Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 3

AllJesusAsksThe third book in the Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection is Stan Guthrie’s All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us. Guthrie takes the majority of questions Jesus asked during his ministry and weaves them into an investigation of the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. In later chapters he turns to questions that explore our identity as disciples (character, (in)competency, attitude, etc) and finally concludes with some apologetics.

After being fairly critical of the other book he did in this collection, “A Concise Guide to Bible Prophesy“. I am really happy to say that this book was excellent. It is thorough. It is insightful. The illustrations are excellent. If I had to compare this to something, I would call this book “Jesus’ Questions for Everyone” as his style reminds me of N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Series of New Testament commentaries. He touches on the relevant verses, illustrating and commentating along the way.

I would recommend this book not just to people who want all of Jesus’ questions in one place but to people who enjoy investigation. He doesn’t just linearly and analytically make a list of questions and address them. He weaves the questions of JesusI really love that because any book about questions should feel like an investigation…it is just being fair to your subject…and Guthrie really does pull it off.

There are only three criticisms I have of this book. First, he admits that he is no biblical scholar so there are times I think he missed the point. One of those times in in Chapter 4, “His Humanity” where Guthrie interprets some of Jesus questions to mean that Jesus asked certain questions because he really had no idea of the answer. Here is one example,

When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, and a Roman execution for sedition looms large, the procurator asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus is not concerned with saving his own skin, but learning whether this brutal Roman official might be a spiritual seeker, one in whom the seed of faith is likely to grow. “Do you say this of your own accord,” he asks, “or did others say it to you about me?” Jesus genuinely wants an answer because he doesn’t know. – Guthrie, S. (2010). All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (60). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Jesus was making a point in asking the question that goes beyond him just being ignorant of the answer (much like God asking Adam and Eve “Where are you” after they sinned – Gen 3:9). Of the recorded questions of Jesus in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t normally ask questions out of ignorance. His questions make a point. This entire book was about how Jesus taught through questions, so I am not sure how he missed it on this one.

The second criticism I have of the book just comes with the territory. Any time you deal with passages out of context and develop a whole book that strings together related topics and verses out of context you run the risk of missing some of the meaning. Like the above examples, that happened a few times in the book. Again, that is to be expected due to the way the book is laid out. Third, when you take out of context verses and force them into a self-made framework you run the risk of twisting some passages to fit your topics. That doesn’t come across too much in this book but it does happen. (See Procrustean bed)

Overall, great book and one I would recommend. What the book lacks in scholarship (which overall is pretty insignificant) Guthrie makes up for in his journalistic style, engaging commentary, and ability to connect the reader to the thrill of the investigation, relevance and application. Questions are powerful and Guthrie does a great job of handling the questions of Jesus from his own perspective without getting in the way.


Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 2

BibleProphesyThe second book in Logos Bible Software’s “How to Read the Bible” collection is “A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know” by Stan Guthrie. This is book is an introductory level book that is designed to put some of the most important (and often misunderstood) prophesies all in one place. The introduction gave me the impression he was going to cover 60 misunderstood prophesies. Honestly, I think that would have been a better book! He could have explained the common misconception and then done solid exegesis to show us what he thinks the verses are really saying.

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this book as I was with Strauss’ book in the previous post. If you ran across these prophesies in study you would probably already be looking in some sort of commentary that is dealing with the verse in context. I was also confused by the “Application” section at the end of each prophesy. His application was a single sentence principle derived from the prophesy rather than an actual application. In other words the application was just a single truth to remember about the prophesy and not anything about how the prophesy actually applies to us. “Key principle” would have been a better label for those. The last thing I wasn’t as impressed with is that his presupposition, stated in the beginning of the book, is that every prophesy of scripture ultimately points back to Christ. I don’t really agree with that. There are many prophesies about many other things that don’t find fulfillment in Christ.

The best part of the book are his illustrations to help you wrap your mind about the prophesy. Other than that, I don’t think this book offered up too much that was unique that you couldn’t get anywhere else. It was more about putting these prophesies all in one place than anything else. I would rather study them in context. Just my two cents. His book (also in this series) “All That Jesus Asks” appears to me to be far superior to this one.

Two Realizations That Help Christian Unity

In Luke 14 Jesus tells the parable of an influential man who throws a dinner party. He sends out the invite to all the choice people, the in-crowd. As the RSVP’s come back he gets nothing but excuses…One guy says he just bought a field and wants to go look at it. Pretty lame…don’t you think he has already seen the field and don’t you think it will look pretty much the same next week? Another guy says he just got married and can’t make it…wise fella right there…still another guy says he just bought some oxen and wants to try them out. You know people couldn’t care less about you if they don’t come because they are test driving their oxen. Oldest excuse in the books. None of the people you might have thought would have been first in line come to the banquet.

So what does the man do? He sends out a second invitation, “‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” Bring them in. Bring in anyone who will come! The servant goes out and brings in all who are willing. There is still room at the banquet. So the man sends out a third invitation, “‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

Why does God fill his banquet with such a motley crew, such a rag-tag bunch of unworthy people? Not only does he invite them…he orders his servant to compel these people to come to the banquet. This is a big deal. These people have nothing to offer the man. They won’t increase his status or make him look good. When you look at the room and see who is there you can’t help but realize the man who is running the banquet is full of grace and compassion. The shocking thing is this, these people are you and me. We are the ones who don’t deserve to be at the banquet. We are the spiritually crippled and lame and poor and blind. We have been given a seat at God’s banquet table. We have gone from the margins to the inner circle.

So what are the two realizations that help develop Christian unity?

Realization #1 – None of us deserve to be Christians. That should humble us and bring us to our knees. So much disunity springs out of a since of spiritual entitlement and arrogance. The truth is, none of us deserve any of it. Yet God, in his infinite mercy is the one who brings us together.

Realization #2 – When you really understand you have been saved by God’s grace, it should make us graceful toward others. Grace is a key ingredient to unity. Arrogance and pride magnify mistakes and differences. Grace helps us iron over differences and mistakes in healthy ways. So much disunity comes from having an ungraceful attitude. Being ungraceful and ungrateful leads to unforgiveness that often leads to unending, bitter disputes that tear brothers and sisters in Christ apart.

Try this: The next time you are feeling disunity with another Christian picture you and that other person as blind, crippled beggars eating next to each other at God’s banquet and see what is left that is still worthy enough to tear your relationship apart. Not too many things will pass that test.

The Greatest Commandment: God, Others, and Self

Sometimes I hear the greatest command summed up as “love God and love others”. That misses the only person in the whole world who isn’t included in those two categories, self. But Jesus did include loving yourself in the greatest commandment,

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Matthew 22:37-38

Paul echoes this in Ephesians 5:28-29, “28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church”

God doesn’t want us to get so caught up in loving ourselves that we get self-centered and fail at the first two greatest commandments in Jesus lists. I do wonder though, if we avoid talking about the love of self for fear people won’t handle it very well. What can happen is people end up feeling pretty beat up, guilty and lacking a biblical concept of God’s love for them and a healthy love for themselves. Maybe that is just so obvious that I am the only guy in the room that hasn’t picked up on that.

Review of Tim Keller’s New Book “Every Good Endeavor”

Tim Keller recently published his newest book “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.” If you know anything about Tim Keller’s work, you know he has a knack for dissecting culture and applying Christianity in ways that connect with people in contemporary culture. This book is no different. In Every Good Endeavor, Keller adeptly tackles something that affects nearly all of us, how faith and our work go together in a way that is in line with God’s plan for mankind.

Keller spends some time on the theology and psychology of work…man’s need for being productive as a part of God’s design for creation. There are some really great take home points from what scripture has to say about work. There is one main topic that I found most helpful in this book. That topic is work and the Christian worldview as opposed to alternate worldviews. Keller’s discussion of post-modernism and its effect on the psychology of work is worth the price of the book. He says that in the modern worldview people believed work, science and productivity could result in something meaningful. In other words, people worked with a positive goal in mind. That means your work is about more than your work and your paycheck. You are working toward something greater. Then along came Nietzsche, who deconstructed the idea that science and technology were actually moving people toward a more positive society. Postmodernism resulted. It is hard to have a positive concept of work when you remove the positive results from your labors by casting doubts that there is any good end that we are actually working toward. Once you remove the end goal, the means itself becomes the end. So people’s view of work changed from what they were able to do for others and society that would result in the greater good (a positive end) to working for pay, advancement, power and influence (means).

This is about worldview and he says worldview is more about which narrative we make our story. I like this approach. Often worldview discussions are a lot more cut and dry. They list five basic questions that they say worldview answers (questions like who are you, what is the problem in life, what is the solution, where are we headed, etc). Keller doesn’t mention the five questions, but his view stands as a broader picture of where worldview actually comes from…worldview doesn’t come from parents sitting down with their children and having them memorize the answer to 4-5 main questions of life. Worldview is developed through the stories we make our own. The Christian story is a story of redemption and restoration. It stands in contrast to the doubt of postmodernity by restoring our faith in God and what he tells us about this world we live in and where it is all headed. In other words, the Christian story informs us humans of what the ultimate goal in life is and that goal then influences the means we use to achieve it (work being one of those means).

Once you know the ultimate goal for your life (living to love God and neighbor, for examples) it changes your means/the reason why you work because you are now not working just to work or working as an end to itself. You are working toward a specific goal that is outside of and broader than yourself. The way scripture puts these pieces together is through narrative. Like any good story, scripture starts with things being good, tension is introduced (God’s good creation is marred by sin and our relationship with God, broken), that is resolved through Christ’s reconciling work on the cross that results in the glorious resurrection. Christianity is an amazing narrative that informs us of how we fit in this world and constructs our worldview through that story. That story, then, affects our motivation for work and the ways in which we work because we realize that everything we do is for the glory of God, therefore, do the best you can. If it is the means just for the sake of the means…why not be a slacker? If your view of work is full entrenched in postmodernism, the only person who is going to get hurt by doing a shoddy job is yourself (loss of pay, getting fired, etc) but if you are working as a part of God’s larger narrative, it changes the way we view work and the way we actually work.

I am thankful to Tim Keller, not only for writing this book, but also where this book sprung from. Based on things he said in the book, it sounds like Redeemer Presbyterian is in regular conversation about how faith affects work and really making concrete application in the lives of real people…some even leaving their job as they realize what they are doing is failing to honor and love God and neighbor. In other words, these are not good thoughts dreamed up in an ivory tower. This book is written in the trenches.

Last I want to say if you have been in “professional ministry” your whole working life, please read this book. We communicate on a weekly basis with those whose own work can be quite dissimilar from our own and who face challenges we don’t always face in ministry. If you preach, I would especially recommend that you read this book and that you even preach on this from time to time. Think about it, when you preach on how God views work…you are talking about something that can impact 40 hours of their week, every week. We don’t want to neglect this and we don’t want to spend time answering questions no one is asking. In other words, this is all profoundly practical and a worthwhile read.

Why Mormonism is Not Christianity – Ben Witherington

Have a read – Why Mormonism is Not Christianity

It is a really good read but if you don’t have the time the thumbnail sketch. It all boils down to trinity of “ologies”: theology, Christology, and soteriology. According to Dr. Witherington, the differences are significant enough to question whether we would consider them Christians as defined by the New Testament.

Unidimensional Prophets Need Not Apply – Don’t Criticize the Church Without Offering Solutions

In the Old Testament God would often raise up prophets in order to communicate God’s will to the people. Sometimes people think of prophets as people who tell the future. They did do that but more often than not prophets communicated two things: the people’s need to repent/change in various areas of their life and society & the positive alternative God had in mind for his people. Read Isaiah 1 for a good example of this (notice the turn in 1:16)

While I don’t think we have people today who are telling the future through direct means of inspiration like they had in the Old and New Testaments, I do believe we still have those prophetic voices among us. What troubles me though is it seems the prophetic voice that is present today is unidimensional. There are a ton of voices calling for change but are missing the rest of the message…communicating what the positive alternative God has for his people. In other words, we hear all kinds of sharp criticism of the church but few people are offering solutions.

Bottom line…if you are going to be a voice calling for change please come with some solutions in hand and don’t just shout angrily from the internet mountaintop at anyone who happens to be passing by. It just doesn’t fit very well with the M.O. of God’s prophets in scripture and can turn into something that is more unhealthy than the things they are railing against in the first place. There are too many guys who know how to poke holes and too few who know how to solve anything. Let’s have more of the second and fewer of the first.

From my comment to Christine below that lays out more of my train of thought on why complaining isn’t enough,

Here is my problem with it – we all know what the problems are. They have been discussed ad nauseum. It is no mystery. There have been hundreds of blog posts on it, books written laying out what the issues are. Fewer people have been pioneering on the front lines trying to turn the ship and then take part in the conversation of offering solutions. Too often even the solutions that are offered are by people who haven’t even tried them out in their own context. It is easier to snipe at problems from afar than it is to get in the trenches and bring about actual change. So I don’t really need more people pointing me toward the discussion that might or might not bring about solutions. If I hear criticism from someone I want that to be followed up with “and here is what we are doing about it.” If something is really that troublesome that someone would publicly write about it, isn’t it reasonable to think they would have been moved to action already?

Why Are Young People So Drawn to Calvinism?

Calvinism is all over the place. Many of the best known young preachers are Calvinists. Many of the most well read blogs are from a Calvinist perspective. All of a sudden there has been a huge influx of Calvinists. According to Lifeway “nearly 30% of SBC seminary graduates between 1998 and 2004, now serving as pastors, describe themselves as Calvinists” (p.74 of Young, Restless and Reformed). What is the story? I asked a young neo-Calvinist what book they would recommend to help me wrap my mind around what is going on. They said I should read Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen. Collin is a journalist, Reformed and at one time the youngest editor at Christianity Today. He is currently the Editorial Director of the Gospel Coalition.

This book gives us two insights into why young adults are drawn to Calvinism. The first insight is Hansen’s own perspective. The second insight comes from all the interviews he did in order to write this book. This book is a record of Hansen’s travels to various well known Calvinist and Reformed congregations and conferences. He shares the stories of many young people who didn’t start out believing in TULIP but share their own process of accepting it as central to the Christian faith.

Two things need to be mentioned at the start. First, I am not a Calvinist…so this critique will reflect that in some places. Second,  there is a difference between Calvinism and the Reformed movement itself. The Reformed movement includes Calvinism but not all Calvinists are Reformed. Hansen says that the Reformed movement emphasizes TULIP along with “the five Reformation solas (by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, by Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone). (p.111)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TULIP, it is the five points of Calvinism:
T – Total Depravity – by nature mankind is unrighteous, selfish, and unable to love and seek God on our own
U – Unconditional Election – Salvation comes by God’s choosing/election that he established in eternity past
L – Limited Atonement – Jesus died solely for the sins of God’s elect/chosen people.
I – Irresistible Grace – If God has elected you he will draw you to himself apart from anything to do with your own goodness (due to total depravity)
P –  Perseverance of the Saints – God is so sovereign that once you are elect you will be saved. Nothing can keep that from happening

There are several reasons Calvinism is increasing in popularity. It is not because it is hip or attractive from a worldly point of view:

  1. Calvinism offers a God-centred approach to everything. It is not seeker sensitive. It is not pop-psychology. It is all about God, his power and authority.
  2. Calvinism lowers the position of man – It seems like some Christians want to focus solely on our value and esteem. Calvinism is focusing on our own lowliness. They say we are nothing. We can’t even pick God or want to pick God unless God elects us by his own sovereign will. Much of the way we (Arminians) motivate people is through talking about what is in it for them. If you come to Sunday night church you can grow closer to God, be blessed, etc…not so much with Calvinism. It is all about God.
  3. Calvinism offers certainty – Because God is so sovereign there is a solid foundation to live on. There is no wishy-washyness here. Hansen says, when John Piper speaks, he speaks with certainty (37)
  4. Emphasis on scripture – these guys love scripture, love study, and aren’t afraid to dive in deep.
  5. Passion – There is a sense of passion here because we often tend to get passionate about ourselves and that is all pretty shallow. When you passionate about the greatness of God and his overarching sovereignty…that is a passion that goes beneath the surface.
  6. Calvinism recognizes the control is in God’s hands, not ours. That is a liberating thought.
  7. It is a non-institutional institution. What I mean by that is they are less about church and more about God. That doesn’t mean church is emphasized less but in emphasizing our depravity and God’s election, grace and sovereignty they are putting God over church. They are moving outside the building
  8. Worship that is more all about God and not about us – Emphasizing God’s sovereignty and our depravity comes out in their worship. It is God-centered.
  9. This influence has made its way mainstream into a number of conferences and campus ministries that are affecting young adults all over the nation.

So what do we take away from this? There were a few things that I really appreciated about the Calvinist perspective. I really think they got emphasizing God and his glory right. I think too often we make self the driving force. We try to motivate people to attend or do things for what is in it for them rather than emphasize our participation in giving God the glory He deserves. That is solid. I appreciate their passion that comes directly out of a sole focus on God. We need more of that.

A couple of things were pretty unsettling to me about this book. I don’t know if this is about Hansen’s perspective or if this is common in Calvinism at large:

  1. It seems they really venerate men like Edwards, Calvin, Piper and others. I bet their names appeared over 100 times in this book. Names like Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc paled in comparison.
  2. Language of conversion – he talks about people converting to Calvinism. What does that mean? If they were elect to begin with how is there a conversion? A conversion of thoughts and views?
  3. Sovereignty meets Mercy – Calvinists will go on and on about the mercy of God that they are the elect. They are elect only because God picked them against their own will and desires. The flip side is God rejected giving his mercy to others. They had the exact same sinful desires and depravity but God just chose not to be merciful to them. Can God still be full merciful if atonement is limited and his mercy is forced?
  4. This book is a lot about personalities. He even says that if Piper weren’t so zealous in his presentation that young people wouldn’t listen to him (34).
  5. It takes this book 90 pages before Hansen says all of this is really about the Gospel itself and not about Calvinism but you just don’t get that feeling reading this book. If Calvinism is accurate to God’s intention for creation then this is the Gospel we are talking about here. We go on and on about how people converted to Calvinism? Why not just call TULIP the Gospel?

What is your experience with Calvinism? For those of you who hold this view, is this critique fair?

For Everyone Series Goes OT

Just noticed on Amazon that the For Everyone Series made popular by N.T. Wright’s series on the New Testament is starting on the Old Testament. I have no idea how I missed this as it looks like Genesis came out in 2010. John Goldingay is authoring this series. Here is what they have out so far:

Genesis 1-16

Exodus & Leviticus

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles

If these are anything like their New Testament counterparts they will be inexpensive and very helpful. Has anyone read any of these?

Teaching Forgetable Bible Classes and Redefining Success

The world throws so much data at us that we now forget more than the average person consumed 10-20 years ago. This has a direct impact on our teaching. How many Bible classes do you specifically remember over the last 5-10 years? If your answer is, not very many, it shows us that the goal of Bible class cannot be purely the retaining of data. I don’t think the answer is ever going to be that 100% of what we teach is retained. That is just not possible. I do believe that it is easy to frame this issue in an unrealistic manner and then come to some invalid conclusions. It is impossible to remember everything you have been taught. I studied for hundreds and hundreds of tests in college that I memorized thousands of pages of information for. Ask me questions from my notes and I doubt my % of recall would be all that high. That is not all bad. That is to be expected. The question is, what did that information do to me? If it helped me grow, mature, handle tougher challenges, etc then it was useful.

If we are teaching information for the sake of those in class retaining all of it we will fail. But if we teach toward transformation and spiritual growth, even when the specific details of the information have faded, the effect is still there. So while you don’t remember all the classes you have been a part of in a given congregation there is no doubt that some of those classes have had a profound impact on the way you live, the way you see the world, the way you serve, the way you treat others, etc. It is imperative that the goal of our teaching is not information retention. That is a losing game. But if our goal is transforming the lives of those present one step at a time, success is just that much more attainable.

Toward the end of the Gospel of John, John tells us why he recorded all those events,

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:30-31

John says that he wants the reader to understand the information but that is not the end game. He wants that understanding to have a profound impact on the life of the reader by bringing them true life through Jesus Christ. That is transformation. So when you prepare a Bible class, sermon, or small group lesson ask yourself this, “When this lesson is over how will it lead toward one small or large piece of transformation in the lives of those present?” When we start thinking and creating things through that filter we will have more success.

More on information vs. transformation here – The Information to Transformation Shift