Thinking Out Loud

May 28, 2020

Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination: A Must for your Bookshelf

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

In September of 2014, I treated myself to two volumes in veteran Christian musician and songwriter Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination series, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement and Mark: The Gospel of Passion. You can read my original take on the series at this link.

After six years of hoping that this blog might gain the grace of InterVarsity Press (IVP) I gave up and purchased the two remaining titles, Matthew: The Gospel of Identity and John: The Gospel of Wisdom. (Each paperback also has a corresponding music CD which may be purchased separately; although I believe we do own one of them.) I’ve just finished reading John.

Recently I heard a pastor say that he struggles with devotional reading, but gains great benefit from reading Bible reference material and commentaries because it draws him into a focus on Jesus while at the same time satisfying his intellectual appetite. I think he put words to my own craving to be spending more time in contemplation of the Bible while at the same time meeting my self-perceived information deficit.

In my original review, I explained that the format is somewhat reminiscent of the Daily Study Bible series by William Barclay. The text is included in full; he used the HCSB as a base text. In the case of John, there are twenty-one chapters and most have at least three subsections, but reading a chapter at a time is most fulfilling. 

Card’s primary goal in approaching John’s gospel is to address the various misunderstandings that surround Jesus’ words. He bookends the book with deeper delve into the theme, wisdom, and alludes to the wisdom literature of the Bible, though not the book of Proverbs itself, which none of the gospel writers quote.

He uncovers what he terms “miracles in absentia” where Jesus pronounces a healing without being physically present. When Jesus questions the people’s motive for following him — the free lunch — he subtitles that part of the chapter “The Bread King” and suggests that the word manna can be literally translated as “? !” Card doesn’t spend time on traditionally taught themes in John, such as the “I Am…” statements, and has a different take on Peter’s restoration at the end of the story.

These are commentaries, but the series title ‘Biblical Imagination’ is to be remembered. While some of the remarks about key passages finds their roots in the writing of other commentaries, the series invites the readers to be drawn into the picture; to see themselves in the middle of the crowd listening to Jesus teach, interact with his close disciples, or performing miracles and also to learn “the backgrounds that make the stories come to life.” (p13)  

It’s the type of creative commentary you would expect a musician to write!

 


Sample: Here’s an excerpt from Mark: The Gospel of Passion which I posted in 2014 at C201.

 

 

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

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 9, 2018

Book Review: The Jesus I Never Knew

It is, without doubt, my favorite book by my favorite author.

When it was published, in 1995, I was sitting behind the counter of a Christian bookstore when a man came in and asked if we could order him five copies. A few days later someone else asked if they could order six. A few weeks later the first man came back for ten more.

I knew I had to read this book. I was familiar with Philip Yancey because of his connection to Campus Life magazine and The NIV Student Bible. He was the guy with the hair. Trained in journalism, he is an example of a Christian author rising to prominence not having formally studied theology or having pastored a church.

Yancey had written many books before The Jesus I Never Knew was published. Three were with leprosy doctor Paul Brand, as well as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappoint With God.

But in a way, The Jesus I Never Knew would kick off a run of prime titles for Yancey which include: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Reaching for the Invisible God, The Bible Jesus Read, Rumors of Another World, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, What Good is God and Vanishing Grace.

When he writes, he stands in for all of us, with all our questions, misgivings, disappointments, doubts, and hopes when it comes to Biblical texts. He’s not afraid to wrestle with the scriptures and if, as with Jacob, that takes all night, then so be it. He’s never written a formal autobiography — unless you count Soul Survivor — but you come to know him as you read his writing.

This was my third time reading The Jesus I Never Knew.

My first reaction, on completion of the last page, is to want to turn to chapter one and begin all over. Jesus simply leaps off the page. Yancey has looked at the life of Christ and assembled a myriad of data and then rearranged that information to give us a picture of Jesus as he would have presented himself to the disciples and gospel writers.

An alternative title might be, The Jesus You Thought You Knew, or perhaps The Jesus You May Have Missed. If the gospel accounts might be considered an outline drawing of Christ’s life, with this book Philip Yancey fills in the colors, the shading, the textures of the big picture. Over the years, readers have found the section on Christ’s temptation and the Sermon on the Mount to be especially helpful. There’s also the drama of the encounters Jesus has with everyone from the Pharisees to the lepers. He offers much in the way of context then along with personal application for us now.

So…today’s review is not a new book, but if it’s new to you, I hope you’ll track down a copy.

Zondervan, paperback, 9780310219231

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