Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

What Does Love Look Like?

When I go shopping with somebody I love, I pay careful attention to all the purchases they don’t make, especially when they look at an item with great interest, then put it back on the shelf with a sigh because they can’t afford it right now or have other financial priorities. Why? So I can come back later, pick it up and stick it in the closet for the next Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthday celebration.

Mostly this is a favor to myself: I hate the pressure of having to run out at look for a gift at last minute. But it also means I don’t waste much money on presents people don’t really want or won’t use.

Let me suggest we treat the Law of Moses that way.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

In the process of writing last week’s review of Stephen G. Fowler’s Probing the Mind to Free the Soul: Toward a Psychoanalytic Protest Theology, I thought often of the sage advice of the rabbit Thumper in Disney’s Bambi movie: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (Apparently the saying originated with Aesop, but I find the bunny-fied version way cuter and more memorable.) A friend I was texting at the time proposed a Thumperiffic way of dealing with the book. She asked, “What is good about his writing? Anything positive?”

I thought, “That’s a really good way to approach it.” Then I went with my original piece, which was admittedly a little on the savage side. I’m not apologizing for that, but today, I’m going to try to be Thumper.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

The Aliens Have Landed and They’re In My Bible

Congratulate me. I have finally finished reading Stephen G. Fowler’s Probing the Mind to Free the Soul: Toward a Psychoanalytic Protest Theology. It took me three weeks but I did it. Let me say this: forcing myself back into the text day after day, trying to pierce Fowler’s layers of nuance, complexity and self-questioning in order to tease out what the man was actually trying to say is one of the most monumental exercises in self-discipline in which I have ever engaged.

So congratulate me … or don’t. Some thoughts you can’t unthink. I will try not to share too many of them here.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Book Reviews Page

When we began posting here almost ten years ago, I never planned on doing book reviews. Somehow or other it happened anyway: Andy Stanley even provoked five posts with a single paperback (Irresistible was and remains an epically awful idea).

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to put links to all my reviews in one place so they can be easily located if anyone is interested. Our most recent posts are at the top, which is the opposite of my usual practice with these pages, but makes the page way easier to edit. (Too bad I didn’t figure that out ten years ago.) You can find the link to the new Book Reviews page with the links to all the rest of our ongoing features at the top of our home page right below our logo, or access individual reviews via the topic sidebar on the right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Having Their Cake

Many modern Christians want to have their cake and eat it too, believing they can somehow reconcile pseudo-science with the miraculous events they find in their Bibles. They do this by mythologizing the early chapters of Genesis and anything else they find inconvenient to the secularized mind, often including Job, David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, and so on.

The point at which accommodationists believe Genesis moves from myth to history may vary from one to the next, but the intellectual contortions required for mythologizing scripture are the same wherever one draws the line.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (24)

Reading the Bible regularly, repeatedly and without an agenda is a great safeguard against monomania.

Stephen G. Fowler is a medical doctor and student of psychoanalysis. I will probably have more to say about his 2017 book Probing the Mind to Free the Soul in a future post, but my interest today has more to do with his interpretation of a particular proverb than his subject matter or technical arguments.

Let’s just say his reading of the text may be more than a little influenced by his preoccupation with psychoanalysis.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (22)

One of my seven “sniff tests” for heresy is that an author strings together impressive lists of verses unquoted and out of context, but a closer look shows most or all have nothing to do with the points they are alleged to support. Paul Ellis’s The Silent Queen serves as a great example of this technique, and I promised to do a second post examining his “evidence” that the Christians of the New Testament permitted women to participate in church meetings in exactly the same ways men did, and that Paul taught this as normative.

That’s the context here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Sniff Test

A heresy in the popular sense is a belief or theory at odds with established beliefs or customs. This is the way I will use the word throughout this post, and it’s not far off the way the word is employed by the writers of the New Testament.

Heresies vary in magnitude, detectability and potential consequences. Some heresies are obvious, and therefore easily avoided; others come couched in weasel words and obscured by rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Some heresies are outright damnable; others merit commendation or disapproval.

Few heresies pass my sniff test.

The religious world is full of theories. The sniff test is a set of criteria by which I make my own quick-’n’-dirty assessments of whether to buy into the theory behind any sermon, book, video or random expression of theological opinion. Other believers have their own sniff tests. A friend recently emailed me a link to a video with the tag line “Can you smell the brimstone?” Indeed, I could; the video provoked yesterday’s post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Higher Than Law

“One who loves another has fulfilled the law.” So wrote the apostle Paul in Romans. Again, in Galatians he reminds his readers that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

His point is that Christians behaving lovingly don’t need to worry about whether they are acting in the will of God or conforming in every detail to God’s law, because they are doing what God wants without even thinking about it. Their conformity to godliness has become as automatic and unconscious as breathing.

But love is only higher than law when it’s actually love.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

God-Shaped Heart Surgery [Part 2]

The God-Shaped Heart by Timothy Jennings has quite a bit to commend it. Yesterday I detailed five of its better features. If you haven’t read that post, some terms I will use in today’s post will not make much sense.

Unfortunately, there are also a few yawning mineshafts to be avoided in Jennings’ book, some of which are more obvious than others. For this reason, I would be cautious about commending it despite the fact that it contains some helpful observations about God’s law and a useful analysis of the various ways in which human beings may respond to it.

In short, Christians who lack the ability to assess Jennings critically in the light of scripture should probably steer clear.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

God-Shaped Heart Surgery [Part 1]

Timothy Jennings is a Tennessee-based psychiatrist who is convinced Christians don’t really know God as they should. His 2017 book The God-Shaped Heart is perhaps best described as a minor controversy: minor because it failed to crack ECPA’s Top 100 bestseller list in any of its first five years of publication; controversial because Jennings takes a view of substitutionary atonement that rubs a fair number of his critics the wrong way, this reader among them.

If you read the reviews, it’s evident those who love the book really love it. And to be fair, there are some useful thoughts amidst the yawning mineshafts. You just don’t necessarily want to recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have his or her feet firmly planted on solid rock.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The New Creationism

I’ve gotten far too used to seeing creationists adopt a more or less defensive posture, taking issue with what purports to be intelligent criticism from a scientific perspective, but usually amounts to nothing more than derisive sniping. The non-scientific media relentlessly harangue creationists over views they haven’t read and don’t understand in favor of secular views they also haven’t read and couldn’t coherently articulate in any case.

These apologetics are of some limited use; however, because they are almost completely defensive, they cannot do much to rehabilitate — let alone popularize — the creationist position in the public sphere.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Cup of Weak Tea

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” Ben Shapiro is fond of saying. Unlike much of his recent book The Right Side of History, that statement is fairly accurate.

But facts also don’t care about your eschatology. Not a bit. Premillennialist Bible teachers and popular writers who make careers out of dogmatically applying specific prophecies to current events tend to find this to their chagrin — well-know date-setter Harold Camping being one recent example.

Facts take no joy in embarrassing the likes of Camping. They are not mean-spirited. They simply are what they are.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Don’t Stop Now, You’re Almost There

The devil may be in the details, but far-reaching doctrinal errors are all in the broad strokes and almost never in the minutia. I’m becoming convinced of it.

My test case at the moment is the expanded edition of Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (2013), in the event you’re wondering. But I have found the same thing with several books I’ve read recently: they advance a fundamentally flawed major premise. Once you’ve done that, you can pile up the proof texts to highest heaven without successfully proving anything. Your original, glaring defect of thought makes them all irrelevant to the greater argument.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Real Paul and Fake Paul

Marcus Antonius Felix was the procurator of the Roman province of Iudaea between A.D. 52 and 58. Secular history tells us he was a Greek, known for his cruelty and fond of bribes. His rule was characterized by political unrest, which he put down ruthlessly. He married three times, his middle wife being a Jewish divorcee named Drusilla who died two decades later in the famous first century eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

It would not be wildly out of line to suggest Felix’s “rather accurate knowledge” of The Way was likely a direct consequence of this second marriage.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Does God Judge Nations?

A question from a list of what Andy Stanley refers to as “old covenant leftovers”, various ways he believes the modern church mixes what he calls “obsolete” theology with the New Testament teaching of Christ and his apostles:
  • “Why would a Christian believe God judges nations at all?”
Stanley intends this as a zinger, but I’m not at all sure it zings. It may be a bullet point in a bulleted list, but it has the pinpoint accuracy of a wet snowball lobbed by a lethargic six-year-old in a too-tight snowsuit.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

What Kind of Disciples Are You Making?

God tests men’s faith. Women’s too. It’s what he does.

Why? Because faith is hugely important to him. It might be the most important thing of all. As scripture tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please him.”

Impossible. Not difficult, very difficult or in the 99th percentile of difficulty. Completely impossible. It cannot be done. Faith is critical to any relationship with God.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Unhitched and Unhinged

It is important to grasp that Andy Stanley’s desire for believers to “unhitch” our Christianity from the Old Testament, a plea he articulates in his new book Irresistible, is not limited to how we preach the gospel. Stanley is calling for the comprehensive abandonment of the Hebrew roots of our faith.

This is what makes his idea such a poison pill. Those who swallow it will come to regret it.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Getting Unhitched

Andy Stanley wants us to “unhitch the old from the new”.

By “old”, he means our Old Testament. By “new”, he means ... okay, you get that.

By “unhitch”, he means declaring the Old Testament so obsolete, incorrect and potentially faith-destroying that we distance ourselves from it rather than try to explain, defend or rationalize it to others.

To say the least, Stanley’s new book, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World, is a bit of a grenade in the baptistery. It also sounds to me like a sustained argument for intellectual cowardice, but I’ll leave that to Stanley’s readers to decide.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Should Elders Give Orders?

Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity is a vitally important — even radical — reassessment of the church that attempts to encourage evangelicals out of clericalism and into something much more like what was taught by the apostles and practiced in the first century. Several summers ago, I examined it here, here and here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (8)

“Darwinism was once a well-fortified castle, with elaborate towers, moats, and battlements,” says author Tom Bethell. “Today, however, it more closely resembles a house of cards, built out of flimsy icons rather than hard evidence, and liable to blow away in the slightest breeze.” So begins Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates.

What isn’t initially obvious is that the “debates” in view are almost all in-house, which to me is a big selling point. Rather than rehash the arguments of creationists, Bethell has instead elected to draw his citations primarily from a murderer’s row of big names on the other side of the table who stray here and there from Darwinian orthodoxy.

As you might anticipate, where weaknesses in their case have come to light through disagreements in the evolutionist camp, these have not always been well-publicized.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Quote of the Day (28)

“ ‘Ruff, I talked to a mom in there who is going to give up everything for her kids, even her life. I also talked with a man who did not see the point of keeping one’s word. I want to be in her world, not in his.’

Ruff said, ‘You’d live longer in his.’

Gil said, ‘And be just as dead at the end and be called to account for my life.’ ”
— John C. Wright, Swan Knight’s Sword

See, now THERE’S a sentiment I’d want my kids to read and internalize.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Power of Two

How do we make decisions in the church? What is the teaching of the New Testament?

In his book Reimagining Church, Frank Viola contends that the normal method of making major decisions in the church is by consensus, not just of leadership but of every believer in a local church. (You can find my review here.)

He uses the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 as his sole scriptural evidence.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Reimagining Decision-Making

How does your church go about making decisions?

Perhaps you don’t actually know. In very large churches, the process of deciding what is going to be done may be quite opaque to those who meet there. Where there is a very distinct hierarchy in place, perhaps decisions are made unilaterally, or maybe they are initiated by a ‘head pastor’ or equivalent and signed off on by a board or council of elders. Then again, maybe they are arrived at by discussion among elders and presented fait accompli to the congregation. Or perhaps opinions are solicited and discussed, and a decision is later made with the promise that “all voices have been heard and all opinions considered”.

Maybe there are lots of ugly politics involved that nobody really wants to talk about. I don’t know your church, so I won’t presume.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Reimagining Church

I wouldn’t normally be the type to start writing a positive review before completely finishing a book, but I’ve been enjoying Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity immensely.

Viola is not merely a theorist. In 1988, he left what he calls “institutional Christianity” and began meeting in “organic churches”.

Organic churches are not the latest vegan trend. They are local gatherings mapped to what we read in the New Testament. They seek to practice Christianity as it was practiced in the first century, minus any details that were merely a product of the culture(s) in which the early church grew and thrived. The result is a church that, at least on paper, seems both relevant and authentically “New Testament” in ways I’ve never seen before.