“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!

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Fathers, We Need to Step Into our Role

Father_Hunger

Doug Wilson’s new book, Father Hunger, packs a large punch.  I feel two strange sensations at the same time–I feel like someone just hit me in stomach and knocked the wind out of me, and I also feel someone’s strong hand on my shoulder, preventing me from falling over completely.  After 9 years of fatherhood and four kids later, I’ve made my share of mistakes.  I’m glad I got this book now, rather than when I am 50.  By the grace of God, I hope its wisdom can motivate me to do more, and rely more on the grace of God.  I’ll be posting some highlights for a while …

“The role of a father as a provider and protector is not an arbitrary assignment given to an arbitrarily selected group, regardless of any other consideration.  Here is the mandate given to Adam (Gen. 2:15)–God wants men both to work and to protect.  Work has to do with nurture and cultivation, while protection refers to a man’s duty to be a fortress for his family.  We find a working definition of masculinity in the first few pages of the Bible.

When men take their responsibilities to nurture and cultivate, and to protect and guard the fruit of that nurture and cultivation, they are doing something that resonates with their foundational, creational nature.  When they walk away from these responsibilities, in a very real sense they are–don’t miss this–walking away from their assigned masculine identity” (8-9).

A Theology of Luke and Acts – Review

A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, Realized for All Nations (Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series)

Darrell Bock’s new volume on Luke-Acts caps over 30 years of his academic work. As part of a series of survey/commentaries devoted to Biblical Theology, Bock shows how Luke and Acts both take up Old Testament themes, showing their culmination in the person and work of Jesus Christ and in the life of New Testament Church. Bock shows how the mission of Jesus continues in the Church, and how the predominance of the Holy Spirit in Acts shows the Trinitarian development of the Old Testament story. I found Bock’s book to be an ideal balance of scholarship and practical application. Bock has obviously done his homework, and the bibliographies and footnotes give the interested reader plenty of material to work through. But, this is not a dense commentary–Bock keeps returning to points of application and relevance to the Christian life, always keeping the focus on Jesus Christ.

For the purposes of the Zondervan blog tour, I focused on Ch. 17, “Women, The Poor, and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts.” Other scholars have noted Luke’s focus on women in his gospel, which is all the more interesting, given the lower status they occupied in the ancient world. Bock notes the prominence of women in Luke, without venturing into liberal feminism. Bock shows how Jesus affirmed the dignity of women repeatedly, and how Luke stresses this. Most interesting is that all the Gospels present women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. This is striking when we read the Jewish sources that prohibited women from bearing witness in court cases (except in exceptional circumstances). If the gospel writers were trying to convince a hostile audience that a condemned and crucified man was the Messiah, surely they could have modified the story for better PR?

Bock also highlights Luke’s attention on the poor in Luke-Acts. Again, Bock shows how Luke charts a middle path between liberation theology, and neglect of the poor. Luke shows how Jesus fulfills OT expectations of God’s care for the poor, without turning mercy ministry into a political revolutionary manifesto. While there is much more to be said here (I’m thinking of some of John Howard Yoder’s insights), Bock shows how Luke offers a different nuance from Matthew in this regard: “This is why Jesus issues a beatitude for the poor in Luke 6:20. It is clear from the woes that follow that this use of ‘the poor’ is not merely or exclusively spiritual. This is not Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit.’ There is a social dimension to this group as the woes to the rich that follow in Luke 6:24-26 are not to the ‘rich in spirit’ but to the materially wealthy” (pg. 355). So, Luke seems to stress the social implications of Jesus’ preaching and actions more than the other gospel writers.

In summary, Bock’s volume is an excellent resource for scholars, pastors, seminary students, and motivated readers.

(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.)

Your Church is Too Safe – Review

Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-DownYour Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down by Mark Buchanan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mark Buchanan is fast becoming one of my favorite Christian authors.  His book, Spiritual Rhythm, was spiritual and pastoral prose of the highest order. Buchanan is clearly a gifted writer–honest, God-soaked and reveling in life, even in the dirt and filth of humanity.  But, Mark Buchanan knows a secret and he’s letting everyone in on it–the local Church is God’s plan for redeeming this dirty world!  This is the burden of his latest book, Your Church Is Too Safe. He urges us to come out of  our “Christian ghettos” and to assault the powers of darkness.  Buchanan is brutally honest about his struggles, his church’s struggles, and the weakness of so many churches. However, these pages also shine with stories of love, forgiveness, and transformation … vignettes of a marvelous drama unfolding in Pastor Mark’s church. Other churches are getting it as well, and are beginning to live dangerously. Read this book at your own risk! If you let the Biblical and practical wisdom of this book penetrate your defenses, you might find your life (and hopefully your church) turned upside down … which means it will actually be right-side up.

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(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.  You might question that, given how positive my reviews of recent Zondervan books have been.  Oh well.  Zondervan has just been publishing some remarkable books!  Kuddos to them.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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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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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