“The Cross & the Prodigal”

 

cross and prodigal

At Cary Christian School, I occasionally try to summarize the findings of New Testament scholars in a way that shows the relevance for studying Biblical Greek.  Kenneth Bailey has done ground-breaking work in what he calls “Middle Eastern” Biblical interpretation. He argues that we need to read the Bible through Middle Eastern eyes if we are to truly understand it. His reading of the familiar story of the “Prodigal Son” in Luke 15 is especially helpful as we discuss the Bible with our Muslim friends.

Here’s the power-point presentation.  But, don’t stop there–get the book for yourself!

Two Triumphal Entries?

Came across this intriguing thought by Marcus Borg, in The Meaning of Jesus:  Two Visions, a book he co-wrote with N.T. Wright.  He doesn’t provide any references to back up this claim, but it’s an amazing contrast if it really happened, and highlights Jesus’ threat to Caesar.  Describing Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry,” as recorded by Mark, Borg writes:  “At approximately the same time, the Roman governor Pilate, with all the pomp and power of empire, would have been entering Jerusalem from the west at the head of a squadron of Roman cavalry” (81).

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens – Review

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of ScriptureHow to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture by Michael Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this book! I copied the chapter on Exodus and gave it to my students at the Christian school where I teach. Michael Williams goes through each book of the Bible, and somehow manages to capture how Christ fulfills the central themes of each book. But, this is no mammoth scholarly tome. This is an immensely practical book, and each chapter ends with “hook questions” that help to apply the Christological implications of each book in the Bible to our lives.

This book is designed to help students of the Bible recognize the broad theme of each Biblical book and see how it is fulfilled in Christ. Below the title of each chapter is a phrase which summarizes the theme of the Biblical book. For instance, under “Exodus” we find “Deliverance into Presence.” After an introductory paragraph, which outlines the historical background of the book. Then, we find the theme of Exodus: “God delivers his people from slavery into his presence.” After a paragraph summarizing the highlights of Exodus, we find a memory verse: Ex. 29:46. Williams has selected memory passages from each book which both epitomize the Biblical book, and are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Williams typically follows the memory verse with a paragraph discussing the spiritual significance and themes of the Biblical book under consideration. Then, we get to Jesus, with “The Jesus Lens” section. Williams shows how Christ fulfills the themes of the books, resolves tensions, answers questions, and provides additional meaning. At this point, we can marvel at the intricate story that God has been writing throughout redemptive history. Williams then moves into pastoral theology, showing how our salvation and spiritual struggles follow the same patterns as the Old Testament narratives.

All good theology must be applied, and so Williams ends each chapter with “Contemporary Implications,” relating Biblical themes to our world and our experience. Lastly, Williams provides a few “Hook Questions” which bring these great truths and themes to an intensely personal level. These questions reveal much about our own sinfulness, and how much we fail to live out the grand story that God has written for us. But, Williams ends with a paragraph of pastoral encouragement, reminding us of God’s faithfulness and abiding love.

Although each chapter is short, I believe this book should be part of every pastor’s, teacher’s, and Christian’s, library. I say this because I have found that many Christians have no idea how the Old Testament applies to us now (especially the youth I’ve taught over the years). Williams’ book should help fill this lacuna in the contemporary Church.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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Review – Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the GospelsJesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is amazing! Bailey lived for 60 years in the Middle East, and has literally lived through the Bible story. The book begins with a stunning study, which presents a convincing case that Jesus was actually born in a house (since many poor, Middle Eastern homes actually have mangers in the house!). I won’t give away the rest of his argument, but I did want to share another tid-bit that lept out at me.

Speaking of the Magi, and who they might have been, he writes: “In the 1920s a British scholar, E.F.F. Bishop, visited a Bedouin tribe in Jordan. This Muslim tribe bore the Arabic name al-Kokabani. The word kokab means “planet” and al-Kaokabani means “Those who study/follow the planets.” Bishop asked the elders of the tribe why they called themselves by such a name. They replied that it was because their ancestors followed the planets and traveled west to Palestine to show honor to the great prophet Jesus when he was born. This supports Justin’s [Justin Martyr – ca. 165 A.D.:] second-century claim that the wise men were Arabs from Arabia,” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 53).

****
So, I’ve finally finished this! It took about three years to read, mostly because I had to fit it into the cracks of my teaching and graduate school schedule. But, it was well worth it. Bailey’s insights probably need to be digested over a long period of time anyway, since they are so paradigm-changing.  Nearly every chapter had moments of truly deep insight, combined with pastoral applications throughout. I can’t recommend this highly enough! Every pastor needs to read it, to avoid recycling some common misnomers about the Bible.

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Dictionary of Christian Spirituality – Review

Dictionary of Christian SpiritualityDictionary of Christian Spirituality by Glen G. Scorgie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mentioning “spirituality” makes the typical conservative Christian think of meditation, saying the Jesus Prayer, and similar practices which sound suspiciously New-Age. But, this new Dictionary of Christian Spirituality should dispel such notions. The authors are firmly grounded in Biblical theology, and find their moorings in the Evangelical tradition. At the same time, they welcome the truths that other traditions have emphasized.

The book is divided into two parts: (1) a series of integrative essays on the discipline and history of spiritual theology, and (2) the Dictionary proper, which includes a vast array of entries on all aspects of Christian spirituality.

Overall, this is a welcome addition to any scholar’s or pastor’s library. Interested Christians will also find a wealth of thoughtful, and practical, material. The volume is huge (a mere 852 pages!), but it is bound well, and is designed with a view to aesthetic layout.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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King Jesus Gospel – Review

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News RevisitedThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, is a keeper. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best theological books I’ve ever read. Part of what makes it exciting is that McKnight is excited himself! You can sense his energy and his joy in his subject, as he leads us step-by-step through his own theological development. It takes some work to read Jesus in his own context, and McKnight is patient with us.

I used this book in my classes at a Christian school, to help bolster my case that Christians should read the Old Testament more. My students were honest in their admission that they don’t read the Old Testament much, and don’t see the point. McKnight argues that, unless we understand the story of Israel, we cannot really understand Jesus.

I appreciated his critique of the Reformation, his insistence that we learn about the early church, and his endorsement of prayer-books and creeds. If you don’t see how those are connected with Jesus in first-century context, you’ll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!

My only real question concerns the “contextualization” question. McKnight presents a solid case that Apostolic preaching looked like thus-and-such. Basically, the preaching of Peter and Paul was dramatically different than our “four spiritual laws” presentations and arm-twisting methods of “gospel” persuasion. Granted. But, Peter and Paul were preaching to a largely Jewish culture. Even when Paul is writing to sort out problems between Jews and Gentiles, he’s still working within Jewish categories. When we take the Gospel to Africa, do we still stress every aspect of Old Testament history as much as the Apostles did? Stephen’s speech in Acts wouldn’t seem to work so well in remote jungles. I hope McKnight will take this up in another book.

Overall, this is a splendid book, and I hope it will help to shake up the anemic and shallow American church!

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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The Heresy of Orthodoxy

The Heresy of OrthodoxyThe Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J. Kostenberger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really helpful, and scholarly, treatment of the claims made by radical skeptics like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels about the reliability of the New Testament text, and the formation of the canon. I might be a little prejudiced (since I took a class from Dr. Kruger at RTS-Charlotte), but I hope this book finds a wide readership. Unfortunately, it will probably be ignored by the liberal gate-keepers of the media.  But, for those who are serious about pursuing truth and good scholarship, this is essential reading!

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