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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The Sacred Meal – Review

The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices SeriesThe Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series by Nora Gallagher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found Gallagher’s book simultaneously illuminating and infuriating. To start on a positive note, Gallagher definitely has a gift for writing. I’m used to reading fat books by scholars on this subject, but Gallagher brings a lot of wit and earthy wisdom to this topic. And, I’ll certainly agree that the scholars have muddied the waters quite a bit. Jesus told us to do something really simple, but we’ve managed to fragment this sacrament of unity into a hundred thorny questions. Gallagher’s catchy metaphors appropriately turn our attention away from whatever might be going on “inside” the bread, and she exhorts us to remember that “we” are the Body of Christ, when we gather as the Church. When we take communion, she exhorts us to “Look around you,” something I’ve said when I’ve administered communion. Don’t try to conjure up some deep, mystical experience–just look around at all other messed up people that God is in the process of healing. Gallagher has many wonderful stories about her experiences with partaking, and administering, communion–stories about real people being transformed by ancient rite. She helps us to look at this “ancient practice” from lots of new angles, and I think much of what she says is spot on and quite helpful.

But … there were a few parts which made me gag a little. I think Gallagher is far too quick to buy into the neo-liberal reading of Jesus which highlights Jesus’ supposed critique of “empire.” Now, I freely confess that we should do more to care for the poor. I confess that our government is not righteous. I acknowledge that there are more than a few unsettling analogies between America hegemony and the pagan Roman Empire. But, I’m just not convinced that this is the right way to read the Jesus narratives. However, I will agree enthusiastically with one of Gallagher’s conclusions: “So part of waiting in Communion is examining what we did last week to find the kingdom of heaven in our midst and to help others find it” (pg. 37).

A quibble–I didn’t really buy her imaginative reconstruction of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). I find Kenneth Bailey’s interpretation much more convincing (see Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, ch. 16).

Lastly, I believe Gallagher goes too far in her desire to be inclusive and welcoming. She writes: “Communion is so important to me that I don’t think there should be rules about who can take it and who cannot” (pg. 88). Now, I fully applaud the motive here. I’m trying to write a dissertation on some of the reasons why churches should celebrate the Supper more often. It’s important to me. But not more important than the Word of God. Gallagher doesn’t want to create “rules” about who can, and who can’t, take Communion (pg. 89). The only problem is that the Apostle Paul lays down some pretty tough rules in 1 Cor. 11:27-32. Perhaps Gallagher has some exegetical reasons for why Paul isn’t setting up some sort of “fence” around the Table. If so, it would have been nice to have those reasons summarized. She also appears to drive off the cliff of tolerance when she writes: “Thieves are welcome here, and embezzlers; so are murderers and prostitutes and sex abusers and those who have been or are abused … Everyone.” (pg. 92). Now, I agree that no sin should keep us away from the Table, but I would add that no sin we “repent” of, should keep us away. What about 1 Cor. 5:11? When Jesus refused to condone the stoning of the woman caught in adultery, he did not just dismiss her sin. He commanded her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8:11). The Eucharist is medicine for sick souls, and repentance (the process of turning away from sin) must be part of how approach the Table (Ro. 6:22).

I’m thankful to Gallagher for writing this book, and for forcing us to re-think a ritual that so many of us take for granted.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Washed and Waiting – Book Review

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and HomosexualityWashed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is is possible to be “gay” and a Christian? “Yes!”, answer the many Christians who openly practice their homosexuality and condemn conservative Christians as intolerant homo-phobiacs. Is it possible to be a Christian and wrestle with homosexual attractions, with no end in sight, no prospect of “healing”? Wesley Hill’s painfully honest book, Washed and Waiting, shows that this is indeed a reality for many gay Christians.

Let me admit that I took some time to open up to Hill’s perspective. I come from the Jay Adams, “Nouthetic Counseling” approach, informed by testimonies from the ex-gay movement exemplified by Exodus International and writers like Joe Dallas and Anne Paulk. My research so far has encouraged me in the belief that the people I know and love who are struggling with homosexuality can find healing and release from what I believe is emotional and sexual bondage. Then I read Hill’s moving book. Hill confesses his long struggle with homosexual attractions, and shares some of his victories (and his defeats). But he says repeatedly that he is still “waiting.” For him, the temptations are still present and the daily battle is intense. I think what finally won me over was Hill’s brutal honesty, as well as his unrelenting search for answers.

Although this is Hill’s first book, he is not a lightweight. There is plenty of theological substance here to wrestle through (he is pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Durham University). I really appreciated how he did not simply pull out a few proof-texts against homosexuality. Rather, he showed how sexual desire, longing, and brokenness are part of the New Testament narrative of fall and redemption. He writes:

“In the end, what keeps me on the path I’ve chosen is not so much individual proof texts from Scripture or the sheer weight of the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice. Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ–and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture … I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story” (pg. 61).

Hill powerfully argues for celibacy as the only option for gay Christians who are waiting for healing. In our sex-saturated culture, this is one of the most helpful parts on the book. We sometimes forget that Jesus Christ lived and ministered as a single, celibate man.

I’m very thankful for Wesley’s willingness to share his struggles with the world. Anyone who wants to understand how to better minster to those struggling with sexual brokenness needs to read this book!

(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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Transforming Cities, Transforming Churches

To Transform a CityTo Transform a City by Eric Swanson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned that I have some quibbles with this book.  My disagreements are minor, and I appreciate the humble spirit with which the authors present their models.  They make clear they are simply trying to start a discussion, not provide definitive answers.  The main problem I have is with their models on pgs. 16 and 17. 

They present the “traditional church model,” where the church is at the center of everything, and tries to draw in converts from the arts, the media, business, family, government, etc.  In opposition to this, they suggest a model where “Christians in the City” are at the center, and move into the spheres or the media, arts, government, education, etc. 

It’s hard to visualize this, but I would suggest tweeking this model.  I have in mind something where these two models are superimposed on each other.  Theologically and biblically, I think we must insist on the centrality of the Church.  The Church is what Christ died for.  We are His Body.  We are the New Humanity.  Since humanity was made to worship God, worship needs to be at the center.  However, I completely agree with Swanson and Williams that churches cannot just focus on building up their own programs and their own membership rolls.  Worship should transform us, and we should go out each Monday into whatever sphere God places us and seek to transform it as well.  We can’t do this as individual churches.  We need to work together.  Different churches have different strengths.  My particular church and denomination is really into education and scholarship.  We’re pretty weak in evangelism and outreach. 

So, my praise for this book really outweighs my criticism.  But, just as John Piper reminded us about the centrality of worship when we think about missions (missions exist because worship doesn’t!) so I think we need to meditate on the centrality of worship when we seek to love our cities and be agents of kingdom-transformation.

(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.)