Archive | Theology RSS for this section

Book Review – “Who Do You Think You Are?” by Mark Driscoll

23I’ve always held to the premise that the primary focus of life isn’t about “who you are,” but “whose you are,” and when we come to the understanding about the second the first comes into focus!

For that reason when I first received notification that Mark Driscoll’s new book was about to be released I decided to read it for myself. I’ve read, or think I’ve read every book/article the man has ever written, and though I’ve had disagreements with him in the past, sometimes extremely intense disagreements I always read anything he writes. He’s an astute observer of people, and the culture in which we live, and if for no other reason than that, what he writes is worth the time.  He’s always been one that makes me “think,” and even though I disagree with him on many things, I’ve always appreciated him for that.

The book, as with many that have come before, and undoubtedly like many that will come after, seeks to help believers discover who they are in Christ. No one would argue that such an undertaking is a daunting task, because most people, even the most committed of Christians, struggle to grasp who they are in Christ. This book is one that the reader would do well to read with an open Bible. The flow and outline of the book are tied to one of the most exciting and engaging of Paul’s epistles; Ephesians!  Though not directly a “theological” work, this book does offer the reader a good dose of theology intermingled with numerous real life stories of people who have had to overcome intense obstacles to in discovering their identity in Christ. These stories do well at revealing the power of Jesus Christ in radically transforming a person’s life, not taking them from “bad to good,” but from “dead to alive.” In fact the stories far outweigh the theology in their effectiveness.

If I have any criticism of this book, outside of my standard theological disagreements with Driscoll’s Calvinism or New Calvinism, or whatever it’s being labeled this week, it’s that it suffers from what many books of this nature suffer from… disjointed flow. It’s pretty obvious to anyone, or at least anyone who’s a preacher that this book is based off a series of sermons, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. The problem arises when content isn’t edited to fit the format of a book. Each chapter in this book could stand alone as an individual piece. The book would have been better if the editors would have taken the time to effectively format the text so that the information presented wasn’t needlessly repeated.  This issue is systemic in the world of Christian publication, and it’s hopefully one that is addressed in due time… Hint, Hint to Thomas Nelson!

Because of his theological position, I wouldn’t recommend this book to a new believer. But for someone who is well grounded in the faith, even if you’re not a fan of Driscoll, I would suggest that you take time to read this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – “Jesus; A Theography” by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

22I have been writing book reviews for nearly ten years now, first as an independent reviewer and more recently as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Booksneeze” program. I love to read, so doing such a thing as reviewing what I was reading seemed to me to be only natural.

My most recent read was “Jesus; A Theography” written by two of my all-time favorite authors, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. While I may not necessarily agree with them on everything they’ve written or the positions they hold, I’ve always been grateful to them for challenging me to consider why I believe what I believe, and to have a willingness to re-evaluate those positions when necessary.

The book was one that I had been anticipating the release of for some time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on. I have read many “biographies” written about Jesus, but this book promised to be different, not just another bio to read and shelve in my library… and different it was! If I could sum up this book in one word, it would have to be… “AMAZING.” Instead of simply conveying the events of Christ’s life in some chronologically styled fashion, the authors convey the life Christ through the story of God’s interactions with humanity through Christ, using the four gospels as their source material… what a novel concept!

While some may look at the book and shy away simply because of its size,  this work is a sterling example of a situation where we should never  “judge a book by its cover.” Yes the book is large, perhaps even massive… but its appearance is deceiving. I’m a bible preacher, and bible teacher, and I have made my way through countless scholarly works on the life and times of Jesus, many of which took me days, weeks, and months to digest, if ever, and many of them were as dry as sawdust. This book however was neither dry nor hard to digest, and it maintained the highest of academic standards…  It’s a book that anyone can read, and more importantly anyone can understand!

If I have any complaints about the book it would probably be only one… the authors make much of the “symbolism” found in scripture, and sometimes I think that they take their explanations a little far, though not necessarily out of the realm of reality, but still just a little overboard for my perhaps idiosyncratic taste… case in point; On page 26 the authors state that “Jesus refers to Himself as a bird.”  The reference they give for this is Luke 13:34, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” I think the point here is Jesus gathering and protecting his followers, not Jesus likening Himself to a chicken! At times I found it somewhat difficult to read, but taking into account the amount of information being disseminated that was a minor issue that couldn’t be avoided in such a work, and when all is said it was a page turner from the first page to the last! I

The book is soundly rooted in Scripture as the authors examine Jesus’ life and while some might not agree with every conclusion they draw, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is given its rightful place, making this book Christologically sound making it crystal clear to the reader that “Christianity is Christ,” which in many cases separates and distinguishes it from its contemporaries.

 There are some many things  that are praise worthy about this book I would probably write a book just listing them all, so I’ll save space by simply mentioning a couple. (1)I greatly appreciate the detailed research that went into this work, evidenced by the 108 pages of appendices and references. (2) I also applaud the fact that the authors did not limit themselves to their own faith traditions or era…even going so far as to include purposely include the thought of the post-apostolic witnesses (pg.311) The breadth and scope of this work is truly amazing, and I believe that this will soon become a classic among Jesus literature, and a must read in Jesus studies! Without hesitation I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

Book Review – “What You Need To Know About Bible Prophecy” by Max Anders

Here some time ago I preached a mini-series (2 messages) at church on the second coming of Christ. To begin the first message I asked the following question…

“When it comes to the end times are you “postmill,” “premill,” “amill,” “pretrib,” “midtrib,” “posttrib,” or just plain “confused?”

I think that if we’re going to be honest many of us find ourselves in that last category. When it comes to harmonizing the scriptures that talk about the return of Christ and eschatology in general there are 4 primary schools of thought as to how these events will play out. So is one of these perspectives right and the other three wrong, NO! All these perspectives are simply man’s attempt to understand the things of God, all have strengths and all have weaknesses.

This last fact is one of the reasons that I very much enjoyed Max Anders latest release of “What you need to know about Bible Prophecy.” In this book Anders presents the primary viewpoints of eschatology, giving deference to none. He attempts to give a fair presentation to all viewpoints, and he does well in doing so.

Though there are points of disagreement between the differing viewpoints within all there are several key facts that all agree upon, even though they may differ as to how and when such things occur. I believe that no one fully understands this doctrine, this principle of the faith, known as “eschatology.” I’ve been studying it in-depth for over a decade and I still have trouble sorting it all out, and any other preacher, if he’s honest would say the very same thing. The good news in all of this is the fact that how and when Jesus comes back isn’t a salvation issue. So we are free to agree to disagree about the details! Kudos to Anders for being willing to take a stand on this fact!

I also appreciated the layout of the book, with the information being presented in a clear and concise manner i.e. you don’t need to be a theologian to understand it. The section at the end of each chapter I also though was well thought out, especially the “speed bump,” “what if I don’t believe,” and “for further study” sections. 

The only real issue I took with the book can be found on page 47.  There, Dr. Anders states;

 “In many cases, differences of interpretation arise simply because some people do not understand how to interpret scripture”. 

Now while it’s true that not understanding the fundamentals of hermeneutics can lead to differences of interpretation, I don’t believe this is the case in the vast majority of disagreements relating to eschatology. If so many gifted scholars disagree on a point of interpretation is it because of bad hermeneutics? Most likely not! In most cases these differences arise because often our theology shapes and informs our eschatology and our eschatology shapes and informs our theology.  I thought that the statement appeared to stand opposed to what Anders was trying to accomplish with the book.

Though there are and always will be disagreements about how the events surrounding the end times will take place there is one call that goes beyond all disagreement, a call that all herald… “BE READY!”

All in all, the book is a great foundational tool for the studying of bible prophecy, and I highly recommend it. It’s one that I will use in the future as a teaching tool.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – “Job 38-42 by David J.A. Clines” [Word Biblical Commentary vol. 18b]

“But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” [Ecclesiastes 12:12 NASB]

Occasionally I am drawn to this passage especially when I get caught up with a book that would be considered by most as a “reference book.” In the past I’ve openly admitted that I’m a bibliophile, a “lover of books,” and that admission still stands. I’ve also admitted that I’m more academically than practically minded, in that I love books of an academic nature, ones that delve into the nuance of a biblical passage drawn out by the ancient languages they were originally written in, hence I’ve much enjoyed my latest read, Job 38-42 of the Word Biblical Commentary written by David J.A. Clines.  

I’ll admit from the onset that I know very little about the author of this work beyond the background information presented in the front flap of the book, yet by reading the book one quickly comes to the conclusion that Clines is a first rate biblical scholar and exegete. I only wish I had the first two volumes on Job to get a complete picture of this momentous work. I first came into contact with the “Word” series of commentaries while a student in Bible College, and I have always appreciated their scholarly approach to scripture, only the price tag ($40-50 per volume) kept me from adding them to my library.

In this volume (№ 3 of 3) Clines covers the later portion of the book of the book of Job; chapters 38-42. In the text we find God’s first speech (38:1- 40:2) Job’s first reply (40:3-5) God’s second speech (40:6-41:34) and Job’s second reply (42:1-6) followed by the Epilogue (42:7-17) in all aspects Clines does a masterful job with the text.  

There are several aspects of this book that lends it to my liking.

(1)  The Explanation Section at the end of each chapter provides a clear insight into the meaning of the text. It’s not overly academic, as to appeal to the novice researcher, yet when taken with the other sections; it’s of high academic standards, as to appeal to the advanced researcher… the best of both worlds.  

(2)  This is not a translated work from another language. Though I’ve been blessed by many works of foreign writers, this work was done in the English language, and therefore avoids any pit-falls that may come from any “lost in translation” type issues.  

(3)  The commentators prepare their own translation of the text. I especially like this aspect of the commentary because it allows one to see the text with new eyes on biblical Hebrew. What the text loses in continuity (one text throughout, eg. NIV or NASB) it makes up in perspective.

(4)  The general appearance and set-up of the book. From the onset it looks confusing, and jumbled, and for some this will be a “turn-off,” but there is a method behind the madness, and I love it. It allows for a person to find all information on a particular passage… be it references, language issues, or commentary. It’s all there in one place, and there is something for everyone.   

(5)  But beyond all that the thing that makes this book most appealing to me is the extensive, and I mean extensive bibliography (250 pg.) that is included in the book. It looks to contain everything or most everything of substance that’s ever been written on the book of Job, and I would have purchased it simply for this feature!

This book may not be for everyone, but for a serious student of Scripture it’s a worthwhile investment, if you can afford it. As with the other books in this series, the scholarship is superb, and is what one would expect under the leadership of the late Bruce Metzger. Though one (myself included) may not agree with all the conclusions drawn, it’s a work that encourages critical thinking, and promotes textual understanding. So with everything taken together I highly recommend this book to the public at large.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishersas part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – “Has God Spoken?” By Hank Hanegraaff

“The Word of God is deeper than a flannel-graph…”

R.C. Sproul

In a theological world that has sadly become over-saturated with the works of atheists and agnostics masquerading as bible-affirming theologians, this book truly comes as a breath of fresh air. Though I personally hold some reservations concerning Hank Hanegraaff, due to his “preterist” leanings and “deficient theology,” concerning some foundational biblical doctrines I’ve always appreciated his writings [especially Resurrection] and have been challenged by them.

His latest book “Has God Spoken?” the third part in his trilogy continues to provide answers the most critical questions that are coming from our post-Christian world. Being well researched, well written, and engaging, overall it does a sufficient job in meeting the goals that it was designed for.

This book is much different from other apologetic books that I have read in that Hanegraaff seems to be  writing with the believer in mind and, not directly to the skeptic themselves… though they would gain much from reading it. It takes more the form of a tool for training than a standard defense of the faith. Now anyone who has read his past works of listened to Hanegraaff on the radio, knows that he is fond of utilizing acronyms, which I appreciate because I too am fond of them and they work great as a tool for retaining important information, but as with anything it can be “over-utilized,” and with this work he may have just crossed that threshold. In this work the acronym M.A.P.S. Manuscript Copies, Archaeologist’s Spade, Prophetic Stars, Scriptural Lights, is the basis for the presented information, and I think it does a satisfactory job lighting the path that the reader will be journeying down.

In the book we see Hanegraaff addressing 4 primary questions:

  •  Are the manuscript copies we have today reliable?
  • Is there any external corroboration to the Bible?
  • What predictions of future events does the Bible make?
  • How do we (or should we) interpret the Bible?

As with any book on theological matters, one will struggle to find 100 % agreement with the content, as fallen, imperfect people, we’re never going to agree with anyone one everything, and in my position this is where I find myself standing with this book. Aside from my previous disagreements with Hanegraaff on issues Preterism, the role of Baptism in the salvation of man, etc. there are areas in this book that I also find to be a bit troubling. There are a sufficient number of issues that I take that I could spill much ink over, but for the sake of expediency I’ll only mention two of them.

  • My first issue isn’t even one that deals with theology or matters of faith, it deals with the tone Hanegraaff takes when dealing with UNC religious studies professor Bart Ehrman. Now from the onset I’ll make it clear that I have serious fundamental disagreements with Ehrman, and I believe that his writings aren’t always academically honest as they should be. Now I believe that in any course of study we should challenge people on their positions, but it should be done in a civil manner, and there are times that Hanegraaff crosses the line of civility.
  • My second issue is the one that troubles me the most about this entire work. It’s an issue that lays at the very heart of the Christian faith… the “verbal inspiration” of Scripture, a truth that Hanegraaff in his own words openly denies,

“The point that should be underscored here is that the disciples, moved by the Holy Spirit, codified the essential wisdom of Jesus – not the exact words of Jesus. Put another way, they left us a memorable oral tradition rather than the words of their Master on tape.” (pg. 20)

As far as academic standards are concerned [which is becoming more of an issues for me these days] the book, even with its flaws passes muster. The material is well-researched and of sound origin, with copious end notes, providing avenues for further study in each area, or a fact-check tool for those who may happen to question the given claims by the author. I can however say albeit with some reservation that this book has some aspects that would merit it’s reading by others, though not for a new believer. It’s a sufficient tool, as long as it’s supplemented in areas where it’s deficient, for those who desire to have a firm grasp on the evidence that proves the validity and truth of Scripture and how we can defend it.        

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

 

 

Book Review – “Finding Our Way Again” by Brian McLaren

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Romans 1:25 (NASB)

This was the passage of scripture that kept popping up in my head as I made my way through Brian McLaren’s book Finding Our Way Again; The Return to Ancient Practices. The concept of this series intrigued me, so when given the chance I began with the first book in the series, and to be honest I truly wish I would have skipped it and went straight to the second book. To say that this book is not a good read would be the understatement of the year. In fact I’m truly shocked and saddened that Thomas Nelson would even agree to print such a blasphemous work. It’s a tragedy on a Shakespearian level that this book is being presented as one that focuses on “Christian faith,” when the author openly advocates what can only be called a ‘Universalist Theology.’

Here several years ago I read an excellent little book by Dr. J.K. Jones entitled “What the Monks can Teach Us,” focusing on the pro’s and even con’s of the ancient monastic principles. I was hoping that this book would be somewhere along those lines but alas I was sadly disappointed. The first chapter of the book presents a somewhat compelling argument about how our faith has become a religion instead of a lifestyle,  but instead of calling for a radical change in life that focus’ on our personal relationship with God the book takes a nosedive down the tube of what I can only describe as quazi-self-help form of pseudo-Christianity.

The book primarily focuses on three concepts, and McLaren views them as foundational to a deeper spiritual life, Katharsis, Fotosis, and Theosis. Katharsis is us cleaning out our dirty selves while the other two focus on how we can move closer to God.

Not only do McLaren’s ideas appear to be a case of modern self-help/pop-psychology driven spirituality, they are diametrically opposed to the teachings of scripture. We don’t clean up our lives and then draw near to God, we draw near to God, as He draws near to us, we are convicted of our sins, repent of those sins, enter the waters of baptism and rise to newness of life, and there after strive to live a holy life, focused on serving and savoring God.   

As a minister, by far the most disappointing and disconcerting aspect of this book is the fact that McLaren openly advocates theological positions that that clearly stand in opposition to teachings of scripture.

I could literally spill gallons of ink on trees of paper documenting McLaren’s deficient theology, but for the sake of time I’ll only comment on a few of his more egregious errors.  

(1) “Abraham–like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad–had an encounter with God.” pg. 22 – for someone to place the false prophet Muhammad in the same category as Abraham and Moses is insulting, but to place him in the same category as Jesus is downright blasphemous, an act that is without excuse!  

(2) When speaking about Melchizedek he states “He is not a member of Abraham’s family or culture, nor is he a member of Abraham’s religion.” pg. 25 – apparently McLaren missed the fact that Melchizedek was a “priest of the God Most High,” the same God that was worshiped by Abraham, and consider his words to Abraham; “blessed be Abraham of the God Most High. cf.  Genesis 14: 18-19

(3) “the Jewish torah, Christian gospel, and Muslim deen–leads us toward the peace, wisdom, and joy we seek.” pg. 51 – Though the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Gospel are “God breathed” inspired teachings from Scripture cf. 2nd Timothy 3:16, as where the deen (Dīn) is the path along which righteous Muslims travel in order to comply with divine law, or Shari’a, and to the divine judgment or recompense to which all humanity must inevitably face without intercessors before the false god of Islam. Again to place the teachings of false religion in the same category with Scripture is without excuse!

(4) When God created everything, He said, “Let there be … the possibilities unfolded and flowered in a wild creative experiment we clumsily call evolution … and finally naked apes we know as homo sapiens.” pg. 175.  I don’t know if McLaren forgot to read the introduction… called Genesis, but creation wasn’t some experiment, it was ordered and perfect, and there was nothing clumsy about it. God spoke it into existence, without need of any change or modification. For someone who claims to be a Christian to advocate evolution, which served as the basis for some of the most egregious atrocities of human history, is again without excuse!     

I’ve always been a person who tries to find some redeeming factor in anything I read, alas with this book there is really nothing positive that I can say for it. It is yet another example of false teachings being presented as Biblical truth. The aim of the book is admirable, but through a cacophony of nonsense it completely misses the mark. End thought… read the series, but skip its introduction.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – “The Jesus Inquest” by Charles Foster

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile”

(1st Corinthians 15:17)

Over the years I have read many books that focus on the resurrection of Christ, coming from both sides of the theological spectrum, those that support the historicity of the resurrection of Christ and those who deny it. My most recent read on the subject, The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster has been quite an interesting one to say the least. Instead of being from a decidedly “pro” or “con” standpoint this work takes the form of a formal judicial argument, offering both sides of the story and then requiring the reader to draw the final conclusion. This in itself is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Most books that concentrate on historical facts, especially those dealing with religion are often presented in such a way as to ‘persuade’ the reader to accept the given author’s specific point of view. I’ve never seen this topic presented in such a way, it was a refreshing change of pace, I’m now wondering what the next controversial topic of discussion will be (hint to Charles Forster to produce another book)

The unique and fascinating layout of this book takes the following form…   

When the skeptic (X) introduces one of his positions there is a small annotation next to the heading which indicates on which page the believer (Y) gives his response.  For example, the discussion on the death of Jesus you find this heading:

The possibility that Jesus was crucified but did not die 

The superscripted “i” refers you to the page where Y directly responds to X’s positions.  Likewise the heading for Y’s positions has a notation referring you to X’s objection.

Foster is to be commended in the fact that he didn’t shy away from what many would call ‘unorthodox’ perspectives concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He tackles such issues as the “Shroud of Turin,” the “Jesus family tomb,” “the James Ossuary,” and a host of other relics, shrines, and intriguing aspects connected to the story. Throughout the book the author endeavors to tell both sides of the debate from as objective a standpoint as possible, but we all know that complete objectivity on any subject is something that eludes us all, for we are all in some way or another shaped and influenced by our environment.

For a book that openly questions ‘orthodox beliefs’, it does so in a way that is respectable to the other party involved and foments open academic discussion. Writers like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who are known for their belligerent opposition to Christianity would do good to take a lesson from Foster on how to engage those with whom you disagree.

This is a book that, while not what I would call a “page turner,” is one that is especially useful in the study of Christ’s resurrection. This is especially true as our culture becomes more and more hostile to the exclusive claims of Christianity. In the time in which we live it’s a necessity that Christians not only be well grounded in their faith, but have the ability to present persuasive arguments concerning those beliefs.  I’ll admit that I initially had a hard time getting into the book because of its format, but once I got used to it I was hooked. Now if you’re a person who enjoys a scholarly type read, (which I do) then this book will be right up your ally. I was also appreciative of the fact that Foster was diligent in citing his sources, and taking it one step further by including several appendices at the end of the book. On the other hand if you’re more into books that take more of a narrative format, this book will be a difficult read.

Did Jesus come back after he died on the cross? It is a totally legitimate question that each of us must answer, for how we answer this question will in some way influence how we answer all other questions we’re faced with in life. This book challenged me to re-examine ‘what’ I believe and ‘why’ I believe it. I enjoyed the book and hope he writes another.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.