Thinking Out Loud

June 21, 2019

Andy Stanley Clearly Articulates the Premise of Irresistible

Maggie John of the daily Christian television show 100 Huntley Street has posted a full, 49-minute interview she did with Andy Stanley, talking first about his famous father and his call to ministry, and then focusing in more directly on his book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleased to the World. (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Some people have their minds made up about what Andy did say or did not say and that’s unfortunate, because I don’t see how anyone can watch this with an open mind and not grasp the point he is trying to make; namely, the need to switch our emphasis from “The Bible says it,” to “Hundreds witnessed it;” to remind ourselves that the key to our faith is not rooted in a book as it is rooted in a resurrection.

I suppose that actually giving this some thought is too big a stretch for some. It’s easier to pre-judge Andy and his book and bring personal bias to the discussion before actually slowing down to hear him out. It’s easier to go on the attack on Twitter and other media than it is to consider that if we fail to listen to this, we’re in danger of losing an entire generation. It’s easier to create a panic, accuse someone of heresy, or rally the troops around a common enemy.

I’m all in on this. 100%. I’ve embedded the video below, but if you click on the YouTube logo, it will open on their site and you can capture the URL to watch on another device. You may read my original review of the book at this link.

 

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April 18, 2019

Book Review: The Baggage Handler

I am reviewing a fiction title for the first time in many years.

The Baggage Handler actually released a few weeks ago. I had read the book in February — on an airplane appropriately — but never wrote anything at the time because it wasn’t releasing until March 26th. Then, that date simply flew by unnoticed.

The premise: Michael, David and Gillian all pass through the airport on the same day and no, they don’t end up with each other’s luggage. But there is a luggage mix-up to be sure, with varying degrees of consequences. There is a baggage handler, who seems to work two locations at once; the airport itself and the downtown lost-luggage facility.

And the key to the story is in that word baggage. Don’t think luggage or suitcases, rather this is all about the metaphorical baggage we all carry around, a moment of discovery for all three characters in the story when they try to retrieve their belongings.

Not surprisingly then, author David Rawlings describes himself as a writer of “stories for those who want to dive deeper.” (His follow-up, releasing in December is about a couples’ counsellor.)

It must be said that both the cover design and the decision to release the first edition in hardcover leaves the book bearing a striking similarity to similar titles by David Gregory; Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, A Day with a Perfect Stranger, etc. These titles, as well as similar ones by Andy Andrews, ask us to temporarily suspend belief as to plausibility and accept certain plot contrivances in order to learn a greater lesson.

Bouncing back and forth between the three central characters means the book moves along at good pace, and for those who want to “dive deeper” in a book club setting or even on a personal level, there is a short collection of discussion questions breaking the book into five sections.

My personal disappointment with the book was that as a longtime reader of Christian books in general, I kept waiting for God to show up. Somewhere. On a single page, perhaps. After all, Thomas Nelson put their imprint on it.

There’s no real definition for what makes Christian fiction and I suppose that on the spectrum of books that preach and books ‘written from a Christian perspective;’ this one is in the latter category. At least I hope so.

On the other hand, as someone with much exposure to both Andy Andrews and David Gregory, I see the value in this novel, and already recommended it to someone.

We all have things in our past we need to deal with.

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

February 21, 2019

Peter Enns: A Fresh Lens for Approaching the Bible

Filed under: bible, Christianity, doctrine, reviews, theology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:42 am

For most of us, hearing about a book which purports to teach us “How to” read the Bible usually presents two possibilities:

  • a basic introduction to the organization of the Christian scriptures, such as a Bible handbook; the type of thing we might give to a new believer; or
  • an introduction to the idea of Biblical interpretation, or what is called hermeneutics.

In How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom, Rather than Answers—and Why that’s Great News Peter Enns takes a rather different approach; showing us how the scriptures themselves have developed — a word preferred over evolved — different ideas which are commonplace in Christian thought, including the idea of an enemy (satan) or the idea of the resurrection of the physical body.

Or here’s another way of looking at the book: Many of you were aware of a controversy a few months ago when Andy Stanley said that the Church needs to jettison itself from the Old Testament. (It was that j-word that got him hot water.) I would suggest it’s not a stretch that Peter Enns would say that successive Old Testament writers were themselves trying to jettison themselves from earlier Old Testament writers; that this is a process which has been ongoing. (See Chapter 10, the section headed “Exhibit A.”) Follow this line of thinking, and you might find yourself believing that the Bible is a living book.

Or similarly, it’s as though one Gospel writer might bristle at the the way another writer has framed a particular episode in the life of Jesus. But of course, each is writing for a different audience. Peter Enns captures these anomalies, but sees them as part of his delight in reading scripture, not as a problem to be solved.

While his scholarship is evident, his approach in this book has a remarkably common touch. In one section makes it clear that “open theology” is above his pay grade. Furthermore, one can only take on so much in a more general treatment of Bible interpretation. The book doesn’t try to be all things for all people.

Some readers may be disturbed at Enns’ gratuitous use of writings from the Apocrypha to substantiate certain arguments. As an Evangelical, I accept the historical value of those books, but am often unaccustomed to seeing them quoted in the books I review. (Keep in mind however that this books is published by HarperOne, not the Zondervan or Nelson divisions of HarperCollins.)

Still others may have a knee-jerk reaction to the books subtitle, especially “…an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book…” Ambiguous? Yes. For Enns, that’s part of the Bible’s basic equation; and that’s exactly where the “wisdom” in the other half of the extra-long subtitle comes into play.

Reading this following Stanley’s Irresistible made for an interesting pairing. In terms of our understanding of the book of books, something is clearly afoot, and Peter Enns doesn’t want you to miss it!

Thanks to Dave Knox at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for the opportunity to read How the Bible Actually Works. It went on sale on Tuesday in hardcover wherever you buy fine books.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud: A November, 2016 review of Peter Enns’ The Sin of Certainty, in which, coincidentally, Andy Stanley’s name also was mentioned!

Postscript: Books like this one, and Andy Stanley’s (mentioned above) and Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? are part of a fresh genre of books which, while not Bible handbooks in the traditional sense, serve much the same purpose. For a more conservative approach books like Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth continues to fill the void between handbook and general guide to hermeneutics.

November 29, 2018

Book Review: Not Dressed for the Occasion

As more and more people are diagnosed with ADHD, and the internet erodes the attention span of the rest of us, I would expect books which offer smaller bites are an ideal reading retreat in a distracted world. Mart DeHaan did this a decade ago with Been Thinking About, but for the most part, if you want a quick read on your lunch break or before falling asleep, most of what’s out there is either fictional short stories or collections of news stories involving emergency responders performing heroic acts.

What if there were simply a collection of articles which — not unlike the blog you’re reading now — offered some thought-provoking insights into a somewhat random collection of topics? What if, in your own busyness you could consider a faith-focused subject with a three or four minute investment?

Not Dressed for the Occasion by Ron Harris (with Christine Winter) is one such book.

The 71 articles are gathered here in a form the author says, “has no beginning and no end.” You can jump in anywhere and read as many or as few as time permits. The articles are somewhat devotional in nature — think something 3 to 5 times longer than Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room or if you’re in the UK, Every Day With Jesus — which allows more space to anchor the reading in more than one scripture text reference. Each piece is clearly written from a pastor’s heart.

But the articles are also topical. Ron leads a congregation about 40 minutes east of Toronto and there are frequent references to current Canadian current news stories and organizations, though he has also ministered in England and South Africa. Although his church is Charismatic, I would argue that the writing gives the book a much broader appeal, as do citations of everyone from Tim Keller to Rick Joyner, along with the use of a wide variety of Bible translations.

Collections of this nature are also very suitable for older readers, though the publisher has inexplicably chosen to set the book in one of the smallest fonts of any Christian book I own, other than some Bibles. The book can also be used as springboard for topical discussions in a less formal small group setting.

Not Dressed for the Occasion is published by Word Alive Press and available throughout the U.S. and Canada through Anchor Distributing. (9781486616763, paperback, $17.99 US/Can.) The book is one of only a few in the Christian market belonging to a rather unique genre and I would argue it thereby fills a need.

October 15, 2018

Joy is Available in All Circumstances: Book Review

by Gloria Matthies

John and Stasi Eldredge are two of my favourite authors, so I was excited when Stasi’s book Defiant Joy – Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World (Thomas Nelson) became available. And it didn’t disappoint.

As in much of their other works, Stasi’s style is very readable – personal, authentic, real, relatable. I can see myself in many of her personal anecdotes. We’ve all been there – even accomplished authors!

It wasn’t the kind of book that keeps me reading long past the time I should be making dinner or going to bed. I actually couldn’t read it quickly because, even in its easy readability, there were parts that hit very close to home and I had to stop and mull it over, figure out how to apply it. Even after finishing the book, I find myself flipping back to the dog-eared pages and underlined passages again and again.

Stasi begins by laying the foundation: What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Why does she call it “Defiant”? She asserts – backed up with Scripture – that joy is always available to us in all circumstances, and especially in the really tough ones. She doesn’t shy away from “yes but, what about…” sadness, unmet longing, the waiting, loneliness, opposition, pain, suffering, comparison, resentment, misperceptions – all of which she addresses without judgement but rather with an invitation.

She invites us, dares us even, to step out in faith, to choose, hope, risk, trust, worship, remember God’s promises, in spite of our circumstances. And to be defiantly joyful people!


 

Gloria is co-coordinator of the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship project in Cobourg, Ontario and part time bookseller at the local Christian bookstore.

September 17, 2018

Irresistible — Andy Stanley’s New Take on New Testament Faith

By his own admission, publishing this book is a career-risking move.

Furthermore, the criticism that Andy Stanley has already endured over statements which are contained in Irresistible would cause some to lay low for several months until the storm passes.

But that’s not Andy Stanley. Instead, he takes nearly 300 pages to fully flesh out his reasons for saying that Christianity needs to “unhitch” itself from the Hebrew scriptures, or what we call The Old Testament. Yes, that. For some those were fightin’ words. For others, the implication was that those writings weren’t inspired or aren’t relevant to knowing the backdrop from which events kickstarted in Bethlehem 2,000-plus years ago. That’s called putting words in someone else’s mouth

…It’s hard to review a book when, for many weeks, you were tracking with the sermon series on which the book is based. There are usually few surprises. Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World (Zondervan) is based on a sermon series called Aftermath which the North Point pastor preached after Easter this year. The church website sums it up this way: “Jesus’ resurrection launched a series of events that introduced the world to his new covenant and new hope. But old ways don’t easily give way. Not then. Not now.” That could also well serve as a summary of the book.

The book is divided into four sections and like a good British mystery, each section is building toward the concluding chapters. I said, “few surprises,” above but unless I missed something in the teaching series, Andy pushes beyond the original conclusion and suggests something even more radical in the way we format our copies of the texts. (I’ve decided to avoid the spoiler.)

I was also struck by the humorous tone used to convey a rather serious subject. It creates a reading environment in which even a new believer — struck by the differences between the First and Second Testament and wondering aloud, “What’s up with that?” — can have a complete understanding of the world in which the news of the resurrection was first preached, and how the two parts connect.

In many respects, the book is personal. His motivation for writing begins with a 2007 trip to China in which he was asked a poignant question about the church in America. In the book (and elsewhere as well) Andy mentions a verse displayed in his office, Acts 15:19: “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (NLT) He’s committed to removing any barriers to faith which might be hampering someone who would otherwise want to be part of Christ’s family.

As he has stated many times, one of those barriers is the material found in the Old Testament (or if you prefer, First Covenant). The violence. The scientific questions. The seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct. The supernatural occurrences. Instead, he believes (as the book’s subtitle affirms) that we need to be focusing on “the new” and in so doing, focus on what the first generations of believers had in a world before church buildings, a world before printed copies of the scriptures, and a world where the resurrection was everything.

It was a faith to die for.


Release Date: September 18, 2018 | 9780310536970 USA | 9780310536987 UK, Aust/NZ, Canada


Thanks to Dave K. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a review copy.

 

 

August 16, 2018

Differentiating The NIV Zondervan Study Bible from the other NIV Study Bible

I wouldn’t normally expect to repeat a book review, but this is an important product, and one having a name which, three years later, leaves people very confused. I was sent a beautiful bonded leather edition, but it was regular size print and with all the helpful notes and other materials it had to offer, I really wanted the larger print, so I traded it for the Large Print in hardcover. You can decided if that was wise, given that the first one was leather.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible open

Opening the pages of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, it occurred to me that in another era, this was the type of product that a family would order by mail, wait weeks for, and upon its arrival the family would gather around the dining room table to check out the different features. It deserves a party!

This is very much an encyclopedic Bible taking the existing NIV Study Bible — which will continue to remain in print — and combining it with ideas such as the supplementary articles seen in the ESV Study Bible and the use of charts seen in the Life Application Study Bible, and the use of full color, in-text pictures first used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible (the latter being now officially out of print.)

As you would expect, there are detailed introductions for each book, but also to each section of Biblical literature. However, the bulk of the supplementary articles are placed at the back, and these are topical but also tied to elements of systematic theology, though I’ve noticed the publisher prefers the term Biblical theology. There are many maps at the back; I also noted a full-page map embedded in the middle as well. A variety of scholars contributed to the project which was headed by D. A. Carson. The print version also includes a free digital download.

At 2880 pages this is a Bible packed with features. As such, I wish the font chosen for the notes was a little clearer, but I might upgrade to the large print edition. This may not be your take-to-church Bible edition, but it offers some great helps for both the new Christian who wants background information, and the veteran Christ follower.

Below is the original article posted here in anticipation of this significant Bible release…


NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features which had not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.”

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

August 9, 2018

Reflections on Bible Reading is Truly Inspired

A Review of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

Sometimes you find a term online which helps you describe something for which you didn’t know there was a word. In this case, the word is memoirist. A quick check this morning revealed that I’ve actually read all of Rachel Held Evans’ output, and I can’t help but notice in this personal, subjective approach to the Bible there is a striking similarity to the writing of Philip Yancey. If you know how I feel about Yancey, you know this is high praise indeed.

Inspired is, at least ostensibly, a look at the different genres in our scriptures. Anyone familiar with The Bible Project videos is aware that we need to read each of these genres differently and interpret them — both in terms of original meaning and present-day application — in terms of the rules for that type of literature.

Or maybe not. In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as “wisdom stories,” existing alongside “war stories,” “deliverance stories,” “gospel stories,” “origin stories,” and yes, in a category by themselves, “fish stories.”

A gifted writer who grew up in church and researches well, she doesn’t begin to annotate all the background material which went into each chapter. If you did grow up in church, as with her other works, there is a sense in which her story is your story. I found that many of her own experiences resonated with my own.

But there’s also a sense in which this book is aimed at potentially new Bible readers; seekers and recent converts alike who are trying to find the common threads which knit the 66 books in the Protestant canon into a unified, single story. A strength of her classification methodology is that it allows her to blend First Testament and Second Testament material seamlessly.

In between chapters there are some almost whimsical narratives of her own. One places Job in a modern context with his ‘friends’ discussing his recent hardships in a cafeteria. This one deserves becoming a short film.

Rachel Held Evans is viewed as a progressive, and there are certainly some indications of this at a few junctures in her book, but for the most part, it’s about her conservative roots and the reading perspective on the Bible those roots handed her.

I invite you to see for yourself, there are excerpts from the book here (resistance stories, including their similarity to American’s Civil Rights Movement) and here (war stories, including the so-called ‘texts of terror.’)

 

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

Filed under: books, Christianity, Faith, reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

In the past few days I’ve shared excerpts from Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan) but I feel this book is important enough to merit a formal review.

Someone long forgotten told me that this was a must-read book for 2018, but although I can’t place who it was, I know it was someone I respected so I decided to investigate further. I know the word Evangelism scares many of you, but this is how-to book on a whole other level. Whereas Mark Clark’s The Problem of God is concerned with the particular arguments people will use against the existence of God or the deity of Christ, Sam Chan is concerned with how we craft our various types of presentations, be they a one-on-one story of God’s presence in our lives, or a one-to-many presentation in the style of a sermon.

The latter type of information might be helpful for those starting down the road of becoming preachers. I can see this book easily fitting into a first year Homiletics class in a Bible college. There are also online resource links which take the reader to the academic section of the Zondervan website. But in terms of its overall intent, its pricing, and the fact it doesn’t appear under the Zondervan Academic imprint, this is a book for everyone who wants to be better at our calling to be the life and witness of Christ in this world.

I have some favorite chapters. Chapter two deals with introducing Jesus into casual conversation with our friends and the different approaches we can take.

…our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with some of the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. Different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways.  ~p43

Chapter three deals with assembling a response to the needs of people around us, and looks at the various metaphors in the Gospel narratives in a way that this reader had never seen them presented. I’m a huge believer in using charts and diagrams and this book is generous with both.


~p71

Those unfamiliar with the challenge of using traditional means to try to reach Postmoderns will find the situation well-defined in the fourth chapter.

…the gospel will remain unbelievable as long as our non-Christian friends don’t have many Christian friends, because we tend to adopt the plausibility structures of those we know and trust. ~p117

For those who haven’t studied the challenges of world missions, the fifth chapter deals with contextualization.

To the crowd, John told them to share food and clothing. To the tax collectors, John told them to stop cheating. to the soldiers, John told them to stop extorting money and to stop accusing people falsely ~p135

I don’t agree with Sam Chan on everything. (This is the probably the only book in my collection that says, “Foreword by D.A. Carson.) There were some early chapters where I thought I better subtitle might be, The Evangelism Methodology of Timothy Keller, since Chan gushes about Keller’s writing repeatedly. (Doing this with the audio book would make a great drinking game.)

The chapters on preaching topical and exegetical sermons would probably be of greater interest to… well, preachers. Though I must add that I did appreciate the idea that it’s not a case of either topical or exegetical. Both approaches borrow from the other, even if some won’t admit that. 

That Sam Chan is of Asian descent would give this book appeal to anyone who is part of a minority where Christianity also has minority status. That, plus his Australian origins play into the book many times where he argues that the Bible is not interpreted the same all over the world. (A great example is the inclusion of Don Richardson’s account that in presenting the gospel to a particular tribe, they were cheering Judas because treachery is honored in that tribe.) Because I live just an hour east of Toronto, which has a very high Asian population those stories really resonated.

Again, I view this as part of a limited collection of must-read books for this year. Everyone from the zealous, new convert who wants to reach out to his work, neighborhood or social network; or the seasoned, veteran believer who wants to reminded of the evangelism fundamentals will find this beneficial and will, like me find themselves returning to re-examine several key chapters.


Excerpts appearing here previously:

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