Jesus: A Short Life [Book Review]

Jesus: A Short LifeJesus: A Short Life by John Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a short, punchy, summary of what a large number of New Testament scholars and historians agree on regarding the historical Jesus. Although Dr. Dickson is a believing Christian and a pastor himself, he focuses the book on what we can know about Jesus from a purely historical perspective. Turns out we can establish quite a lot. Dickson’s main sparring partner in this project is Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is quite radical in rejecting large swaths of the New Testament as mythical. Spong is simply one among many of the never-ending stream of modern pundits and shock-scholars who try to re-invent Jesus every few years. Dickson counters with an array of scholarly opinions from various perspectives (not all are believers, and some are quite agnostic) to lay a foundation of historical bedrock for the life, mission, and aims of Jesus and his followers. The book is artfully bound and illustrated with paintings from many different historical eras, as well as pictures of archaeological sites and artifacts. Although now a decade old, this is still a valuable resource for anyone interested in the once-obscure Jew from Galilee who began a movement which has impacted the entire world.

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Christmas & the Imago Dei

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that God made humanity in the image and likeness of God. This is narrated in Genesis 1:26-28. Throughout history, scholars and theologians have debated what this means. At LAMP Seminary RDU, we’re currently reading Anthony Hoekema’s Created In the Image of God, which is a wonderful treatment of this sometimes controversial and confusing concept.

Hoekema

Hoekema (1913-1988) was long-time professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, and was a theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition. But, this book is not a dry and dusty tome of big theology words. Although there is some meaty content, Hoekema always brings his Biblical and theological insights to bear on the realities of practical life. He consistently surprises in showing how relevant the doctrine of the imago dei is. Our last “Mission Monday” post considered the inadequacy of the phrase “give a hand up, not a hand out,” with help from Professor Soong-Chan Rah. To build a solid theology of helping others, we need to understand the doctrine of the imago dei. And yes, this is related to Christmas. Hang with me until the end!

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Happy Columbus Day?

The wonderful thing about studying historical theology is that we can sometimes lose ourselves in the past and forget about the constant stream of superficial tripe that dominates the media. But, we often find the past impinges on the present in countless ways. Today marks “Columbus Day,” and I have no desire to delve into the political furor that surrounds it. I’d rather just quote a contemporary source. Martin Bucer (1491-1551) labored as a pastor in Strasbourg, trying to “reform,” or re-shape, the church according to his understanding of what the Bible taught.

Bucer

Bucer, like most of the other Protestant reformers, had a deep appreciation for church history and the church fathers, and so he also found inspiration for his activism through his encounter with the past. Bucer also labored strenuously to bring factions within the Christian world together. He wrote Concerning the True Care of Souls (Von der waren Seelsorge) in 1538, to encourage the city authorities in Strasbourg to take seriously their role in promoting moral purity and holiness in their churches, and in their city.

Part of Bucer’s agenda, of course, was to demonstrate the short-comings of the Roman church, which had previously held sway in Strasbourg and throughout medieval Europe. Seeing God at work in historical events was part of the sixteenth-century mindset, on all sides. Harsh criticism across religious lines was also the norm (the relative constancy of human nature is another fact we learn from the study of history!). So, Bucer routinely condemns the Roman church for their lack of true spiritual concern and for their preoccupation with worldly wealth and political power. We do not have to completely agree with Bucer’s diagnosis in order to appreciate his point of view. On this “Columbus Day,” his critique of colonial conquest (by countries which were still faithful to Roman church–primarily Spain) are particularly interesting. Bucer writes:

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“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!

“Christian Men Who Hate Women”

Christian Men Who Hate Women: Healing Hurting RelationshipsChristian Men Who Hate Women: Healing Hurting Relationships by Margaret J. Rinck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This needs to read and understood in the circles I tend to run in. We rightly stress the need for husbands and fathers to be strong leaders, but this can create situations where abuse and co-dependent relationships thrive. We need to talk about this in our churches, so that we can create cultures where these types of sins are recognized, repented of, and where true healing can occur.

I know this book has a provocative title.  Here’s a summary of the book for those who are curious.

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David Cook on Jihad

I’m really enjoying Professor David Cook’s (Rice University) book, Understanding Jihad. Prof. Cook is clearly knowledgeable, objective, and seems quite fair in his treatment. Nevertheless, he criticizes others for not being as honest or fair with the source material of Islam.  Cook presents extensive proof that militant jihad has been part of Islamic teaching and practice since the beginning.

“In conclusion, several important points need to be made about the ‘greater jihad’ [spiritual struggle]. The spiritual, internal jihad is the derivative form, and not the contrary.  This is clear from the absence of any mention of the ‘greater jihad’ in the earliest hadith books on the subject of jihad (it is entirely absent from the canonical collections and appears only in the genre of zuhd, asceticism, and then in comparatively later collections).  Nor does the ‘greater jihad’ find any mention in the later literature on jihad, except occasionally in the most perfunctory form.  It is also apparent that anyone who studies the subject of jihad has to wonder about the focus placed upon the spiritual warfare among contemporary Muslim apologists. Continue reading “David Cook on Jihad”

Muslim and Christian Scholarship

In Muslim vs. Christian arguments, I’ve heard it said that Muslim societies were much more advanced than medieval Western cultures.  Also, it’s claimed that we should thank Muslim scholars for preserving the classics of Greece for us.  Philip Jenkins has a different view.  In The Lost History of Christianity, Jenkins reminds of the history we never knew.  In particular, he writes:

“It is common knowledge that medieval Arab societies were far ahead of those of Europe in terms of science, philosophy, and medicine, and that Europeans derived much of their scholarship from the Arab world; yet in the early centuries, this cultural achievement was usually Christian and Jewish rather than Muslim.  It was Christians–Nestorian, Jacobite, Orthodox, and others–who preserved and translated the cultural inheritance of the ancient world–the science, philosophy, and medicine–and who transmitted it to centers like Baghdad and Damascus.  Much of what we call Arab scholarship was in reality Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, and it was not necessarily Muslim.  Syriac-speaking Christian scholars brought the works of Aristotle’s Topics from Syriac into Arabic, at the behest of the caliph.  Syriac Christians even make the first reference to the efficient Indian numbering system that we know today as ‘Arabic,’ and long before this technique gained currency among Muslim thinkers,” (The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, 18).