Thinking Out Loud

February 7, 2019

Theology Resource Aims to Make Us Better Informed

You’re wading through a thread of online comments when you realize that you’re being inundated with terminology you don’t quite get. As one of the not-formally-trained, you really want to understand what’s under discussion but the use of certain words either leaves you in the dust or leaves you scrambling to secondary sources to see what’s at stake.

There’s nothing truly “contemporary” about theology. The roots of the subject are the individual doctrines which are, in one sense, unchanged since the resurrection. That foundation was laid a long, long time ago. But over history there have been movements, and changes in emphases, that have resulted in many different ideas about how we understand God and his ways.

That’s where the book Contemporary Theology: An Introduction (Zondervan) enters. The full title is Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives and is described as “a new 412-page collection of names, movements, and methods found in theological and biblical discussions that are never fully discussed or explained in the books one reads.”

That’s true. If you find yourself constantly looking up theological references online, this print resource might prove to be handier. If you want to know about the basic doctrines of Christianity, you need a different book. Instead, author Kirk MacGregor wants you to be better informed about the things which crop up in blogs, forums and other venues for heated discussion.

Consider the list. Each one of these gets about eight pages plus two pages of bibliography. This chapter list has been edited to show you what I considered the highlights:

4. Existentialism
5. Dispensationalism
7. Spurgeon’s Biblical Theology
8. Vatican I and Neo-Thomism
9. Revivalist Theology
10. The Social Gospel
11. Christian Fundamentalism
12. Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy
14. Pentecostalism & Pneumatology
16. Contemporary Evangelicalism
20. Catholic Theology: Vatican II to today
23. Current Anabaptist Theology
24. Liberation Theology
25. Feminist Theology
26  Complementarianism / Egalitarianism
27. Reformed Epistemology
29. Postmodern Theology
30. Open Theism
34. Theology and the Arts
35. Paul and Justification
37. Evolutionary Creation

With an academic text like this, I haven’t read each individual entry, but focused initially on those movements I was already familiar with. It left me wanting to get the word about this great resource out there. The ones I did read I thought were fair and balanced, and unlike other books of this nature where different writers contribute different chapters, I was impressed that an individual author could be so well-versed on such a diverse group of theological perspectives.


Zondervan Hardcover | 412 pages | 9780310534532 | $34.99 US

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for arranging for me to get a closer look at this book.

Advertisements

June 14, 2018

Books about The Book

Many years ago I was given a copy of something titled What’s the Best Book? It was an obviously homemade production — the type of thing you’d get printed and bound at Office Max — and for each book of the Bible it offered three of the best commentaries. On the front cover it proudly stated, “Published by Farrell’s Ice Cream” and an address which I believe was in Florida.* Despite this, I saw the value in such a compilation; this was truly someone’s labor of love.

Inside many of us is an unfulfilled Bible nerd. Though we can’t put Bible College or Seminary on our resumés, we love researching topics for the weekly Bible Study and having an ample supply of Bible reference materials on the shelf. We’d never dare quote Greek — at least out loud — but our inner scholar is always just a breath away from bursting forth.

This week I was truly blessed when a friend, now living on the other side of the continent, gifted me with a copy of Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources by John Glynn with contributions from 4 other writers; published just weeks ago by Kregel Academic. This is the Farrell’s Ice Cream book on steroids.

On a book-by-book basis, it lists the books it consider best resources and the books which are better resources and the ones which are simply good, as well as, at the end of each Biblical book’s section recommending additional books on other subjects which arise out of those texts. (The good/better/best ranking is done as each title arises alphabetically; one needs to read through the listings carefully.)

More than just a recommended list, it offers an informed rundown of the approach the author takes in each; followed by the format and usability.

It’s important to state that the books do not all receive glowing recommendations; there are some tough criticisms here which means no pastor, professor or student will end up with a resource which differed from their expectations. 

This is not a book you just sit down and read cover-to-cover, and for that reason I don’t purport that this is a review. Its benefits are toward those who want to get the right book; for those times when neither budget nor shelf-space allow multiple purchases. It’s also a resource I believe every Christian bookstore should keep handy, and every Bible College and Seminary library ought to display in a special place.

Many of the recommended books are from mainstream sources, though readers will encounter some esoteric publishers. Page counts are given but not U.S. list prices. There are some expensive titles to be sure, these types of materials don’t come cheap.

Here’s what Kregel themselves had to say about it:

There are thousands of excellent resources in the field of New Testament studies. But which tools are best for sermon preparation, topical study, research, or classroom study? In Best Bible Books, the authors review and recommend hundreds of books, saving pastors, students, and scholars time, effort, and money.

Glynn and Burer examine commentaries on every book of the New Testament, describing their approach, format, and usability; they then rank them on a scale of good, better, and best. Other chapters survey special studies for each New Testament book as well as books in related disciplines such as historical background, language resources, and hermeneutics. Also included are helpful chapters on building a must-have personal library, and identifying books that comprise the ultimate New Testament commentary collection. This is an indispensable resource for any serious student of the Bible.

Additional sections include recommended resources on general New Testament background, Jewish context, Jesus in the Gospels, and commentary series themselves.

I did say that this isn’t a book you simply read for enjoyment, but I’d like to qualify that: Seeing the different tactics used in the approach section of each listing in a section (i.e. 2 Timothy) and then following that section for each publication mentioned is truly an education in itself. It’s a reminder to ask ourselves, “How do I approach the text?”

Paperback | 336 pages | 9780825443985 | $27.99 US | $37.79 CDN 


*I believe Zondervan did something similar once. They had a book by John Kohlenberger called Words About the Word (about translation) and then did something called Books about The Book (from which I stole today’s title) but I couldn’t find evidence for it online to include here.

September 10, 2012

Learning More About Other Faiths

For Christian publishers, any kind of reference book can be a tough sell, and the sub-category of “world religions” isn’t likely to produce a chart-topper anytime soon.  So I always appreciate it when authors and publishers go out of their way to produce helpful material in a form that is more accessible to the average person.

Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day (Bethany House paperback) is one such title, and the “15 minutes” in question is probably more like ten minutes for most of us, if that.  For someone like myself — eternally doomed to confuse Hinduism and Buddhism — books that provide a refresher course like this are always needful, and Garry R. Morgan, who teaches missions at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota even provides a bonus “extra minute” with an always interesting sidebar.

The book has 40 chapters and covers 24 distinct religious groups, with five sharing parts of two chapters, and others having multiple chapters.  (Christianity  5; Islam 6; Folk and Aboriginal religions, Buddhism and Hinduism 3 each; Judaism 2.)

Sometimes there are similarities between other faiths and our own.  Here’s a paragraph from the book with parallels added:

…Conservative Judaism leaves to each congregation whether or not they will accept a female rabbi (sounds familiar, my denomination is wrestling with this right now). The person who actually leads the synagogue services, however, is the cantor, or hazzan (in other words, the worship leader or worship team is in charge of the service). Large congregations seek a cantor who not only sings but will also compose original music. Usually the cantor is also responsible for coaching young people in Hebrew as they prepare for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah (in other words he doubles as the youth pastor).   (Okay I stretched that a bit, but not much.) 

Or this paragraph about Islam,

Islamic beliefs and practices are based on the Qur’an, the Sunna and the Haddith. The Quar’an is held to be sacred scripture… Many questions about faith and practice arouse after Muhammad’s death, so Muslims asked those who had known the prophet and were still alive what he said or did in various situations. These were eventually written down and collected into the Sunna (or Sunnah) meaning “Traditions.”  Although not considered a holy book like the Qur’an, in daily life the Sunna is moved more frequently. (Which reminded me of what some view as a concern that although we have the gospels, in many of our churches, the majority of New Testament sermons are based on what Paul wrote, not the words of Jesus.)

The book is also ever dealing with the question of which groups deserve a chapter and which are simply mentioned in the context of a larger body, which bears on the question, what constitutes what the larger group would consider a “cult” and at what point do these subset groups become a religion in their own right. (Or if you want to go for the pun, in their own rite.)

Books like this are tough to write because, while this one will mostly be sold through Christian bookstore and online channels, there is always the possibility (and for the publishers, the hope) that the title will appear on the shelves of mass retailers like Barnes and Noble in the U.S. or Chapters/Indigo in Canada; which means you don’t know that a member of that group won’t flip through a copy to see how they’re represented.

And I wondered if there was something of this behind a sentence that appears early on,

At the publisher’s request, this book intends to be descriptive rather than evaluative or polemic.

so I contacted the author at Northwestern. Garry Morgan was gracious enough to write back:

Garry R. Morgan

…They encouraged me to not hide my own faith, but to just describe what the various religions believe and practice, without an overtly evangelistic “here’s how you share the Gospel with a ….” section.

Even in my World Religions courses at Northwestern College, where all the students are professing Christians, I strive to be fair and accurate in describing the religious beliefs of others (I tell my students my goal is to teach in such a way that a follower of the religion sitting in the classroom would agree with my description, even if they disagreed with my assessment). So, I don’t think the book would have been substantially different without that request. Had I assumed an all-Christian readership, I might have added suggestions for appropriate responses to the various religions (e.g. “You can’t love your Muslim/Hindu/etc. neighbor and fear them at the same time.”). I did find it challenging at times to use vocabulary or phrasing that non-Christians would understand (it’s surprising how ingrown one can become teaching in a Christian environment). I think keeping the potential non-Christian reader in mind helped sharpen my writing.

Certainly the problem of becoming ‘ingrown’ is behind the need for this book. While I learned a lot reading this — including reading some chapters twice — and especially enjoyed the sidebars at the end of each entry, I lamented the absence of a concluding chapter to bookend the very helpful introduction. In a way, Garry Morgan provided the missing element to me in his note, and I offer it here alongside my recommendation of this title:

I do believe the Christian faith is truly unique. I think that comes out in the first chapter on Christianity in the book. My hope is that non-Christian readers would do their own evaluation and come to the same conclusion, and that Christians (who I assume will be the vast majority of readers) would have a resource for better understanding what others believe in today’s increasingly globalized society.

A copy of Understanding World Religions was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin a book promotion and publicity agency that comes alongside publishers and authors to increase visibility for key titles in Canada. 

Quoted sections page 60 and page 69.  The book is 174 pages and retails for $12.99 U.S.

Other books in this series include, Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day and Understanding Your Bible in 15 Minutes a Day both by Daryl Aaron.

May 30, 2011

Reconstructing Bible Times

Over the weekend I’ve been almost randomly paging through a type of book which has, so far, been foreign to my experience.  It’s one of those Bible reference books which attempts to give readers a fuller understanding of life during the Old Testament and/or New Testament times.  Some popular books in this genre include:

  • The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, Revised and Updated by Ralph Gower
  • Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim
  • Everyday Life in Bible Times by Arthur Klinck
  • Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word by Moises Silva, releasing in August from Zondervan

I guess part of the reason I’ve never been drawn to reading these is because (a) I rely on people like Ray VanderLaan to fill in those blanks, and (b) I grew up in an experimental middle school and high school environment which left me with very little studies in and appreciation for history, let alone archeology.

The book I was reading was Harper’s Encylopedia of Bible Life by Madelieine S. and J. Lane Miller (Castle Books edn. orig. published by Harper & Row in 1978; out of print) and in particular a section on The Life of the Farmer which runs from page 144 to 188.  Yeah…imagine… me reading about farming.  But I digress.

What so impressed me about this — and it was only part way through I developed a full understanding of what I was reading — was that instead of just presenting the data, they assembled all of the Old and New Testament scriptures which have any reference to agriculture, and created a fictional character, Abiram, and wrote about the typical routines for himself and his family in various sections of the agricultural calendar year.  This is Biblical fiction done with research taken to the nth degree.

This was not hastily put together in an afternoon.

It showed, among other things, a very high regard for scripture; hardly a paragraph went by without multiple references, several of which I stopped to look up.   And the insights that it brought out lined up with other scripture passages that were already familiar, bringing them to even greater life; a few of which I also stopped to read again.

This type of study can only enrich your Bible reading, but realizing that many of you are, like I was, somewhat distant from Bible reference texts of all kinds, I want to give you another option.  Rob Bell — yes, that Rob Bell that you’ve been hearing so much about lately — has done some excellent messages both at his home church and at Willow Creek.  I tried to find one from “Summer at the Creek” from 2010 where he explained the background behind, “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two;” but even though I watched it just a few days ago, it seems to have vanished off their site.    But you can get some older ones from the Seeds Bookstore, look for the New Community (dark brown) logo on this window.  (Dust and Day of Atonement are recommended; Dust is a much longer exposition of the material on the Nooma DVD.)  

Or check out the material from Ray VanderLaan in his various DVD series.  These are expensive to purchase, so it’s recommended they be bought for group use.

There is so much depth in scripture — especially scripture where analogies and parables are so tied to agrarian culture — that we miss reading through the lens of our 21st century life.  Resources like this help us to see the things that give the stories greater a greater richness.

Blog at WordPress.com.