.)

As with the other two, it’s not necessary to read the chapters in the sequence they appear, but I started with the first, Martin Luther, but then found the chapter of George Whitefield (pronounced whit-field) even more engaging. The man was a bit of a superstar in “The Colonies” and on his home turf in England. While I was aware of him, I had never taken the time to learn about his life or ministry.

And that’s the problem. There are people, including those in vocational ministry, who never are confronted with some of these figures in church history. That George Whitefield was mentored by John and Charles Wesley made him all the more interesting to me, but I was saddened to learn that towards the end they differed over “predestination and election.” It’s the same old song today, isn’t it?

Whitefield’s passion and appreciation for preaching in the streets was shared by William Booth the Salvation Army’s founder, and so I skipped ahead to chapter four. While this was shorter than other accounts I’ve read of William and his wife Catherine, I never tire of them. There are certain “must read” books that are recommended to young Christians, but not to discount those, I would suggest that a biography of William Booth should be near the top of that list. This chapter would only whet your appetite for more about William and Catherine.

Then it was back to chapter three for George Washington Carver. I knew next to nothing about this man, a certifiable genius who literally rocked the agricultural world with discoveries that affect us to this day. Sadly, he grew up amid the segregation in the U.S. South, but that only made him more determined to better the lives of both his own people, and all of us. Appearing before Congress, he was asked where he learned all of his various food applications. He told them he got them from a book. When asked what book that was, he said, “The Bible.”

Next, I was off to chapter six, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I must confess that this was also an author I only knew superficially and reading this account of his life is almost exhausting as the man is moved from prison to prison for his crime of daring to critique the Soviet regime. I wasn’t sure about his faith. Was he a Christian or simply a deist? That became more clear toward the very end of the story, and his roots in the Orthodox church would certainly resonate with Metaxas. Later in life he turned his attention toward the United States with messages that were prophetic in nature.

Chapter five is about Alvin York, among the most decorated soldiers of World War I, and chapter seven is about Billy Graham, and consists mostly of material culled from Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am.  Sections on Graham’s interactions with U.S. Presidents and world leaders was where I hoped Eric Metaxas would find his own voice, especially with his background working for Chuck Colson, but these are succinct biographies and Metaxas stuck closely to the script. Billy Graham is still very much with us, so there were fewer things here I had not already seen, but I didn’t remember reading that Graham himself had been encouraged to run for President. His wife, Ruth, told him that if he did she would divorce him!

Overall, I enjoyed this volume every bit as much as the two previous “7” books in this series. Maybe even more. But what was the secret of their greatness? I think the question is a bit of teaser, with readers left to figure that out for themselves for each of the men profiled.

This is a great gift to give to a man, not for the obvious reason in the title, but because the pacing of the writing and the concise nature of the shorter chapters lends itself to even those who consider themselves non-readers. It’s available now wherever you shop for great reading.


1Greek News: Eric Metaxas and the God Question

 

 

 

April 20, 2020

Author’s ‘All Inclusive’ Church Actually Favors One Approach Above the Others

For the past twelve years, most of the books I’ve reviewed here have either been popular titles or books which went on to become bestsellers. I generally don’t consider anything that isn’t going to end up on my personal bookshelf, which is currently quite crowded.

About a year ago I realized that I needed to go a little deeper in my personal reading and kept eyeing titles which all had one thing in common: InterVarsity Press (IVP). Book reviewers get their copies for free and no amount of pestering people at IVP would produce results, so just before the lockdown, I decided to bite the bullet and for the first time pay for copies of books to read and review and chose four titles.

This in turn freed me up from the restriction of having to focus on recently-published titles, so I reached back to 2017 for Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three by Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic). I tend to select books I know ahead of time I am going to review positively and this one had three things going for it:

  1. The writer is Canadian. Gotta support the home team, right?
  2. It was published by IVP, where I was once a warehouse manager for their Canadian operation.
  3. The writer is from my denomination: The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

In other words, this can’t miss. Or so I thought.

However, as I progressed through the book’s scant 133 pages of actual text (at a $18.00 US list, or a whopping $23.99 Canadian) I found the premise of the book wearing increasingly thin.

On a personal level I’ve admired churches which can not only blend worship with ancient and modern, but can blend the somewhat relaxed form of contemporary Evangelicalism with some more deliberate acknowledgements of liturgical forms such as more than one scripture reading, or call and response readings, etc. That my wife does this each week in an otherwise Evangelical church just confirms my bias.

Right there I had a problem. I was reading the title of the book as though it said, ‘Evangelical, Liturgical, Pentecostal…’ whereas the author is contending for a hardcore sacramental inclusion even though Evangelicals and Charismatics no more teach a sacramental approach than they confer sainthood on pillars of the church. (Tangentially: I think there’s a case to be made for Evangelicals having a sacrament of preaching, but that’s outside the scope of this article.) As I got deeper and deeper, it appeared that Gordon Smith not only sees a local church being influenced by all three ecclesiastic streams, but importing bulk-sized elements of each into their worship routine. (To fully do this justice, I believe you’re looking at a 2-hour worship service.)

I am confident there are churches out there who have successfully followed this model though the book offered absolutely nothing in the way of case studies or positive anecdotal accounts. However, the Apostle Paul’s words notwithstanding, I think that in trying to be “all things to all people” a church might miss out on their unique calling, especially in an urban situation which already offers a broad selection of churches.

The book is arranged in six, easy-to-follow chapters. In the first three shorter chapters, Smith looks at the themes of abiding in Christ, the grace of God, and the significance of the ascension; as they are found in John’s Gospel, the Luke-Acts narratives, and the writings of two key figures, Calvin and Wesley.

Chapters four through six are the meat of the book, looking at the principles of Evangelicalism, Sacramental liturgy, and Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In examining what it means to be Evangelical, there is already an emphasis on the importance of Baptism and the Eucharist (Communion). In the Sacramental section, I saw this bias more clearly and when he declared that The Lord’s Supper is something that can only be practiced under the “authority” and “administration” of the church — and remember I’m reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown where we’ve all had to exercise all manner of grace on this matter — I wrote in the margin, “He just lost me.” (p 80)

Not at all fearing that Communion could run the risk of being a postscript to a worship service, Smith insists that it must occur after the sermon and feeling he needs to state this despite widespread agreement, that the words of institution must be read each time. (Personal Rant: Pastors, please do the more seasoned believers in your church a favor and at least vary the Bible translations used in the I Cor. 11 reading.) He also appears somewhat opposed to including any type of teaching on the meaning of the sacrament with the terse dismissal, “We certainly do not need a second sermon and we do not need an extended explanation of the meaning of these symbols.” (p 91) As in, never? He also seems to confuse the liturgical approach of more liberal churches with those who are truly Christ-focused, suggesting, but not overtly stating, that the passages in the Lectionary are simply pretext for the pastor to express a personal opinion. It’s a rather sweeping generalization.

The final chapter on the Pentecostal principle is where Smith shows himself to be least comfortable. At least nine times he begins a paragraph or a sentence with “And yet…” his personal equivalent to ‘On the other hand…’ not unlike a politician writhing on the stage in an attempt to satisfy all his constituents.

He suggests there might be Pentecostal churches where no preaching or communion are present. (p 105) and while I concede such events occasionally occur, they are clearly the exception, not the rule. He believes in an experience of the Spirit that is felt and acknowledges the possibility of God’s Spirit moving in our services spontaneously, and in the prayer for healing of the sick — this is consistent with Christian and Missionary Alliance history and doctrine — but is clearly unwilling to give this section of the book the wholehearted endorsement he gives to Evangelical and Sacramental emphasis, even going so far as to state, “We are not truly pentecostal, in other words, unless we are sacramental.” (p 116)

In a short concluding chapter the book loses all academic pretense and moves to the ranting of a grumpy old uncle.

Even the lectern has been replaced by the bistro table and bar stool, while the equivalent of the sermon has become a more casual chat, downplaying the authority of the Scriptures in an attempt to make the Word more accessible. As often as not, the communion table which for my upbringing was always viewed an important item of furniture even when not being used, has been removed. And now what is front and center — with the pulpit and the communion table gone — is, I say this without any exaggeration, the drum set. (p 127-128)

In the margin of my copy, I have written, “Yikes!” …

…So perhaps I misspoke earlier. There is an example in the book of a church doing all three — being Evangelical, Liturgical and Charismatic — and it exists in the author’s mind. He pictures it vividly complete with a “baptismal pool” at the back of the church and not the front, and banners hanging from the walls. This is the author’s personal Walden and it might have been better served if the title reflected this — or more truthfully using must instead of should in the existing subtitle — instead of suggesting something being more widely and gently advocated.

 

 

 

 

April 9, 2020

Author Digs Deep Into Genesis 1-11

Filed under: bible, books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:57 am

After reviewing Darrell W. Johnson’s book The Beatitudes in August, Regent College Publishing was gracious enough to send me another, The Story of All Stories: Genesis 1-11 by the same author, and once again I was not disappointed.

Johnson is among scholars who argue that these eleven chapters constitute “the first half of the Bible” and that everything remaining is the second half. At first I was rather dismissive of this approach, but after re-reading a few chapters for the second time, he won me over.

I would also put it this way, that in terms of both the literary forms and the themes of grace of redemption, Genesis 1-11 is a microcosm of the Bible as a whole. Just as the Bible is one unified story consisting of many smaller parts, each with its own genre requiring its own approach; so also are these early chapters — stories concerning Adam, Cain, Noah, Babel — significant dramas each requiring their own unique type of study.

I know that some might be intimidated by a book sold under the imprint of an academic institution, but proficiency in Hebrew or Greek is not required, and just as I did with Johnson’s book on the parables, I found this material remarkably accessible. There are insights here that I’ve missed previously or hadn’t heard mentioned in preaching, even though the texts are familiar. (Tangentially, I was always soft on the idea of the Genesis flood being a global event; convicted that was manifested mostly in the known world; but the author provided a convincing reason I had not considered.)

The highest praise I can give a print resource is to say that upon completion, my first act was to turn back to chapter one and begin anew. That was definitely the case here. The learn more, click this link.


Thanks to Josh at Regent College Publishing for an opportunity to discover this book.

174 pages paperback | $19.99 US | 9781573835695

 

April 2, 2020

Brant Hansen’s Exposé on Arrogance: The Truth About Us

We have a rather high opinion of ourselves, and I say “we,” I mean you, me and the human race in general. Or, rather than ‘human race,’ Brant prefers to say, ‘the humans,’ as if he isn’t one of them. In a way he isn’t. Brant has a couple of personality exceptions that cause him to stand apart from how some view normalcy, but instead of hiding them or compensating for them, he wears them on his sleeve.

That’s the reason why, while it certainly isn’t a prerequisite to reading this book, I encourage people who don’t have The Brant Hansen Show in their radio market to take a couple of hours to listen to five or six episodes of the Brant and Sherri Oddcast (each runs about 20 minutes) to better understand what’s taking place in his books. In the end you might identify better and the truth is, we all have our personality quirks.

In looking back on my review of Blessed Are The Misfits (Brant’s second book), I noted that, “There’s a heck a lot of us out there who feel we just don’t fit in. Brant not only sees himself as a misfit, but he’s even been diagnosed with a few things just to make it official.” In many respects, it’s a book about accepting ourselves the way we are. Understanding that those of us in the church are what Henri Nouwen called “the community of the broken.”

But The Truth About Us (his newest) is more like his first, Unoffendable, which was a call for personal realignment. In my review of that book, I noted that, especially with today’s social media “We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.” Of course we do this because we think we’re right.

And in The Truth About Us, Brant is essentially saying that we do things because we think we’re good. So this third book continues where the first left off.

Both anecdotally and statistically we think we’re better people than we are. This isn’t at all along the lines of Andy Stanley’s How Good is Good Enough, where he showing that we could never achieve right standing for salvation in terms of our personal righteousness, because before a holy God, the bar is impossibly high in terms of our merit.

No, that’s what I thought the book might be about before I started reading.

Rather, if anything is happening in a soteriological sense, it’s about how we see ourselves as already there, and although it goes beyond the scope of what Brant wrote, we see ourselves perhaps as not even needing a savior, since we’ve achieved goodness already.

The Truth About Us: The Very Good News about How Really Bad We Are is really a mix of spiritual and psychological content. The book references a number of studies and in many ways reminded me of the writing and research style of Drew Dyck’s Your Future Self Will Thank You, which is about self-control.

Brant Hansen accomplishes in his third book what he does daily on the air: Mixing the silly with the serious to take a light-hearted approach to something at the core of our beings we need to carefully examine.

We’re not all that good.

January 20, 2020

Renouncing Both a Doctrine and a Lavish Lifestyle

Review: God, Greed and the Prosperity Doctrine: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies

Many years ago the church which provided space for my Christian music retail, distributing and manufacturing business was also home to a daycare, a Christian newspaper, a radio ministry and a concert ministry. Among other things. And, oh yes, it was also rented by a faith healer of local renown who drew a modest crowd of about 250 people on Monday nights.

When the guy who had the radio and concert ministry got married, some of the other ‘tenants’ in the building got some rather last minute invitations, and I ended up going solo as did the faith healer. And that’s the 100% true story of how I found myself in a brief, one-on-one, subdued and superficial conversation with Benny Hinn as we both waited for the doors to open to the reception.

It was our only direct contact, but suffice it to say that every time his name was mentioned — and in the years that followed it would be mentioned frequently — I had something more than a passing interest. By the time Benny Hinn relocated to Florida, he was, depending on the values behind your metrics, a major success in the world of miracle crusade evangelism.

So I watched with interest in 2017 when word leaked out that his nephew Costi, the son of Vancouver pastor Sam Hinn, had renounced the prosperity doctrine. When the book God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel was released late last year by Zondervan, I missed out on the opportunity for a pre-publication review copy, but after actually holding a copy in my hands and reading a single chapter just a few days ago, I knew I wanted to process the entire story.

I read most of the book in a single afternoon, completing it in the early evening.

The story exposes the excesses and the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Benny Hinn Crusade team. The private jet. The luxurious food. The $25,000/night hotel. These things were paid for by the sacrificial donations of people who could ill afford to part with the money, many times in the belief that a blessing was just around the corner if they would give.

The irony, to put it mildly, was not lost on young Costi. On a trip to India, his conscience was pricked and it set in motion a chain of events that ended with his separating himself from the family business. He studied at a Baptist seminary and now serves as Executive Pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona and also heads a resource ministry, For The Gospel.

The book chronicles his jet-setting adventures, his choice to pursue academic study to equip himself for ministry, and his meeting the woman (now his wife) who would be part of re-orienting his thinking on many doctrinal issues. The book is roughly two-thirds narrative and one-third teaching on what he now regards as error in prosperity teaching.

He now quotes Charles Spurgeon and John MacArthur. Yes, that John MacArthur who has castigated charismatics for decades. It’s like he’s gone from one extreme to the other, out of the fire and into the frying pan, if you like.

With one exception. He’s still continuationist in his doctrine. He still believes that Jesus heals supernaturally. I’m not sure MacArthur, who is a cessationist, is fully engaged on that topic.

There’s a Q-and-A section in the back of the book which spells out his current relationship to Hinn family members. I’m betting Thanksgiving and Christmas may have some awkward moments. But he states in the introduction that he is not interested in having his book be seen as an exposé, but rather, he’s simply telling his own story.

Since the book was published, I understand that Benny Hinn has recanted at least some or all of the prosperity teaching, but we’ve seen Benny do this before (such as the idea that each member of the Godhead is itself triune) and then retract the retraction in later writing.

My devouring of the book reflects my personal interest, but I think it’s worthy of a recommendation. But maybe not for anyone who gave money to Benny Hinn. For those, reading it would be rather painful.


Book page at Zondervan: Click here

Once again, thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada for getting a copy to me so quickly!

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