Thinking Out Loud

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

February 8, 2021

5 Questions for a Better Life

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Review: Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets by Andy Stanley

This was, by design, the longest it has taken me to post a book review. The reason is that when I first picked up my copy to start reading, Andy Stanley began a six week series at North Point which corresponded to the six chapters of his latest book. I decided to listen to the message and then, to reinforce its impact, read the chapter after each week in the sermon series.

In Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: Five Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move, Andy Stanley offers a set of five questions which, if asked at pivotal moments in life, will prevent us from ending up in situations of great regret and remorse. In this respect, it’s a self-help book that someone, if they were not a person of faith, could still read and benefit from.

With each question, Andy offers an illustration from the scriptural narratives of key people demonstrating the principle in action.

I’m not a consumer of the self-help genre — friends have recently mentioned things like Strengthsfinder 2.0, and Crucial Conversations — but I do appreciate the wisdom of Andy Stanley. This time it’s partly autobiographical as he discusses things that he felt his parents did right when he was in his formative years, and also prescriptive for parents today as he discusses how he took what he learned and applied it in the raising of his own children and the foster children he and Sandra have welcomed into their home.

Asked at the right time and place these questions can save people so much hurt. Are we being honest with ourselves? What legacy do we want to leave? What nagging issues in the background deserve our attention? What is the wise thing to do? What does love require of us?

Only in the book it’s not us or we, it’s I and me.

The book uses the examples of Jeremiah, Joseph, David, Paul, and Samuel. And the words of Jesus. If you also watched the series, I know you’re thinking, “Samuel?” Yes, there wasn’t an exact 1:1 correspondence between the video sermons and the book, which also contains a short concluding chapter. But you could read the book and imagine Andy’s voice in your head as you read. The two scripts were quite close.

While I recommend this to anyone reading this review, I especially commend it to anyone with a young adult nearby. This book could save them a life of regrets.

Zondervan | 180 pages hardcover | 9780310537083 | 19.99 US | Study Guide 9780310126560


Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for keeping us informed and providing great books like this one for review.

 

February 1, 2021

Dan Kimball Tackles The Bible-Reading Elephants in the Room

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 am

Review: How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball

I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take a friend to your church and had that moment where, seeing everything through your friend’s eyes, you suddenly see everything that is happening in that space through an entirely different lens.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. We pick it up every day and are often quick to skip over potentially troublesome passages because we know the bigger story, we know the outcome, and we know the divine author. But your friends get tripped up in the first few chapters and then, human nature being what it is, are quick to write off the book completely.

Dan Kimball’s newest book How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020; and winner of the ‘World’s Longest Subtitle’ award) is an attempt to confront the elephant in the room; many elephants actually of which he focuses on six:

  • unusual and antiquated laws given to Israel
  • the relationship in both Old and New Testaments with the practice of slavery
  • the role of women in society; in Jewish religious life; in the modern church
  • the relationship between the Bible and science; particularly in Genesis
  • Christianity’s claim of exclusivity over all other religious viewpoints
  • the so-called “texts of terror” and seemingly gratuitous use of violence

One of the striking things about the tone of the book is the degree to which Dan Kimball is at ease discussing such things. He understands the mindset of those not yet part of the family, so to speak, and both addresses them directly, but gives the rest of us greater insight into their way of thinking. This is actually the third book by Kimball I have in my library. The title of one says it all: They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which again reflects how conversant he is with reactions to Christianity in the broader marketplace.

So two potential audiences emerge here: Those needing a seeker-friendly addressing of the problematic passages in scripture, and those wishing to better understand how to engage those discussions. Because of his relaxed writing style, I can also see this being a useful tool for homeschool families, though some might not appreciate his treatment of the seven different models for examining creation.

His treatment of the serpent tempting Eve reveals this as a wordplay, with the original having three possible meanings and the text incorporating all three in different ways. His nod to Christianity at the time of Galileo reminds us that the church hasn’t always been at the forefront of scientific understanding.

There isn’t a bibliography as such, but in the footnotes, we see material was drawn from writers such as Michael Heiser, John Walton, Paul Copan, The Bible Project, and a book I’m now anxious to look at, In the Beginning We Misunderstood.

All this said, the book is rather repetitive at times. While I love Kimball’s ideas and presentation, the editing here seems somewhat lacking. Its 300 pages might easily be cut back to 250, and there are times the book almost plagiarizes itself, such as the sentence on page 142 which is repeated three sentences later on page 143: “Unless Paul is contradicting himself in the same letter, he doesn’t intend for women to never speak a word;” and “Unless Paul is contradicting himself, the verse cannot mean for women to be totally silent.” There is also very frequent mention of Greg Koukl’s “Never read a Bible verse” principle (you should read the whole context) though I recognize that perhaps for Kimball, you can’t state this too many times.

My greatest question reading this was wondering if the arguments presented would be sufficient to allay the objections of non-Christians. Perhaps. Hardcore skeptics? I’m not sure. Perhaps to that end, the book would need to be longer, not shorter. Where Kimball gets full marks is his willingness to confront these issues, and the aforementioned ease with which he navigates each potential stumbling block; a few of which were part of his own personal faith journey.

Better yet, the reader is assured that, ‘I’m not the only one wondering about these passages;’ and offers springboards for further investigation and conversation. A number of additional resources were due to be ready in January to promote additional study by groups or individuals. Learn more at DanKimball.com.

 

 

 

December 14, 2019

Currently Reading: Jesus by Max Lucado

Though not slated for release until late into January of next year, I wanted to make you aware of this book now. I usually choose books more esoteric or eclectic than the somewhat mainstream work of Christian bestselling author Max Lucado, but was sent a copy of Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name (Thomas Nelson) and decided to check out a chapter or two.

Immediately I was struck by how deserving Lucado is of his massive sales appeal. He didn’t get his reputation by accident; it was well earned.

In this book, portions of his other works have been woven together seamlessly to create chapters focusing on various elements in the timeline of Christ’s earthly ministry. Yes, some of the chapters are from individual books, but others involve material from four or five different titles.

I’m just past the one-third mark, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say closer to the January 21st release date, but if an author could have a “Greatest Hits” collection, for Lucado, it would be this book. 

Also, add this to the list of “first” books for a new Christian.

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