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Showing posts from 2011

A Thrilling Journey

Being unfamiliar with Brouwer's work, I dove into this novel with a bit of reluctance. Although my cautious manner remained, I appreciated the story. I ended up finishing the book in one day as I was enthralled by the story line. Just to be upfront, I thought the story moved very fast and the action also. Although some of the plot details were a little bit contrived, the whole of the story had a good resolution and end.




The story begins with Crockett Grey, a teacher of high school students for adaptive learning. What we find out early on is that he wins the trust of most of his students by his care for them. Also, we find out that he is a divorced dad of a five year old Mickey, but also lost his little girl Ashley when she was young. Down on his luck, Crockett seems to always be looking for that glimmer of hope, that time with his son and time to make a difference in his teaching. In comes Jaimie, one of Grey's students, disheveled but also having something that none of the ot…

Bumpersticker Theology

Recently I have been scanning the parking lots at the local stores in our area for bumper stickers.  It seems nowadays everyone voices their opinions with a catchy phrase or witty saying on the back of their car.  What I find most amusing is the vast number of bumper stickers seeking to make a theological or religious claim, most notably from those who see this world going to hell and a handbasket.  Particularly, I find the bumper sticker 'Keep Christ in Christmas' most amusing.  Why?

For one thing, the simple assertion that Christ was taken out of Christmas is absurd.  Now, I get the messsage behind the words.  This or that person is claiming that our culture, its schools, politics, media, and messages seek to remove anything that is moral and anything that smacks of Christian beliefs.  Well, let's think about that for a minute.  Although there is often a hostile attitude towards the credibility of religious beliefs in our culture, doesn't our culture also claim to be…

A Year with Jesus

I am not usually a huge fan of devotionals, not because they are not helpful for devotional practice, but usually they offer sentimentalisms that are neither biblical or helpful. Yet, I found this devotional by R.P. Nettlehorst very beneficial on both sides. For one, how can you go wrong with centering on the actual words and actions of Jesus. Often, as we read through the Bible we tend to focus on the passages that we love or that we most gravitate towards and fail to focus on the passages that are hard and difficult to understand. Nettlehorst does a good job at focusing on the key events and teachings of Jesus in the gospels and their significance. He does not get into sentimental over-spiritual garbage but is intent on drawing out the key applications about the text.




What I really enjoyed about this devotional was the various things Nettlehorst incorporates in each day's readings. For instance, on Day 226 Nettlehorst explains the background of the Decapolin in relation to Jesus…

Dug Down Deep

Joshua Harris, author of such books I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl has written a much different, inherently valuable book on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. He has packaged them in a way that is both accesible and enriching. Early on in the book, he tells the story of his upbringing by saying, "The bottom line was that my parents faith wasn't really my faith...I knew the Christian lingo but my heart wasn't in it" (4-5). He went onto play the blame game for a while pawning off his criticisms of the faith to others all the while never actually engaging the big questions of faith. As Harris moves on in the early chapters, he makes the point that not only does everyone have a theology, but having a theology is emminently practical. Harris writes, "Messed-up theology leads to messed-up living" (12). There is a direct connection between what we believe and how we live, for knowledge and affections are consequential to living rightly or wrong…

Poetic Genius

Rarely do you come across a book, or a book of poems that is shaped by a keen sensitivity to language and a profound story. The Sin-Eater by Thomas Lynch is 24 carefully crafted poems focusing on the life of Argyle, a sin-eater in Ireland. As other reviews have noted, a sin-eater is a man who comes to funerals for a six pence and stands over the deceased eating a loaf of bread and drinking a bowl of beer and thereby taking the sins of the dead upon himself. In doing this the sin-eater alleviates the dead from undue time in purgatory. Much like the scapegoat in the OT, the sin-eater was a wanderer after the act of sin-eating was done, roaming for the next place to act. Even though the subject matter can be at times grotesque and morbid, the poems were brilliant because they captured the culture and geography of Ireland, but more importantly they sought to bring together the internal struggle of a man caught between the church (its priest and rites) and the people he cares for. This kin…

Excellence in Proper Perspective

After finishing Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholary Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger, I am still awestruck by the way Dr. Kostenberger brought to bear the twin ideas of excellence being found in God and basing our scholarly virtues on Him. This seems sort of like an obvious statement, but I have never read a book that deals so biblically and faithfully with scholarly virtue and God. Most times what you get from a book about scholarly virtues is concepts related to philosophy and Greek thinking, but Kostenberger rightfully situates scholarly virtues in the character of God. How does he do this? Kostenberger writes, "Undergirded by the grace of God, we will make progress in our pursuit of excellence as we add to our faith the various virtues discussed throughout this book" (28). The virtues themselves that the author is talking about fall into line with the various headings: vocational, moral, foundations and relational excellence.




One of the best things…

The Aims and Goal of a Good Book Review

Recently I did a quick search on http://www.amazon.com/ to look up Peter Leithart's newest book, Defending Constantine.  Having been wading through the book on my own, I was wanting to see what other readers had to say about this particular work.  To my dismay, some of the reviewers took the opportunity to lambast Leithart because of his theological agenda all the while ignoring his textual and historical arguments in regards to Constantine.  There is nothing wrong with being critical about another person's work, especially in the realm of academic reviewing and writings.  Yet, in providing a review even for a consumer website like Amazon, we must not be content with haphazardly reviewing a book (not reading the entire book) and attacking the theological programme behind the work while leaving to the side the arguments contained in the book. On a consumer site like Amazon or other consumer websites, reviews are not meant to be in-depth scholarly reviews of the latest literatur…

Doing Battle with Dragons

Dragon Slayers by Joyce Denham and Roger Snure is a wonderful book for children ages 9-12. Being an adult, I was not sure how I would receive the book. Yet, as I began reading, the book came to life as a resource in the battle of spiritual warfare. To start with, the book is very attractively put together, from the cover emblem of a warrior in battle to the maps in the inside and back covers. Secondly, the illustrations by Roger Snure are fabulous. The artwork depicts the ensuing dragon (vice or sin) as a compelling creature calling its victim to do battle. I had a good laugh with the dragon named Braggen who is seen with two heads waving his finger at himself with proud stature (Braggen, tempts you to brag about yourself, 68-69). Next, the book's layout is very suitable for digesting the main content of exposure to the method of the dragon and the practice of arming yourself against him.




I was very pleased with the material involved with each dragon. For instance, in the section…

A Vision of God's Glory

Rev. Sean Michael Lucas, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, Mississippi has written a timely, well-researched and edifying book on New England's greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards. Before I go on, I must divulge that I cut my teeth on the work of Jonathan Edwards in Lucas' class at seminary (Edwards was not an easy read then, nor is he now). Yet, the vision that Lucas casts concerning the life and work of Edwards is full in scope and touches upon both the life, ministry, and vision of Edwards. Reminiscent of John Murray's book title, Lucas' book is divided into two sections, the first being on redemption history (Edwards' biblical theology from creation to consummation), and the second is Redemption Applied (how does the fact of God's sovereign glory and grace through redemption apply to the workings and lives of the church and its people). Instead of a dry, arid and scholastic work, Lucas displays the essential elements of Edwards theologic…

Hope Through Suffering

Pastor Brady Boyd's book entitled Fear No Evil: A Test of Faith, a Courageous Church, and an Unfailing God is quite a tremendous work. Boyd, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the place of a gunman entering and killing people, has written here of his experience with tragedy and the hope that God does not leave his people. The tragic events were preceded by the scandal of Ted Haggard prior to Brady Boyd's coming on board.


One of the best chapters of the book is Boyd's chapter entitled Disney Doesn't Do Christianity. Boyd intimates early on that a Christianity that offers all that you could possibly want with no cost is just the type of belief system that Christianity is not. Rather, as Boyd says, "But as I mentioned earlier, suffering is what we were promised, both by Jesus and by the apostle Paul" (107). Rather than shirking from the possibility of suffering, Christianity is bound up with the idea that suffering is part of the promise as we believ…

Praying in Black and White

Praying in Black and White by Andy and Sybil MacBeth is an important book on getting men to lead lives of prayer and learn some of the tools of prayer. In the book, Sybil writes one chapter and Andy another, dividing up between practices of prayer, obstacles, and joys of prayer. One of the sections that I found most helpful was Andy's chapter on How Men Learn. He writes, "An individual can practice most of the prayer methods suggested in this book, but learning them with a group can give us an ongoing network for encouragement and accountability" (27). This sentence in the book rang true to the core for me. In difficult times when prayer becomes a struggle and life hits you from out of nowhere, having a group for encouragement is essential. I especially like this part because guys have a tendency to draw back from groups, to go the lone ranger, when in effect, all this does is fester isolation and feelings of disappointment. Reaching out to others in the spirit of prayer…

The Foundation of a Movement

In Rodney Stark's book For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery he draws a conclusion near the end of the book on his chapter on God's Justice that is very revealing.  He writes concerning abolitionism in American and in general by saying, "This example (Samuel Sewall's publication of Selling Joseph) demonstrates a fundamental sociological principle: publications don't launch social movements; people do" (339).  This statement seems overtly obvious in tone and content, yet it carries with it great truth.  Reformation of thought and deed do not take place on the altar of the ink pen, but rather at the blood, sweat, and tears of great people.  Why is this so?  For many people, reading a publication is much more about absorbing ideas and knowledge than take specific actions as a result of the principles embedded in writing.  Although great principles about the horrific nature of slavery were given due…

Getting into Mark's Gospel

When you get the opportunity to teach from or about the Scriptures, the situation pushes you to get to know the particular book or passage of the Bible in an even greater way.  I am doing a teaching time coming up on the Gospel of Mark and have been utterly amazed at the message and teaching of Jesus throughout the gospel.  Generally in NT scholarship, the narrative is divided up between the 1:1-8:26 and 8:27-16:8.  The break in these sections is predicated on the idea that up to 8:27 Jesus is seen as a miracle worker, one who has authority over the forces of nature and one who calls his followers into a relationship with him.  The themes of both discipleship and authority permeate the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus garners authority through his power over the sickesses that ravage humankind (leprosy, paralytic, withered hand) and speaks as one who has authority.  The peoples amazement at his teaching as one who has authority is in direct opposition to those scribes who taught in the synagogu…

The Uniqueness of Jesus

Recently I have been re-reading a book that I read a few years ago focusing on Jesus.  The book Who Do You Say That I Am? Christology and the Church is edited by Donald Armstrong and combines essays from Anglican thinkers from Alister McGrath to N.T. Wright.  While I was reading the last chapter entitled Christ and His Church by the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, I came across a statement by Carey that was particularly illuminating.  Carey writes, "The true Jesus who is exposed in the Gospels is a far more complex character.  His cryptic sayings, his elusive parables, his mysterious silences, his commanding presence - this extraordinary ministry was punctuated with a language of violence against the callousness of the conventional world" (127-128).  At one hand, Carey hints at the truth that Jesus couldn't be nailed down as to his philosophy, his sole mission, or his specific teachings.  Jesus was elusive in the sense that the people whom he ministered to …

Dostoevsky in Rare Form

Peter Leithart has written an imminently readable and entertaining biography of one of Russia's greatest fiction writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Written in the form of a dialogue between Dostoevsky and a friend, this book winds through history, Dostoevsky's influnces, family life, and personality. What you find as begin to read the book is rare book that is able to inform while also keep you interested.




Leithart, being well acquainted with theology and literature writes early on that Dostoevsky was early on encouraged to read the Bible through a book of gospel stories (7). Growing up with a strict father and a gentle mother, Fyodor enjoyed playing in the fields alongside the great privlege of listening to stories. Leithart mentions that Fyodor's father was adamant about passing on the Orthodox faith to his children. Early on Leithart writes, "Fyodor loved the evenings, after dinner, when Dr. Dostoevsky would take out one of Ann Radcliffe's haunting tales that made Fyod…

Mission and Social Justice

Having read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung, I was somewhat familiar with DeYoung's main message and points concerning the church and social justice. Yet, this new work by DeYoung and Greg Gilbert entitled What is the Mission of the Church was a welcome addition to the discussion regarding the church's mission, message, and goal. Both authors locate the mission of the church early on in the book as, "..the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations" (26). This substantial yet clear defintion undergirds their whole book as pinpointing mission, social jusitice and the church under the central focus of proclamation, discipleship, and bearing witness to Jesus. This definition might seem oddly enough a too simplistic aim. Yet, as Gilbert and DeYoung indicate, this definition of the church has been missed by many in the church seeking to replace other avenues of thought and action such as building the …

Grief and God's Grace

Robert Bugh in his new book entitled When the Bottom Drops Out has written a timely, deeply moving book about grief and dealing disappointment through God's grace. Many books on grief focus narrowly on a specific focus (losing a loved one, abuse, divorce, etc.) but I think this book really covers the gamut of the various griefs tha human beings face. In the very first chapter Robert tells the story of how his wife Carol and best friend Tom died very close together and how painful it was. He writes, "Initally, we thought we might beat her cancer, but during the last four months of her life we knew Carol was fighting a losing battle" (23). The deep pains of realizing that the person you most love in the world is gone is earth-shattering, enough to push a person into the depths of despair. Yet, as Robert continually calls his readers back to; pain and grief are real but God is also sovereign over all things.




The best thing I liked about this book was its honest approach of …

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

This collection of poems, short stories, historical rememberings, and prayers is a great guide to seeing gratitude displayed in written form. From the short poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and William Blake to the short stories by Louisa May Alcott and Sister Bridget Haase, withi. these pages are reminders that thankfulness to God and to others is not limited by time and circumstance. Rather, thankfulness, the act of being thankful should cover over all of life, keeping us from wallowing in guilt, self-pity and meaninglessness.




One of my favorite parts of the book was the short story by Sister Bridget Haase about a time when she was living in West Virginia. The story really tugged at my heart because of the message that explains at the end of the book. Without giving away the story, she writes about her experience with a family as poor as they come in the state of West Virginia and how the family exhibits thankfulness beyond measure as she sits down with them for a Thanksgiving meal.…

Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Recently there has been a whole spate of works devoted to a theological interpretation of scripture.  The two works edited by Kevin Vanhoozer are a collection of articles on the New and Old Testaments taken from the much larger Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (896 pages).  Just doing a cursory search on Amazon will yield a number of works by Stephen Fowl, Dainer Treier, J. Todd Billings, and Christopher Seitz.  This emphasis on the theological character of Scripture is a welcome response to the ever increasing field of biblical and theological studies.  In seeing the proliferation and expanse of works devoted to the topic of theological interpretation and the Bible, one must ask why the surge of works at this particular time?  Secondly, should we assume that this interpretive stance (theological angle) be just another voice in the crowd and will die down shortly?

Although the cultural milieu we live in still shakes it wary finger at any substantive truth claim r…

The Life of an Average Joe

Troy Meeder's book Average Joe is a real hard look at the lives of everyday men, or average joes as he likes to phrase it. The book is chalk full of stories about how men make it their best to succed in life, to become godly men through trials and temptations. Early on in the book he writes that every man has a time in their life when they make the change from boyhood to manhood. For some, it is marriage and kids, for others its the military or graduation (9). I can still remember the time when I graduated college and was going to get married the nexth month, that was a huge change for me. Troy indicates that this type of change is necessary for the role of a man to be complete, for his leadership to take root.




His chapter on the hole is a chapter that was very important to the tenor of the whole books. We try so hard as individuals to fill our lives with work, recreation, relationships to fill some strong need for fulfillment and yet these things let us down. Meeder points out t…

Visions of Mary

In receiving this books from Paraclete Press for review, I was not sure what to think of Medjugorje. Being an orthodox Protestant in the Reformed tradition, I am not exposed to visions and revelations from apostles or women of the Scriptures, nor do I seek out these experiences. Even while not fully grasping the place of Mary in Catholic teaching, nor understanding why there is so much attention placed on her, I was not pushed away in reading this book. The book, entitled Medjugorje: What's Happening written by Father James Mulligan is an indepth at the purported visions given by Mary, the mother of Jesus to six people living in Medjugorje, a town in the region of Bosnia-Hercegovinia. What is great about this book is that the author tries to get into the background of how these visions came about, and how the town was for many years preparing itself for these visions through one of the Franciscan priests in the area (Fr. Tomislav Vlasic), through the predictions of Mate Sego (a ki…

Our Last Great Hope

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas has written a timely and challenging book to incorporate the Great Commission in the lives of every believer. In some ways, this book was not a new idea at all, but an old idea of following the Great Commission call into every part of life. Yet, even as many have tread the waters of evangelism in practice and through church, the church still needs to hear the call to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. If we can only gain the wisdom of someone who has laid their life on the line for Jesus, then I think Ronnie's wisdom is enough. Early on in the book, he writes, "When God hands out careers and directs the courses of lives, He is purposeful. Ronnie goes on to bear witness that in his corner of the world Tyson Foods, Walmart and J.B. Hunt all have part of their headquarters there. Part orkpof the church's ministry was to minster to corporate leaders in the area. In other words, the task of the Great …

Living More Simply

Real Simplicity written by Randy and Rozanee Frazee is a sweeping gust of wind by the pipes of our break-neck speed lives. The Frazees intend to get their readers to not only live more simply but realize their hectic lives are in large part due to their own choices. The wisdom in this book is not about remvoing oneself from society to live in a hermitage, but rather living more simply in every area of our lives.




In the second chapter, Randy Frazee makes the point that community is the lifeblood of every believer. Not only is community a necessary component of healthy growth (personal, spiritual, physical and moral) but community is found in the original design of creation. Frazee says, "We are, after all, created with a connection requirement" (37). No, this connection requirement referred to her is not the internet. It is none other than a life and blood relationship with others, bearing with each other's burdens and sharing life together. Overall, this point is well t…

Hospitality as a Way of Life

Radical Hospitality, written by a Benedictine monk and laywoman(a mother also) is a treasure chest full of wisdom and encouragement. We have gotten far off track in the West with our individual lives separated from not only our neighbors but also strangers we meet. Father Homan and Lonni Pratt call us back to bringing a hospitable life to bear to everyone we meet. Rather than being a book of how-to's and don't do it this ways, we find a work rich in illustrations and examples of learning hospitality even through our weakness.




The authors begin the first chapter narrowing their glance at what it means to be hospitable. They write, "Hospitality does not focus on the goal of being hospitable. It is not about the offering hospitality. Instead, it is singularly focused on the object of hospitality-the stranger, the guest, the delightful other" (17). Instead of drawing up a list of activities for the guest to do, we find solace in seeking to focus on the one coming to our…

On Literature and Culture

Words made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture by Larry Woiwode


Although not being familiar with Woiwode’s works of fiction nor his essays, this book was a welcome treat to read. First, in this collection of essays, we see Woiwode’s keen eye for the details of literature in the likes of both Wendell Berry and John Updike. In the chapter on Wendell Berry, Woiwode comments that “The heat of indignation rises through his prose, but finally the prose is able to remain irenic” (41). Woiwode is here capturing Berry’s aggravation at a government who takes great care to dismantle the wilderness to create human ‘lesiure areas.’ There is an eloquent sensitivity in the way Woiwode approaches the writing of Wendell Berry, taking into account his grand vision of nature and God’s good creation while entering into Berry’s continual frustration with the way land is handled by larger corporations and entities. You feel when reading this chapter on Berry that Woiwode has carefully memorized and sel…

A Good Intro to Tolkien

Mark Horne has written a good introduction to the life and thought of J.R.R Tolkien, the acclaimed writer of the Lord of Rings Series. A few of the highlights that I found in the book were Horne's discussion of Tolkien's part in WWI. Not only did Tolkien fight in the Battle of Somme, but he was taken back to England due to Trench fever. I also did not know that Tolkien earned some extra money doing some work on the Oxford English Dictionary (71). Overall, Horne gives the impression that Tolkien was a man of keen sensitivity to language, a man who was brilliant by any standard and who strove for the precision in his writing and teaching.




On pp.2-3 Horne writes that Tolkien included the spiders of Millwood in his books not because of his boyhodd encounter in South Africa with one, but because his son Michael completely hated spiders and so Tolkien thought this would give me a good scare. I read this and laughed out loud because of the keen sense of humor Tolkien had and also be…

The Hope of Every Christian

I haven't posted in a long while concerning theology or issues regarding the Bible, but I decided that this time was appropriate.

The Hope of Every Christian
Just recently I gave a sermon on Romans 8:18-25 regarding hope and the Christian life. After the sermon, I began to think concretely about the true hope that every Christians have in the future and in their Savior.  I wanted to mention a few points drawing from that text that I think are crucial to our thinking about the future and about creation.

1.  Although great calamity and ruinous events take place here on Earth, they are not to be compared with what God will do in the future.  It seems trite to say this, almost as if we shouldn't take suffering, pain, and devastation seriously. These are matters that are to be taken very seriously.  However, even in the face of great anguish, the Christian believes that the hope of the resurrection far outshines the dreadful consequences of the fall upon this Earth.  For the resurr…

The Coming of Jesus

Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wanegrin
This little book by Walter Wanegrin is a series of meditations on the coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom. The entries are divided up by a Scripture reference, Wanegrin's writing, and then a prayer at the end of the section.




Overall, I thought the book was interesting in its approach. For some characters in the Scriptures, Wanegrin's seems to want to get into their head, for others he looks historically at what it might have looked like in Jesus' time. What caught me by surprise in reading was the particular way Wanegrin drew us into the story of Jesus and let us see some details that we might have missed before. For instance, "But here in a child comes God, the light! And light in darkness is a frightening thing" (60). He earlier mentions our condition as (we should be that walking dead) and yet we dwell with God and with his Son. Wanegrin tenderly draws us to the profound truths of the gospel story in a wa…

The Apostles and the Spirit's Power

Who is the Holy Spirit by Amos Yong (Paraclete Press)




This new volume in the Paraclete Guide series is designed to take the reader on a journey through the book of Acts in step with the activity and person of the Holy Spirit. The author, Amos Yong, Professor of Theology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, carries the reader on a very insightful, practical, and thoughtful journey through Acts.



Instead of just harboring on a few aspects in the book of Acts (Pentecost, Paul's speeches, etc.), Yong dives into the cultural milieu that the apostles dealt with as they proclaimed the good news throughout the region. For this reason, Who is the Holy Spirit makes a definite point that the message of the kingdom the apostles bore witness to was radically opposite of the prevailing class structure of the Roman Empire. Yong writes in the first chapter, "The Acts of the Apostles are also the acts of the Holy Spirit in the church, acts that are subversive of the empires of this world&…