“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!

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).

“The Lost History of Christianity” – Philip Jenkins

I’m enjoying (and learning!) from almost every page of Philip Jenkins’ outstanding book, The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died.  Here’s a paragraph which summarizes the thrust of the book:

ancient eastern tower

“For most nonexperts, Christian history after the earliest centuries usually conjures images of Europe.  We think of the world of Charlemagne and the Venerable Bede, of Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi, a landscape of Gothic cathedrals and romantic abbeys.  We think of a church thoroughly complicit in state power–popes excommunicating emperors, and inspiring Crusades.  Of course, such a picture neglects the ancient Christianity of the Eastern empire, based in Constantinople, but it also ignores the critical story of the religion beyond the old Roman borders, in Africa and Asia.  We suffer perhaps from using unfamiliar terms like Nestorian, so that the Eastern religious story seems to involve some obscure sect or alien religion rather than an extraordinarily vigorous branch of the Christian tradition.  Only by stressing the fully Christian credentials of these Asian-based movements can we appreciate the abundant fullness and diversity of the global church during the millennium after the Council of Nicea–and the depth of the catastrophe when those movements fell into ruin.  Anyone who knows the Christian story only as it developed in Europe has little inkling of the acute impoverishment the religion suffered when it lost these thriving, long-established communities.”

Clement of Alexandria’s Aesthetic Theology

Clement Alex

I just found out about the group Read the Fathers, and jumped right in.  We’re reading Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Heathen, and Clement’s extended musical metaphors soar!  Some excerpts from ch. 1:

“Behold the might of the new song!  It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts.  Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this song.  It also composed the universe into melodious order, tuned the discord of the elements to harmonious arrangement, so that the whole world might become harmony.”

“And He who is of David, and yet before him, the Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments, and having tuned by the Holy Spirit the universe, and especially man,–who, composed of body of soul, is a universe in miniature,–makes melody to God on this instrument of many tones; and to this instrument–I mean man–he sings accordant:  ‘For thou art my harp, and pipe, and temple.’–a harp for harmony–a pipe by reason of the Spirit–a temple by reason of the word; so that the first may sound, the second breathe, the third contain the Lord.”

“A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man, after His own image.  And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God.  What, then, does this instrument–the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song–desire?”

“The instrument of God loves mankind.”

“Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things; but inasmuch as He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song.”

“This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning … The Word, who was in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends.”

Pursuing Justice – Review

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsPursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is simply an outstanding book! Ken Wytsma has brought theological and practical depth to the contemporary Christian “justice” discussion. Ken recognizes that justice is a fad for many post-modern Christians, but Ken spends the first few chapters crafting a theology of justice firmly grounded in Scripture. What I appreciate most about Ken’s book is his measured approach. While he is clearly a passionate advocate for justice (through his work with World Relief, Food for the Hungry, and Kilns College), he brings Biblical balance and wisdom to his passion. So many “service projects” and “short-term mission trips” are just one-night stands with justice & mercy. After the mountain-top experience, we return to the well-worn ruts of our evangelical sub-culture, obedient consumers in the Church/Industrial Complex. Ken’s book will sustain those who desire to radically alter the pattern of their lives, answering the call to participate in the world-transforming work of a God who defines Himself by “justice” (Psalm 146:6-9). This was one of the huge revelations for me in this book–despite being a graduate student in theology, I had somehow missed the fact that justice is an attribute of God (Psalm 9:16). If we really want to know God, and imitate Him, we must pursue justice (Jeremiah 22:13-16). Ken is a wise guide for the journey.

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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.”)

Awakening of Hope – Review

The Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common FaithThe Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I respect what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is doing through Rutba House in Durham, NC, and through the New Monasticism movement.  I pray that more church leaders will follow his courageous and provocative example. Most church leaders stay secluded from the communities they live in, but Jonathan is busy getting his hands dirty in the real world. We’re both engaged in similar work, in the same part of the country, so I would consider I him an ally and a mentor. I share his vision, in general, though I suspect we would differ in some particulars. For instance, I’m not convinced that Christians should be pacifists, though I did find it interesting that the medieval church had rites of penitence and confession for returning soldiers (pg. 134). On other issues, such as women’s ordination and homosexuality, I’m afraid I must remain theologically old-school and “intolerant”. But, though I’m not a pacifist, I share Jonathan’s critique of the American military-industrial complex. Just because our government decides to go to war, does not make it “just.” Just because I believe homosexuality is sinful, does not mean I hate homosexuals. Rather, I believe we should welcome them into the church, as the only place to find true healing and healthy love.

On other issues, such as racial reconciliation and caring for the poor, Jonathan is putting us conservatives to shame. We sit comfortably in our pews, listening to yet another screed on the latest hot topic in the “culture wars,” while we neglect the poor down the road and only hang out with others of the same race. The stories that Jonathan tells are inspiring and moving. They encourage, and should provoke many American Christians to return to the ancient practices of community, eating together, making promises, thinking about where we live, fasting, making peace, and proclaiming the Gospel. It’s ironic that so many Christians can give a theologically-correct statement of the Gospel, yet it has so little effect on our lives. This book joins Davidd Platt’s “Radical” and J.D. Greear’s “Gospel” as essential reading for Christians looking to put feet on their faith.

May this little book speed the awakening of thousands more communities of genuine Hope!

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Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches (review)

Dirty God: Jesus in the TrenchesDirty God: Jesus in the Trenches by Johnnie Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m incredibly thankful for this new book from Johnnie Moore. I teach high school students, and I’m putting quotes from “Dirty God” on my whiteboard every week. With wit, humor, and an impressive array of international travel stories, Johnnie Moore reminds of what’s so “amazing” about grace, and why grace should utterly transform our lives. Moore leads a new generation of evangelicals who realize that God has a Mission in the world, and He expects the Church to leading the charge. I’m especially encouraged by Johnnie’s leadership at Liberty University, and hope this book is a sign of a re-directed focus for Liberty. For too long, conservative Christians have been dismissed as the “anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-liberal” faction of extremists. While I’m grateful for the courageous stand taken by Jerry Falwell and others, we need to get beyond that. We need to be known as re-builders of inner cities, rather than builders of huge churches.  We need to be known as extremists who befriend homosexuals and offer them the healing of the Gospel in a loving community. We need to be the radicals who come alongside teenage mothers help them care for their babies. We need to be notorious for our extravagant giving to the poor in developing countries, instead of giving millions to the “conservative lobby.” We don’t have much to show for decades of political pontificating. Johnnie calls us to join Jesus in the trenches, and I hope and pray that God would stir up His people to forsake the American Dream for the sake of the Kingdom Dream!

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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.”)