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!

Continue reading “Christmas & the Imago Dei”

“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!

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).

“Bread & Wine” – An Invitation to Life Around the Table … with recipes!

Bread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the TableBread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shauna Niequist‘s new book, Bread & Wine, radiates joy and delight in life. Even as she recounts stories of pain, even of tragedy, her delight in God’s good world shines through. This is an honest book, about real life. Central to Shauna’s life, and to us all, is food. A revolutionary thought, I know. We all eat, but Shauna invites us to eat, and COOK, with intentionality. We are not just consumers–we are also creators, designed by the Ultimate Creator to imitate his divine Art in our own creative works. Each chapter is a short narrative around a theme, which closes with a delightful recipe. Shauna is a realist, so the recipes are filled with practical suggestions for making them, well, practical!

I’m actually still reading the book, because my wife started reading and put it in her stack of books and I couldn’t get to it!  Here’s Cynthia’s summary: “Bread and Wine is such a fun read! Rich yet practical, jolly yet vulnerable, the book was difficult to put down. Bread and Wine captures the heart of the table as it is meant to be, while helping us along the way with a smattering of recipes and a touch of structure. Far from demanding, Bread and Wine meets the reader right where they are, and invites them to come with hungry hearts and hungry bellies.”

Perhaps it’s best to end with Shauna’s own words:  “But I do want you to love what you eat, and to share food with people you love, and to gather people together, for frozen pizza or filet mignon, because I think the gathering is of great significance.

“When you eat, I want you to think of God, of the holiness of hands that feed us, of the provision we are given every time we eat.  When you eat bread and you drink wine, I want you to think about the body and the blood every time, not just when the bread and wine show up in church, but when they show up anywhere–on a picnic table or a hardwood floor or a beach” (17).

“Learn little by little, meal by meal, to feed yourself and the people you love, because food is one of the ways we love each other, and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather” (51).

Incidentally, Shauna mentions her musician husband Aaron, and he’s doing fine work in bringing ancient Christian prayers into a new expression.  Check out his projects at A New Liturgy!

[The publisher provided a free copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.]

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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.”)